Trial lawyers raise specter of tort reform in fundraising letters

By Chris Rizo | Oct 7, 2009

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-The national trial lawyers lobby is doing all it can to bring in much-needed cash - even asking its members to pony up money to help fight legislation few expect to pass.

In recent fundraising pleas to its membership, the Washington-based American Association for Justice, formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, raised the specter of liability restrictions making their way into President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

The Washington Times reported this week that AAJ has sent three pleas for money to its members in recent days. The requests for money cite two Senate Republican amendments that would limit non-economic damages in medical malpractice suits.

The newspaper said one of the solicitations says: "[l]iability restrictions will remain in play during the committee hearings and when a bill is on the floor of the Senate. The issue is not going away on its own. We urge you to help out. This is not a drill."

A second e-mail says the AAJ is "working hard" to protect patients by "fighting against tort reform, and we need all of our members enlisted in this battle in order to ensure a victory."

The Times noted that the chance of Senate Republicans getting liability caps woven into the Democrats' health care overhaul are "between slim and none."

The American Association for Justice's push to raise money follows reports that the group's finances are in dire straits amid a decline in membership.

The trade group for plaintiffs' attorneys had more than $6.2 million deficit in its operating budget for the fiscal year ending July 31, 2008, and the group saw its income from membership dues drop from $28.6 million in 2005 to $19.2 million in 2008, according to a report filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

Then there is the financial strain from a 2007 real estate deal that turned sour after Wachovia withdrew its offer to finance the AAJ building in Washington at favorable terms.

The bank had offered to finance the $89 million mortgage at 6.02 percent interest, the Times reported. The lawyers' group sued the bank after it backed out of the loan. The lawsuit was largely tossed out of court.

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