Calif. tort reform group pushing bill

Jessica M. Karmasek Feb. 22, 2011, 11:00am


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - The Civil Justice Association of California announced on Friday a Senate bill that it says would help limit "unwarranted" legal filings that clog the courts and "needlessly" cost defendants large sums of money.

State Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, is the author of the bill, which is sponsored by CJAC.

According to the CJAC, Senate Bill 603 would allow a person to be designated a "vexatious litigant" whether they are self-represented or have an attorney. Vexatious litigants are those who continually re-litigate decided issues or file meritless and harassing claims.

Under current state law, only someone who is self-represented can be designated a vexatious litigant. Once someone receives this designation, they must receive pre-approval from the courts for any future filings and pay for a bond to cover the initial costs of the filing.

"Our court system is overwhelmed by the number of cases it has to deal with and we need to make sure that these cases are worth the court's time," Berryhill said in a statement.

"It is a shame that honest, hard-working people can end up having to spend a fortune defending themselves against a lawsuit that has no merit."

He added, "If we want economic recovery in this state, we need changes like SB 603 that will help free up people's money so they can spend, invest, and hire rather than defend themselves against lawsuits that have no basis."

Excessive and unwarranted lawsuits have been identified as a significant problem in California, hindering the state's economy.

In fact, the 2010 State Liability Systems Ranking study conducted by the Institute for Legal Reform found that California's legal system ranks 46th in the nation. The study also found that more than two-thirds, or 67 percent, of business attorneys say that a state's legal environment impacts important business decisions at their companies.

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"Just because someone finds an attorney to represent them doesn't mean their claim has merit," CJAC President Kim Stone said in a statement. "Some of the most common vexatious litigants are serial filers of Americans with Disabilities Act claims that target small businesses for technical violations.

"While not all ADA access lawsuits are without merit, this bill would allow a judge to name a serial plaintiff a vexatious litigant whether or not that plaintiff is represented by a lawyer. Given the state of our economy and the budget cuts our courts are facing, we simply cannot afford to deal with these types of lawsuits."

SB 603 will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee in the coming weeks.

The CJAC is a non-profit, membership-supported coalition of citizens, taxpayers, businesses, local governments, professionals, manufacturers, financial institutions, insurers and medical organizations.

Founded in 1979, it is the only statewide association dedicated solely to improving California's civil liability system.

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