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SENATE KILLS BILL TO LIMIT PRODUCT LIABILITY AWARDS

The Senate Thursday killed legislation designed to reduce damages that manufacturers pay to injured consumers in product liability lawsuits. The test vote represented a setback for Bush administration efforts at legal reform.

On two separate votes, lawmakers refused to choke off debate on the measure. The first attempt fell three votes short of the 60 needed and the second was two votes shy.The legislation would have created several incentives for plaintiffs and defendants in product-liability cases to settle their differences out of court and thereby reduce the overload of the legal system.

The issue has been simmering in Congress for a decade or more, with manufacturers and insurance companies on one side and consumer groups and trial lawyers on the other. The election season added spice, with the administration pushing for the measure and Bill Clinton opposing it.