Hong Kong Experts Warn Of Y2K Legal Minefield

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-- Linkmeister (link@librarian.edu), November 09, 1999


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Monday November 8 4:35 AM ET

HK Experts Warn Of Y2K Legal Minefield

By Tan Ee Lyn

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong legal experts said Monday the Y2K millennium computer bug could cause an array of disputes and urged businesses to be on guard against potential lawsuits.

``Because of Y2K, there will definitely be legal problems. In the United States, there are already many such cases,'' said lawyer Teresa Cheng, representing the Hong Kong Bar Association at a symposium on Y2K legal issues.

Other experts cited scenarios where injured drivers might sue the government for damages caused by traffic lights going awry or patients taking hospitals to court after failed operations -- due to computer problems at the New Year.

In those cases, plaintiffs could argue the government had not exercised due care and the hospital, through public fact sheets announcing its Y2K compliance status, had misrepresented the true state of its readiness, the experts said.

The Y2K problem stems from the early programming practice of using only two digits to denote the year. If not remedied, computers could mistake 2000 for 1900 and crash at the start of the year.

Hk Fears Importation Of Y2k Bug

Hong Kong is widely acknowledged to be well-prepared for the turn of the century, but there are fears it could be affected by Y2K problems encountered by its trading partners overseas.

Speaking to reporters later, Cheng said she expected problems cropping up for Hong Kong's business sector.

Garment makers, for example, might face possible lawsuits from customers if they were unable to deliver orders because of problems at their manufacturing bases in third countries.

Cheng said businesses should consider precautions such as contractual clauses that exempt them from liabilities for problems caused by third-parties or limiting the amount of compensation they would pay.

``But in actuality, nobody knows if the trading partner would accept terms such as these,'' she said.

Lawyer Paul Li of Simmons & Simmons urged companies to keep a well- documented account of their Y2K preparations in case they should be challenged later on.

``If you've done all the necessary work and documented all your work carefully, it makes the job of a plaintiff very difficult. It'll help to discourage speculative claims,'' he said.

Existing Hk Laws Can Deal With Y2k

Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung said earlier that Hong Kong would see litigation due to the Y2K problem.

While there is no known Y2K lawsuit in Hong Kong, total costs of Y2K litigation worldwide is estimated at US$1 trillion to US$4 trillion, the Hong Kong Productivity Council said.

The Hong Kong administration took the view earlier this year that it was not necessary to introduce legislation to deal with legal disputes that might arise from Y2K, Leung said.

``In principle, the commercial disputes arising from Y2K would not be substantially different from disputes arising from other commercial transactions, and could be dealt with according to the existing legal principles,'' she said.

But she noted applying existing legal principles, including those in relation to contract, tort and insurance, to the Y2K problem would involve some challenging and interesting issues.


-- Linkmeister (link@librarian.edu), November 09, 1999.

Mario Puzo (author of "The Godfather") noted that "a lawyer with his briefcase can steal more money than fifty men with guns". Sounds like specifying your Y2K bugout location being in a location unknown to any lawyers as well as government anything isn't a bad idea.


-- Minnesota (y2ksafeminnesota@hotmail.com), November 09, 1999.

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