The much debated bill on limiting Year 2000 (Y2K) lawsuits in the US became law this week when President Clinton signed the Y2K Act, although not without reservations.
The Act is seen as a victory for hi tech companies, which lobbied hard against what they perceived would be frivolous lawsuits brought against them simply because they had deep pockets.
But advocacy groups saw it as a defeat for consumers, who, they claim, will be denied their traditional recourse through the US legal system. It was also a defeat for trial lawyers, who lobbied hard against what they see as an effective restraint on their trade.
Clinton had threatened to veto the bill on several occasions because of its anti consumerist intent and when he signed it into law, stressed that his administration had fought for several changes.
But he said he finally agreed to sign it because: "This is a narrow, time limited legislation, aimed at a unique problem. My signature today in no way reflects support for the Y2K Act's provisions in any other context."
"I hope that we find that the Y2K Act succeeds in helping to screen out frivolous claims without blocking or unduly burdening legitimate suits. We will be watching to see whether the bill's provisions are misused by parties who did little or nothing to remediate in order to defeat claims brought by those harmed by irresponsible conduct," he added.
The provision of the Y2K Act addresses "proportional standards for liability," which means that if, for example, a given problem is caused by a reseller, customers cannot sue the likes of IBM, Intel or Microsoft for the entire value of the product or service just because they have the money.
Other provisions include a 90 day cooling off period in which suppliers can fix any problem. Punitive damages are also capped at $250,000 for many small businesses.
Class action lawsuits from 100 plaintiffs and $10 million in claims are still waiting to go to federal court, which takes longer to get to trial that state courts.
Separately, the Federal Aviation Administration announced on Wednesday that its air traffic control systems were all Y2K proof.
Rodney Slater, US Transportation Secretary, said: "We expect our aviation system to remain as safe in the New Year as it is today."
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