House passes bill to curb class-action lawsuits

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The House passed legislation Thursday to put new restrictions on class-action lawsuits.

The Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act was approved 220-201. It requires proof that each proposed member of a class-action suit has the same extent of injuries before a federal court can certify it. 

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) argued the overriding purpose of the bill is to make it virtually impossible for class-action lawsuits to be brought by groups of people who have been injured by a consumer rip-off, pharmaceutical drug mistake, faulty product design, sex discrimination or sexual harassment in the workplace, or lead and asbestos poisoning.

“This doesn’t formally abolish the class-action mechanism,” he said. “It’s not the guillotine, but it’s a straight jacket.”

{mosads}Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) claimed the legislation is needed to curb overly broad class-action lawsuits that hurt companies and force consumers into lawsuits they don’t want to be in.

“The purpose of a class action is to provide a fair means of evaluating similar meritorious claims, not to provide a way for lawyers to artificially inflate this size of a class to extort a larger settlement fee for themselves, siphoning money away from those actually injured and increasing prices for everyone.”

But Raskin pushed back, accusing Republicans of trying to shield corporate wrongdoers by making it more difficult for victims to band together.

“I oppose this misguided legislations because it sends another huge valentine and wet kiss to large corporate polluters and tortfeasors, but gives the finger to millions of American citizens who suffer injuries from these defendants,” he said.

As in the last session of Congress, lawmakers folded the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act into the legislation. It requires trusts created under the bankruptcy code to file quarterly reports on their public bankruptcy dockets that include information on demands for payments and the basis for payments made.

Opponents have argued that the bill puts personal information, including the names of asbestos victims, in the hands of scam artists, employers, potential insurers and debt collectors.

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) noted that 18 veterans groups, including the Vietnam Veterans of America, have opposed the bill.

Farenthold, however, argued that the FACT Act provision is designed to ensure veterans and people who have been exposed to asbestos have the resources available to treat their illnesses. The companies that likely made the asbestos, he said, are bankrupt and out of business now.

“There are finite resources in these trusts and we owe it to our service members and to future victims of asbestosis or mesothelioma to make sure there is money there to take care of the medical bills and compensate them for their injuries,” he said.

Republicans defeated an amendment offered by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) to strike provisions in the bill requiring attorneys to disclose when a member of the class they represent is a relative, past or present employee or client.

The Innocent Party Protection Act also passed the House by a 224-194 vote Thursday evening. The legislation, introduced by Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), prevents attorneys from joining additional defendants to a lawsuit to keep the case in a state court that’s friendlier to the plaintiff. 

— This story was updated at 9:30 p.m.

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