Business groups upset with amendment to Pa. bill

John O'Brien Jun. 30, 2010, 2:00pm


HARRISBURG, Pa. (Legal Newsline) - Several business groups are fighting legislation in Pennsylvania that will allow lawyers to argue for specific amounts of noneconomic damages during a trial's closing arguments.

The bill, currently in the state Senate, contains an amendment introduced by Rep. Steven Santarsiero, a Democrat and lawyer, that permits attorneys to make the arguments in cases involving automobile accidents.

The Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce says the amendment contradicts a 1969 Supreme Court ruling and could lead to broader applications of the practice.

"The bill, with its personal-injury-lawyer friendly amendment aimed at preying on the emotions of a jury in order to reap exorbitant awards, is another example of Pennsylvania moving in the wrong direction on what is truly needed - meaningful lawsuit abuse reform that will inject fairness, common sense and personal responsibility into the legal system," the Chamber says.

The bill says attorneys can specifically "argue in lump sums or by mathematical formula the amount the party deems to be the appropriate award for all past and future economic damages, noneconomic damages or both claimed to be recoverable."

Attorneys can also argue that an award of zero damages is appropriate even if there is a finding of liability. Attorneys must disclose to the court and opposing counsel they plan to make the arguments.

The chamber sent a memo to state senators outlining its concerns with the bill. It says the bill would raise jury awards and increase auto insurance premiums.

Other groups that joined in the memo were: Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania Medical Society; Pennsylvania Health Care Association; National Federation of Independent Business; Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania Association of County Affiliated Homes; Pennsylvania Academy of Family Physicians; and Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Senior Services.

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