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October 22, 2003
Senate Dems Fight GOP Efforts at Tort Reform

Senate Democrats are threatening yet another filibuster, this time to protect their trial lawyer constituency:

Moving the cases to federal court would curb frivolous lawsuits and keep trial lawyers from getting millions of dollars in fees while their clients get little compensation, GOP senators say. Federal courts are assumed to be less likely to issue multimillion-dollar verdicts against big corporations.
[In] both the House and Senate versions of the bill, class-action lawsuits in which the primary defendant and more than one-third of the plaintiffs are from the same state would still be heard in state courts. But if less than one-third of the plaintiffs are from the same state as the primary defendant, the case would go to federal court.

Under the Constitution, anything affecting interstate commerce falls under the scope of the federal system, and most class-action suits have interstate impact, even if they're filed on a state-by-state basis. For instance, the various state tobacco lawsuits were filed in state courts and were careful to include only plaintiffs within each state so as to avoid federal court, at least at first. But that places an unfair burden on defendants, who may have to face 50 class-action lawsuits on every issue. And let's not forget that these lawsuits cost everyone money, except the trial lawyers who handle them. Businesses either go out of business (like Dow Corning, who made silicon breast implants that were later determined to be safe), resulting in lost jobs, or they have to raise their prices in order to cover the legal fees and massive judgments. The bill doesn't outlaw class-action or product liability lawsuits, nor does it weaken liability law. It moves the class-action process to federal court, where it belongs, and where judgments tend to be a lot more realistic -- which puts a dent in trial attorneys' paydays.

However, Democrats say they have at least 41 senators opposed to the bill, enough to prevent the legislation from coming up for a vote under Senate rules. They say the bill is designed to reduce business liability at the expense of people who are injured by corporate wrongdoing. ... Democrats also say the bill was meant hurt to trial lawyers, a perennial Republican target.
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Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 22, 2003 6:13 AM

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