Trial lawyers ask Obama to expand product liability

Chris Rizo Jan. 12, 2009, 12:55pm

Barack Obama (D)

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-A leading national group of trial lawyers Monday called on President-elect Barack Obama to repeal a bevy of regulations that limit corporate liability.

The American Association for Justice said the regulations backed by the Bush administration fetter individuals' access to the courts.

"We look forward to the Obama administration reaffirming the importance of a civil justice system that complements strong regulations," said AAJ Senior Vice President for Public Affairs Linda Lipsen. "The efforts to give negligent corporations complete immunity, escape accountability, and leave Americans without any recourse has gone too far and must be reversed."

The Washington-based group said seven executive agencies have recently issued more than 54 regulations with language that preempts state tort claims.

The Administrative Procedure Act allows any new presidential administration to stay any final rules that have been put forth 60 days prior to the start of a new administration.

The American Association for Justice says it wants Obama to take full advantage of the law to "restore the traditional balance between federal regulation and state-based consumer protections and ensure injured Americans have access to the courts when injured by negligence or misconduct."

Legal Newsline's request to attend the AAJ's press conference announcing the plan was denied.

The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, owner of Legal Newsline, isn't buying the AAJ's plan.

"Instead of coming up with proposals to benefit our economy, the trial lawyers' first proposal is a stimulus package for themselves -- legislation and calls for executive action aimed at creating more litigation and more legal fees," ILR President Lisa Rickard said.

"America cannot sue its way out of this recession. More lawsuits won't create more jobs, help consumers, keep people in their homes, or rebuild America's infrastructure."

Among other steps, the trial lawyers' lobby is asking the Obama administration to stay immediately non-final or recently completed rules. If the agency decides to issue a new final rule, AAJ said the rule should deny any attempt to preempt state tort law.

The group also wants the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to open a rulemaking proceeding to "reinstate congressional intent" regarding the ability of consumers to hold medical device manufacturers accountable for their injuries, even from FDA-approved devices.

The group decried specifically the 2008 case of Riegel v. Medtronic, where the U.S. Supreme Court held that federal law bans lawsuits filed against manufacturers of products approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The justices ruled 8-1 to deny monetary damages to a New York man who sustained injury after an FDA-approved balloon catheter manufactured by Medtronic Inc. burst during his coronary angioplasty procedure.

Travis Akin, executive director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch, said he is not at all surprised that the plaintiffs' bar is making early and bold demands on Obama, who takes office Jan. 20.

"They want to get in on the ground floor and they want to make sure their agenda is at the top of the list," Akin told Legal Newsline.

Rickard also noted the timeliness.

"Only a few days into the new Congressional session, the plaintiffs' lawyers wasted no time in issuing their wish list for 2009," Rickard said.

"While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports President-elect Obama's efforts to revitalize the economy and put people back to work, America's plaintiffs' lawyers instead want the new Administration to help them bring more lawsuits and create a new White House 'Lawsuit Czar.'"

As for the AAJ's request for the Obama administration to broaden liability rules, Akin said the trial lawyers' group wants to help its members generate more tort cases.

"All this is designed to do is create additional lawsuits," Akin said, noting that Illinois courtrooms are already overburdened with frivolous lawsuits.

"What is going to happen is those individuals with legitimate claims are going to have to wait even longer for the justice they need," he added.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at Reporter John O'Brien contributed to this report.

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American Association for Justice
777 6th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20001

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