House Passes Tort Reform Bills

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Kerry Picket Political Reporter
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WASHINGTON — The House passed two tort reform bills Thursday and passed one more Friday morning.

Republicans have attempted to pass meaningful tort reform since pledging to do so in the 1994 Contract with America, but those efforts have stalled in the upper chamber.

The Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act (H.R. 985) passed 220 to 201. Fourteen Republicans voted against the legislation.

“I think it will be a big improvement for people getting justice,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, lead sponsor of told H.R. 985, told The Daily Caller. The bill, according to Goodlatte, intends to “maximize recoveries by deserving victims, and weed out unmeritorious claims that would otherwise siphon resources away from innocent parties.”

Oregon Democratic Rep. Peter Defazio sees the class action tort bill as harmful. “Well, you would prohibit class actions and basically say anybody who’s been harmed by a product has a right to sue individually. Well, that means you’re going to finance your own case. Good luck finding a lawyer, unless you’re rich, so it would be a huge step back for consumer protections,” he told TheDC.

The Innocent Party Protection Act (H.R. 725) passed 224 to 194 with 10 Republicans voting against the bill. The legislation protects individuals from being caught in a “dragnet lawsuit.”

“So if there’s a car accident, and they name every car on the street and every person watching,  you can’t get out of it even though you’re innocent because they put you in it,” California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa said. “And this simply allows for a quick way to get out of it if you have nothing to do with it. So you’re dismissing the innocent parties, and the reason is that, often, the innocent parties are facing legal fees just to guard their position rather than being dismissed.”

The House met Friday morning to vote on the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act (H.R. 720). The bill passed 230 to 188. In the tort reform bill, H.R. 720, if a judge determines that an individual is a victim of frivolous lawsuit, the victim must at least be compensated damages related to the cost of defending a meritless suit. The bill would also mandate federal judges to penalize attorneys whose claims are later found to be frivolous.

“Nowhere else in tort law can you prove that you were a victim of some abuse and the judge has discretion to give you nothing,” Issa said.

The America Bar Association sent a letter to Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member John Conyers decrying the H.R. 720.

“There simply is no proof that the problems with groundless litigation have gotten worse since the
1993 amendments went into effect,” the ABA wrote. The lawyers’ organization later stated, “Even if frivolous lawsuits have increased in recent years, there simply is no evidence that the proposed changes to Rule 11 would deter the filing of non-meritorious lawsuits.”

The next step for the tort bills is the more difficult one and Democrats are counting on the Senate to be a firewall once again to stop  any tort reform bills from Republicans. Other tort reform bills are coming up through the pipeline as well.

The Protecting Access To Care Act (H.R. 1215) caps specific medical malpractice payments at $250,000 across the country. The legislation was voted out of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

“Well, hopefully the Senate will be less boneheaded about this and there’ll be no impact,” Defazio said.

The Oregon Democrat later said, “They did some similar things or tried to do some similar things in the Gingrich Contract on America, and my recollection is most of them fell short in the Senate.”

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