Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



Product safety is the province of both the regulatory and the tort systems. Each system has come under attack in recent years on both the federal and state levels. Through its regulatory policies, appointments, and budget cuts, the Reagan Administration has weakened the federal regulatory system.' At the same time, the Administration has severely criticized the tort system. State legislatures have enacted a myriad of statutes that weaken the tort system by cutting back on the common-law rights of victims, and additional measures are pending in Congress and in state legislatures across the country.'

For the most part, proponents of products liability and tort reform have failed to take into account the interaction between the tort and regulatory systems. These activists have failed to consider the federal government's declining role in safety during the Reagan years and have failed to weigh this factor in assessing the merits of reform proposals.One set of proposed products liability reforms, however, forces an examination of the relationship between the regulatory system and the tort system. These proposals would increase greatly the influence of the federal government over the products liability system by mandating that, under the common law, federally issued product safety standards are conclusive, or at least presumptive, evidence of adequate safety measures. Under this view, a defendant in a products liability action whose product complied with a federal safety standard would be presumed, or found as a matter of law, to have met all requirements of the tort law and would be immune from civil liability.