House Republicans are advancing a series of bills that would make changes to the civil justice system long sought by doctors and U.S. corporations, including a cap on some medical malpractice awards and new roadblocks for classes of people seeking to sue jointly to address harm.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups are promoting the measures, arguing that courts have grown overly tolerant of frivolous and fraudulent claims.
“The legal system, it’s gone way out of whack over the past decade,” said Harold Kim, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform. “We think it is hurting the economic growth of a lot of American businesses.”
Late Thursday, the House narrowly passed two of the four measures along party lines: The Innocent Party Protection Act would shift some claims to the federal system from state courts, which tend to be more sympathetic to plaintiffs. The Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act would permit class-action lawsuits to proceed in federal court only if every person in the class had “an injury of the same type and scope.”
Civil rights and consumer groups oppose the measures, saying they would severely limit the ability of average Americans to pursue legal remedies from powerful institutions.
House leaders “are turning the legislative process into a kind of subterranean operation,” said Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), a leading opponent of the bills. “While the populace is spellbound by [Trump], the conservatives in Congress are dismantling access to justice and our tort civil liability system.”
Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice & Democracy at New York Law School, called the fast-paced legislative campaign to overhaul multiple parts of the civil court system “unprecedented.”
“These bills, put together, would exonerate large corporations and the health-care industry for any kind of harm they may cause everyday people,” Doroshow said.
Doroshow and others said the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act would squelch most class-action lawsuits, which typically involve plaintiffs with a wide variety of similar complaints.
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