Civil Justice Reform
Legislative Issue Update - October 2007
Asbestos Litigation Reform [updated June 2007]:
The asbestos litigation crisis has cast a dark shadow over the economy, and enactment of legislation to address this issue has loomed large on the Federal tort reform agenda. In recent years, the effort has revolved around a proposal to replace the current tort system for the resolution of asbestos-related claims with a no-fault compensation scheme funded by a defendant company and insurer-funded trust fund.
The Senate Judiciary Committee in both the 108th and 109th Congresses favorably reported the “Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act” (“FAIR Act”). NAW supported the FAIR Act in the 109th Congress, and cloture was invoked on the motion to proceed to the legislation by a 98 – 1 vote. However, the bill failed to clear a subsequent procedural “point of order” and the effort to revive the measure was not successful.
Asbestos litigation reform does not appear to be a good candidate for action in the 110th Congress.
Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act (LARA):
The “Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act” (“LARA”) was reintroduced in the 109th Congress, proposing two procedural reforms to the civil justice system. The legislation would:
- deter the filing of “junk” lawsuits by instituting mandatory sanctions on lawyers, law firms or parties who file frivolous lawsuits or pleadings; and
- put the breaks on “forum shopping” by limiting the jurisdictions in which a personal injury lawsuit may be filed to those with a connection to the injury.
Despite the support of the 340-member strong Lawsuit Abuse Reform Coalition (LARC) and House passage of LARA in the fall of 2005, the bill never gained traction in the Senate and died at the conclusion of the 109th Congress.
LARA has yet to be re-introduced and is not a strong prospect for consideration in the 110th Congress.
Product Seller Liability Reform:
In February 2007, Representative Dan Boren (D-OK-2) introduced H.R. 989, the “Innocent Sellers Fairness Act,” which proposes a uniform negligence-based standard of product liability for product sellers. H.R. 989 is cosponsored by 43 Members, 41 Republicans (led by Representative Steve Chabot, R-OH-1) and two Democrats. The measure has been referred to the Judiciary Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee and, in the latter, to its Consumer Protection Subcommittee.
NAW supports the Innocent Sellers Fairness Act; however, action in the Democrat-controlled 110th Congress is considered unlikely.
Workplace Goods Product Liability Reform:
During the 109th Congress, NAW supported the “Workplace Goods Job Growth and Competitiveness Act”. This legislation proposed to enact a Federally preemptive 12-year statute of repose for durable goods used in the workplace which cause traumatic injuries for which workers’ compensation benefits are payable. The purposes of the bill are to reduce wasteful legal costs (defendant product sellers and manufacturers almost always prevail in product liability cases involving “overage” products that go to trial) and to enhance the competitiveness of American industry (foreign sellers and manufacturers of workplace durable goods do not face the same “long-tail” of liability that now confronts domestic sellers and manufacturers of these products).
Although the House Judiciary Committee approved the bill 21 – 12 in the summer of 2006, the full House did not consider the measure before adjourning. This legislation has not been re-introduced and is not considered a good prospect for consideration in the Democrat-controlled 110th Congress.