The three branches of the US government has cast aside decades of consumer protection laws to ensure that trial lawyers do not run rampant with Y2K lawsuits.
A deal was almost struck last week when the House of Representatives and the Senate believed they had an agreement with the Clinton Administration. But that fell through at the last minute when Clinton balked at some of the provisions of the bill he was supposed to sign.
However later in the week a final compromise was reached and a bill was on its way for Clinton to sign into law.
Such was the support for the final compromise in both the House and the Senate that there were enough votes in favour that a presidential veto was impossible.
In announcing it was in favour of the bill the White House was at pains to portray its decision was a very special one-off retreat. The Administration said it would have opposed many of the steps taken by the bill to roll back consumer rights had this been "the normal course of business."
The Y2K Act, as it is called, has a number of provisions that consumer advocates say will enable big business, for example, the computer companies that caused the millennium bug problem - to be let off the hook at the expense of small business and ordinary citizens.
The main provision pushed by Silicon Valley business lobbyists has remained intact. The Act calls for "proportional standards for liability" which means that if, for instance, a reseller caused the problem the customer can't sue the likes of IBM, Intel or Microsoft, for the whole amount just because they have the money.
Other provisions include a 90 day cooling off period by which time the supplier can fix any problems. Punitive damages are also capped at $250,000 for many small businesses.
Class action lawsuits with 100 plaintiffs and $10 million in claims have to go to federal court, which takes longer to get to trial than state courts.
Public Citizen, the Ralph Nader-founded consumer advocacy group, is vehemently against the new law. Its president Joan Claybrook said: "There is nothing for consumers in this bill. The protections are for manufacturers of defective products who will not have to fix the problems caused by their computers. Small businesses and consumers will be ripped off and left to pay for the manufacturers' mistakes."
Tom Donohue, president of the Chamber of Commerce, one organisation that represented hi-tech interests in Washington had a different view. "This is a huge victory that comes in the face of fierce opposition from trial lawyers," he said.
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