Fast-Track Legislation Appears To Attack 7th Amendment
Tort reform has become a hot potato again as a series of proposed bills have been unleashed that impinge on the rights of people harmed or injured by product defects, medical malpractice, nursing home and other negligence race, through the House.
One of the bills, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017, already passed the House and is headed to the Senate. H.R. 985, as it was called, effectively prevents victims of bad drugs, consumer scams, faulty medical devices, Takata airbags and the like from participating in class actions. Another, the Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017, or H. R. 1215, does the exact opposite of what its title purports:
- Mandates to states when a claim must be brought in a claim for damages.
- The bill rips away at reasonable compensation a person can claim for damages from defective products.
- It allows defendants to pay you for any damages you may collect over $50,000 through an extended period of time; possibly several years to decades.
H.R. 1215 is the Federal Government telling states and states’ citizens what our rights should be when injured by another.
There’s more. The Innocent Party Protection Act, or H.R. 725, also passed the House and is headed to the Senate. It would relocate certain claims to the federal courts, from the state courts, delivering a major disadvantage to those seeking justice. It can take years longer to move a case through the federal court system and can increase the costs of doing so. That the U.S. Chamber of Commerce backs the bill is cause for consumers to be concerned.
Fourthly, the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act of 2017, or H.R. 720, is another that passed the House and is headed to the Senate. Its requirements include sanctioning attorneys representing clients whose claims are deemed nonmeritorious, which the American Bar Association argues is unnecessary because of Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The ABA makes two key claims about the proposed legislation: “There is no empirical evidence that Rule 11 is inadequate and needs to be amended; and “There is substantial risk that the proposed changes would impede the administration of justice by encouraging additional litigation and increasing court costs and delays.” If this bill passes, the courts will be plagued with defendants making boiler plate claims of frivolous lawsuits, lengthen an already long litigation process and make more money for defense law firms.
“Our objective in opposing the enactment of H.R. 720 is not to stifle discourse over the underlying issues,” writes Thomas Susman, director of the ABA’s governmental-affairs office, in a four-page letter to Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. “While we do not believe that Rule 11 requires amendment, we respect that some Members of Congress are deeply concerned that frivolous lawsuits are adversely affecting the administration of justice and believe that their concerns and proposed solutions deserve a full and robust examination. The best way to accomplish this is to defer to the Rules Enabling Act process established by Congress. This will assure a comprehensive and evidence-based development of any remedial proposal that involves amending the Federal Rules.”
The real facts support that frivolous lawsuits are a rare occurrence in the scheme of things. Those that are filed are well taken care of through laws and statutes that severely penalize lawsuits without merit. New laws are not needed.
All of the above points to an egregious effort to invoke tort reform when none is needed. Proponents believe tort reform will curb the practices of overzealous lawyers looking to line their pockets by preying on billion-dollar businesses. Such theories have been debunked time and time again.
Center for Justice & Democracy at New York Law School Executive Director Joanne Doroshow pointed out that none of the four bills aimed at overhauling the way the civil courts operate has received a congressional hearing.
“These bills, put together, would exonerate large corporations and the health-care industry for any kind of harm they may cause everyday people,” Doroshow told The Washington Post, adding that the absence of any hearings is “unprecedented.”