Legal Newsline

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Tort reform bill, passed by U.S. House, unlikely to become law

By Jacob Bielanski | Mar 29, 2016

Courtesy of Shutterstock

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - A piece of legislation that would make it harder to file class action lawsuits passed the U.S. House of Representatives, but faces an almost guaranteed veto from the White House.

The Fairness in Class Action Litigation and Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act of 2016, which passed the House along largely partisan lines in January, would bar a suit from being filed as class action unless every member of the suit was shown to have suffered exactly the same injury as the named plaintiff in the suit.

“These are common sense, reasonable, civil justice reforms,” Darren McKinney, spokesman for the American Tort Reform Association, told Legal News Line. “That we even have to talk about undertaking them… is frustrating, [but] it’s not surprising.”

McKinney said the law faces a number of challenges, the first of which would be blockage of the bill in the Senate. But even with a Republican-controlled Congress, the changes are unlikely to become law in the near future.

“Whether a Democratic filibuster in Senate could be outmaneuvered or not, certainly President Obama is never, ever going to sign any bill that would crimp the earning capacity of the plaintiffs bar,” McKinney said.

He argues that virtually no Democrat at the federal level is likely to support tort reform bills, noting that Democrats garner much of their support from labor unions and plaintiffs attorneys. Passing such a bill, therefore, would require Republicans to control both houses of Congress and the White House. Absent control of the White House, Republicans would need a veto-proof majority in the House and the Senate.

Democrats were joined by 16 House Republicans in voting against the bill.

McKinney noted that both Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich appear to sympathize with ATRA’s stance on tort reform, but said the group is not endorsing any candidate in the presidential primaries.

In the current primaries, real estate magnate Donald Trump currently holds the lead in delegates to receive the Republican nomination for President. McKinney expressed uncertainty as to how a Trump presidency would affect tort reform, noting that Trump has been both a defendant and plaintiff in a number of lawsuits.

“Trump has been a businessman, and he’s certainly been involved in his share of litigation,” McKinney said. “He’s been targeted by any number of less-than-righteous lawsuits.”

Regardless of how the presidential election swings, however, McKinney said the Republicans have to maintain control of Congress. This year, as many as seven senators face tough re-election battles -- more than enough seats to swing the Senate to Democrat control, he said.

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Organizations in this Story

White HouseAmerican Tort Reform Association