Saturday, July 12, 2003

The Department of Homeland Security issued regulations Friday protecting companies that make or sell anti-terror equipment from lawsuits.

The regulations implement the Support Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies (SAFETY) act, part of the massive Homeland Security law passed by Congress last year.

The measure aims to “encourage the development [of] anti-terrorism technologies by providing manufacturers or sellers with limited liability risks,” the department said in a statement Friday. “Without the act, many companies may not invest in potential life-saving technologies.”

The act defines anti-terrorism products broadly as any product, equipment, service or device “designed, developed, modified or procured for the specific purpose of preventing, detecting, identifying or deterring acts of terrorism or limiting the harm such acts might otherwise cause.”

The act provides a variety of protections for companies whose products are designated by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.

The department said it would begin accepting applications for products to be designated Sept. 1.

Under the act, suits arising out of terrorist acts cannot be brought in state courts, where some critics of tort law argue judges and juries are too favorable to plaintiffs and too generous with awards. Instead, anyone wanting to sue the makers or sellers of such products would have to use the federal courts.

In addition, the act eliminates punitive damages — designed to punish guilty defendants — from such cases and expands the so-called “government contractor defense” to anyone making or selling anti-terror equipment, even if their customers are in the private sector.

In January, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, tried to kill the act, saying its protections were too broad.

The regulations, which lay out the conditions a product must meet to be designated, are designed partly to address such concerns. All products must work as intended and be as safe as possible.

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