Dozens of states seek protection from Y2K : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

It's stories like this that make you wonder just how compliant states are...

Dozens Of States Seek Protection From Y2K Lawsuits JOHN KELLY The Associated Press Feb. 23, 1999 INDIANAPOLIS -- Dozens of states are preparing for the new millennium by seeking to protect governments from being sued for problems caused by the Y2K computer bug, a legislative trend critics say gives public agencies a license to procrastinate.

Lawmakers fear multimillion-dollar lawsuits filed by people harmed by glitches in government computers when internal clocks hit 2000. That's when experts say computers could get confused because they're programmed to read dates as two digits.

States are spending millions to check and fix computers that control such services as dispensing government checks, operating elevators and switching traffic lights from red to yellow to green.

Many lawmakers believe taxpayers shouldn't also be saddled with fat verdicts. But skeptics say immunity takes away a big incentive for government to fix computers.

"If you give them blanket immunity, they're not going to do anything," said Michael Aisenberg, a Washington lawyer who represents computer companies. "They're going to wait for failure, see what happens and have a triage for the worst-case problems."

Lawyers, consumer protection advocates and some lawmakers are fighting immunity bills. But bills are passing, in state after state.

Six states have Y2K immunity laws. Nevada was first, giving state and local government protection in 1997. California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii and Virginia followed with varying forms of Y2K immunity, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

At least 30 more state legislatures are considering laws.

Immunity supporters say fear of lawsuits may hamper Y2K programs by shifting attention away from repairs to legal preparations.

"Instead of fixing the problem, we would be fortifying our defense," said Bill Pierce, head of Indiana's Y2K office.

Indiana senators voted Jan. 26 to give state and local government immunity from Y2K lawsuits unless a plaintiff proves gross negligence, a higher-than-normal burden of proof.

State Sen. Luke Kenley said taxpayers should not get hit with frivolous lawsuits against public agencies that are making good-faith efforts to fix Y2K problems.

But immunity leaves injured people without legal recourse, said Sen. Joe Zakas. The family of someone killed in a crash because a stoplight malfunctions Jan. 1 would have good reason to sue if they prove government workers didn't do their jobs, he said.

"These are the people we are supposed to protect," Zakas said.

Many states have laws setting a higher burden of proof for suing the government. And lawyers say jurors, who would pay a share of verdicts, will reject frivolous suits against agencies that made an honest oversight.

But David Bender, a New York lawyer who writes extensively about computer law, believes some immunity laws are unconstitutional.

"I can't approve of bills that on a grand scale remove the burden of liability from the guy who caused the problem and leave the innocent bystander who got injured without any remedy," he said.

Bender prefers laws granting limited immunity to companies or agencies that share information about fixing Y2K glitches -- details some companies withhold for fear plaintiffs might use the information against them later.

Congress passed such a law last year. So did California. Other legislation is pending. For example:

A bill in Minnesota would give the Mayo Clinic immunity if it shared successful Y2K strategies with smaller hospitals that needed help.

A Maryland proposal would grant protection to governments or businesses -- as long as they've done everything within reason to make computer systems compliant.

"It's possible for business to not live up to reasonable expectations, but this shouldn't become a happy hunting ground for lawyers," Maryland Chamber of Commerce president Champe McCulloch said.

Immunity opponents believe lawmakers should use oversight powers to boost Y2K compliance of computers used by government and regulated industries like utilities and banks.

Wisconsin state Sen. Bob Jauch said lawmakers are acting before they know enough about Y2K's impact.

"This isn't a race to take credit and pretend we're doing something," Jauch said. "This is a complicated issue and we can't simplify it with a simple symbolic act."

Wyoming's Senate Judiciary Committee killed a Y2K bill in January.

"I'm always uncomfortable when we rush to immunity every time something comes up," said state Sen. John Hanes. "I see a creeping trend toward more and more people and more and more entities immune to liability."

In reply, Sen. Steven Youngbauer said, "You have a little bit more faith in mankind than I do on frivolous lawsuits. I see them every day."

-- Kevin (, February 25, 1999


Kevin, looks like they are taking Congresss lead for the business sector. -- Diane

25 February 1999


(Congressional group wants to limit litigation) (510) latest/99022501.glt.html?/products/washfile/newsitem.shtml

Excerpts ...

Washington - A bi-partisan group of congressmen has introduced legislation to contain the legal battles that could storm U.S. courtrooms in response to problems related to the Y2K computer failure. The lawmakers say their bill will serve as an incentive for U.S business to work to solve Y2K related problems rather than concentrating their efforts on protecting themselves from lawsuits. ...

... "The American people want the Y2K problem solved. Fortunately, America is the land of ingenuity - if we just allow our technical experts to roll up their sleeves and get to work, we can fix the Y2K problem," Dreier said.

... Specifically, the legislation will:

require defendants to respond to Y2K questions and concerns in 30 days;

establish a 90 day pre-trial notice period in which Y2K related problems can be addressed;

encourage mediation and arbitration to help unclog the court systems;

limit attorney's fees to $1,000 dollars an hour;

directly link a defendant's share of damages to their share of responsibility;

provide incentives for both defendants and plaintiffs to work on solutions;

create a uniform, nationwide Y2K liability standard; and, not affect personal injury lawsuits.

[... link ... for the rest of the story.]

-- Diane J. Squire (, February 25, 1999.

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