The Unintended Consequence of Tort Reform in Michigan: An Argument for Reinstating Retailer Product Liability

Tort reform became an important issue during the 1994 Congressional Campaign as part of the Republican Party’s “Contract with America. “Since then, many federal and state laws have attempted to reduce both liability and recovery in tort actions. In 1996, Michigan passed the Tort Reform Act, encompassing many drastic changes to state tort law. One provision of the Act, § 294 7, scaled back liability against non-manufacturing retailers in product liability actions. The Michigan Supreme Court interpreted the exceptions of the law narrowly and the prohibition broadly, essentially barring recovery from retailers. Since 1996, this provision has prevented victims injured by defective products from receiving compensation for their injuries from retailers. Unfortunately, many of the defective products found in the United States originate from manufacturers abroad. If jurisdiction over the manufacturer cannot be established in the United States, then the Michigan victim has no opportunity for recovery. As an example, this Note will discuss the problems associated with establishing jurisdiction to sue a Chinese manufacturer Many of the recently publicized defective products were manufactured in China, but victims injured by a defective product from China have found it futile to sue the Chinese manufacturer. The Chinese manufacturers therefore remain protected from liability. As a result, a person injured in Michigan by a product manufactured in China is unlikely to recover damages for his or her injury from either the manufacturer or the retailer This Note will argue that Michigan must reinstate retailer liability in order to discourage the importation of defective products and also to compensate those who are injured when a defective product does make it to market.