3 Product Liability Highlights From The State Of The Union

Law360 (March 1, 2022, 11:54 PM EST) -- President Joe Biden during the State of the Union address on Tuesday night called on Congress to repeal the broad federal immunity for gunmakers, expand research into diseases connected to military burn pits and beat the national opioid epidemic.

In the national address, Biden said that he would "crack down" on gun trafficking and so-called ghost guns that can be made at home without serial numbers, and press Congress to pass laws to cut down on gun violence. He also discussed veterans' illnesses stemming from pits for burning waste at overseas military bases and removing barriers to treating opioid addiction.

Here are three highlights for product liability from the State of the Union address:

Repeal Immunity for Gun Manufacturers

Biden said Tuesday that he would ask Congress to pass measures such as universal background checks to crack down on gun violence, asking why anyone on a terrorist list should be able to buy a weapon.

He also proposed banning assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, and repealing the federal liability immunity for gunmakers, "the only industry in America that can't be sued."

"These laws don't infringe on the Second Amendment," Biden said. "They save lives."

Recently, gunmaker Remington reached a historic $73 million settlement with the families of victims of the Sandy Hook shooting, the first time a firearms manufacturer has settled with victims of gun violence.

The 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act broadly insulates gunmakers from liability when their products are used in crimes. The federal law had been a major hurdle for the families until the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that Congress didn't intend for the law to bar lawsuits alleging that gun manufacturers' advertisements promote violent behavior.

Research Into Burn Pit Diseases

On a more personal note, Biden spoke of burn pits that incinerated medical and hazardous material, such as jet fuel, and exposed troops to toxic smoke.

Coming home, those soldiers experienced issues such as headaches, numbness and dizziness — and cancer, Biden said.

"I know. One of those soldiers was my son Major Beau Biden," Biden said of his son, who died in 2015 from brain cancer. "We don't know for sure if a burn pit was the cause of his brain cancer, or the diseases of so many of our troops. But I'm committed to finding out everything we can."

Those burn pits can be the size of football fields, Biden said.

"The VA is pioneering new ways of linking toxic exposures to diseases, already helping more veterans get benefits," Biden said.

Burn pits have been a subject of litigation from former service members against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, most recently with a $3 million settlement to resolve medical malpractice claims from a former Vermont National Guard Member against the agency.

Ending the Opioid Crisis

Biden also called for beating the opioid epidemic by increasing funding for treatment and prevention of addiction.

He also advocated for getting rid of "outdated" rules that prevent doctors from prescribing treatments for opioid addiction.

For example, federal guidelines prohibit doctors from prescribing more than 30 patients with buprenorphine, a medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat opioid dependency.

"Get rid of outdated rules that stop doctors from prescribing treatments," Biden said. "And stop the flow of illicit drugs by working with state and local law enforcement to go after traffickers."

--Editing by Emily Kokoll and Alanna Weissman.

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