WASHINGTON, March 12, 2017 — “While the populace is spellbound by Trump, the conservatives in Congress are dismantling access to justice and our tort civil liability system.” —Rep. Jaime B. Raskin (D-Md)
Americans might as well just stop filing lawsuits. Republicans have rolled out a series of bills that, if passed into law, will drastically eliminate ordinary citizens’ rights to have equal footing in civil actions. These bills would also strip away the rights of small businesses, take power away from local juries, and jeopardize our public health, safety and economic security.
Yes, money influence may finally win out. These bills would make changes to the civil justice system long desired by doctors and U.S. corporations, protecting those who cause harm from having to answer for their actions in courtrooms. Big money interests have never salivated over such prospects as much as they are now, knowing their backing of Republicans may finally pay off in the form of laws that drastically reduce their responsibility for the harms, damages and losses they have caused to the little guys of America.
Currently there is no limit on the amount of money that a medical malpractice victim can win in a federal court. One of the proposed laws will change that.
Another proposed law creates significant roadblocks for individuals seeking “class” status in lawsuits, preventing them from banding together with others and jointly filing suit when a single entity causes myriad harm to many who could not afford to sue by themselves.
The joy and beauty of this Republican effort to eliminate Americans’ rights is the name given to the various proposed bills. The names are fetching, suggesting a love of puppies, while assuring that national and apple pie values are being upheld.
Example: H.R. 985 has been titled “The Unfairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017.”
Upon reading this title, one would automatically tend to think that there is something inherently unfair now about class action litigation. However,
“This bill would squelch most class-action lawsuits, which typically involve plaintiffs with a wide variety of similar complaints. It could sharply restrict membership in a class, for example, to women who had been sexually harassed in the same way by the same manager.” —Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice & Democracy at New York Law School.
Talk about anti-American. H.R. 985 would force veterans who sued corporations responsible for their asbestos-related illnesses and injuries to disclose their names, medical information and award amounts, including information about their children and families.
Energized opponents are already fighting back against this proposed legislation.
Group Letter to U.S. House of Representatives Opposing Class Action Bill
[A letter signed by over 50 groups as diverse as possibly imaginable.]
Dear Speaker Ryan and Leader Pelosi:
This week, the House is scheduled to vote on H.R. 985 – the “Fairness in Class Action Litigation and Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act of 2017.” Title I of this bill – Fairness in Class Action Litigation – would obliterate class actions in America. The undersigned groups write in strong opposition to H.R. 985. The fact that the House would even consider such sweeping, reckless legislation without holding a single hearing is an outrage.
Another bill being proposed by Republicans is H.R. 720, titled “The Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act.” Again, the choice of name suggests there is widespread abuse of lawsuits, invoking in its rhetoric the phrase made up by those seeking to avoid responsibility — “frivolous lawsuits.”
This law, if passed, would have a chilling effect on a broad range of complaints, including civil rights violations, employment discrimination, consumer and environmental abuses. The law proposes a core change to a Federal procedural rule that provides judges with the authority to sanction attorneys for filing meritless lawsuits and asserting meritless defenses.
Currently, judges have discretion to decide, on a case-by-case basis, if sanctions are appropriate. The bill proposed here would eliminate this discretion and would make sanctions mandatory. In essence, this law would require sanctions against the attorney filing the lawsuit if he or she loses the case. As strong as their cases may be, certainly attorneys will hesitate to file them if they know they’ll get punched afterwards should they lose. Corporations +1, Little Guys 0.
What is ignored by Republicans pushing to “get rid of frivolous lawsuits” is that our system of justice does weed out meritless cases, with the result that few cases actually get past a short period of existence in the system we have now. At the present time, defense attorneys, if and when a court does dismiss a meritless claim, are free to seek sanctions for having to defend and judges can decide, case-by-case.
The label “frivolous” is applied to the victories by plaintiffs against doctors, big businesses, corporations and others, much as in sports when the losing team cries “foul.” Claims of “frivolous” come after the case has gone through trial, has been subjected to vigorous motions to dismiss and still yields success by the plaintiff. By what logic is such a case still labeled “frivolous?” Oh yes, it’s not about logic; it’s about big money interests trying to avoid responsibility.
H.R. 1215, “The Protecting Access to Unsafe Care Act” of 2017, is an assault on current laws governing Federal medical malpractice claims. It would apply to all manner of medical malpractice, including surgical errors, side effects from unsafe drugs, dangerous devices, abuse and neglect in nursing homes, and sexual assault by doctors.
Again, talk about un-American. Do we not live in a country whose laws recognize that states should govern much of the affairs of what transpires within their boundaries? H.R. 1215 would destroy massive areas of state law and deprive state legislatures the power to legislate these issues on a state basis.
The law would set a $250,000 cap on compensation for “non-economic damages,” which are separate from damages plaintiffs receive based on future economic losses. Non-economic damages are meant to compensate victims for pain and suffering, disruption of their lives, as well as categories encompassing permanent disfigurement or other serious disabilities.
Many states have adopted caps on these damages, but many have also declared that such limits are unconstitutional. The essential bottom line of these cap laws is that despite any verdict a jury may award, the law would step in and reduce the jury’s verdict to the capped amount.
In other words, a victim whose entire life was destroyed by a doctor’s actions sues and obtains an award of ten million dollars. The law says “Sorry, you only get $250,000.00.”
A prominent Maryland attorney, sarcastically commenting on these Republican-sponsored laws:
“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has recently requested sponsorship of a bill entitled the ‘I Love America, Puppies, and Apple Pie Act.’ If passed, the bill will require all Plaintiffs to seek and receive written permission from the Chamber of Commerce prior to filing any lawsuit in any court. The bill’s sponsor provided support for his bill by saying ‘All those who don’t vote for my bill must hate puppies. I love puppies and I love America. All citizens should ask their representative that if they don’t support this bill why they hate America.”
President Trump, as may be expected, will sign all these bills if they get through Congress, because, he wants to make America great again.
Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980. He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website.
His book “The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You” can be instantly downloaded, for free, on his website: http://www.samakowlaw.com/book.
Samakow has now also started a small business consulting firm. His new book “Step By Step, Achieve Small Business Success” is available at www.thebusinessanswer.com.