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Federal History


In the 1970s, the US Congress meticulously considered the possibility of creating a federal law of torts. The federal effort began almost a decade after many state supreme courts had expanded manufacturer liability for defective products. The state-level expansion caused a reaction among state and federal legislatures. The initial federal presence took the form of investigatory efforts, but those were soon followed by legislative proposals. The federal legislative proposals occurred simultaneously with some states' efforts to enact their own products liability laws. Although the states' tort laws might present variations on a theme, the possibilities for federal intervention in the areas of products liability law, insurance law, and the general common law of torts held the promise of an altogether new, unified tune.'By the early 1980s, the federal foray into products liability law-a policy area previously left largely to the states-would be known as" tort reform." However, the initial federal proposals were never enacted. This article examines the initial federal proposals of the 1970s and 1980s, and the political interests and actors involved, and offers an explanation as to the failure to enact them.

Published Citation

Drake, Ian J. "The First Attempt at Federalizing Tort Law and Why It Failed." Fed. Hist. 6 (2014): 11.