An epidemic of defective drywall imported from China has exposed the jurisdictional barriers that American consumers face when trying to hold a foreign manufacturer accountable for serious defects, and the number of those defects has sharply increased. For instance, according to a memo prepared for Members of Congress, “In the decade between 1998 and 2007, the import of consumer products into the United States more than doubled. This sharp rise in imported consumer products has been accompanied by an overall increase in product recalls and a disproportionate increase in the share of product recalls involving imported products – particularly products from China.” In recent years, over 80% of all recalls of consumer products announced by the Consumer Products Safety Commission have involved products manufactured overseas. Yet consumers must travel to the country of manufacture, persuade the host government to serve the suit to the foreign company (and translated into the home language), and then try to establish jurisdiction over that company in the U.S., an incredibly time-consuming and expensive process. In one particularly egregious case, a retired police officer and his wife bought their “dream home,” only to find it filled with extremely toxic Chinese drywall. Unable to afford the extensive replacement of the drywall, they lost the house and were forced to file for bankruptcy, all because they could not recover from the Chinese manufacturer. Other consumers are suing the U.S. distributors and shippers in a desperate attempt to collect whatever they can, which unfairly holds U.S. companies accountable for the defects caused overseas.
Bills in the U.S. Congress would close this gap in 7th Amendment rights and enable American consumers to sue in the U.S. and take the pressure off American companies which only ship and sell the products. The Foreign Manufacturers Legal Accountability Act of 2010 is supported by Democrats and Republicans in both houses. A House subcommittee is scheduled to debate and vote on the bill tomorrow, and the Senate version might be attached to other legislation in the near future.