Litigation Overhaul Bills Pending in the House of Representatives
The House is moving with great speed to get several tort reform bills through their chamber because of the Senate’s 60 vote threshold and the body’s more deliberative nature. The bills have been derided by plaintiff’s attorneys and consumer groups from across the country, while industry expectedly applauds the reforms, as they tilt civil litigation cases in their favor. The bills passed the House before, under Barack Obama, without much hope for signature. The GOP feels confident President Trump will sign the bills into law.
The bills are set for final debate tomorrow and Friday, (March 9 & 10), where opponents are hoping to shave off some Republican votes from Representatives. In addition to the 60-vote requirement in the Senate, there are Republican Senators who have been unwilling, in the past, to alter the civil justice system. If too many House Republicans vote against the reform bills, they will most certainly die in the Senate.
The laws will rewrite class-action practice, help plaintiffs keep cases out of state courts and penalizes attorneys who file claims deemed “meritless”. The EPA and Department of Justice are singled out for new limits on settlements they enter into while requiring additional disclosures from asbestos victims looking for an award from bankruptcy trusts.
The three measures set for final debate in the House are:
• The Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act (H.R. 985), which impacts nearly all facets of class action practice. The bill also now contains the text of former H.R. 906, the Furthering Asbestos Claims Transparency Act, which mandates increased reporting of payments to plaintiffs by trusts that pay out asbestos exposure claims against bankrupt companies.
• The Innocent Party Protection Act (H.R. 725) targets what is known as fraudulent joinder — the improper addition of defendants to suits in a bid to keep cases in more plaintiff-friendly state courts.
• The Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act (H.R. 720) requires judges to impose mandatory sanctions on attorneys who file “meritless”
civil cases in federal courts.
There are two additional bills, Stop Settlement Slush Funds Act (HR 732) and Protecting Access to Care Act (HR 1215) which are already on the House floor. The first bill prevents some federal agencies from entering into settlements which direct funds to 3rd party groups while the latter bill puts a cap on medical malpractice awards while limiting the liability of medical device defendants.