Now is the Time to Restore Fairness in Our Courts

Lisa Rickard Jan. 16, 2005, 8:46am

Last week, more than any other time in recent history, a bright spotlight was cast upon the crisis that has taken hold of America’s courts.

President Bush visited Madison County, Illinois – home of the most abusive court system in America – to push for medical liability reform. The President spent the rest of the week urging swift Congressional action on class action reform and a solution to this country’s asbestos litigation crisis.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert both called for passage of these vital legal reforms in their inaugural addresses to their respective houses of Congress to open the 109th Session.

Ohio Governor Bob Taft signed a comprehensive legal reform bill that will do much to balance the scales of justice in Ohio.

This push for legal reform could not have happened a moment too soon.

As a report released last week by renowned actuarial firm Tillinghast Towers-Perrin shows, the cost of our already-bloated tort system has risen to more than $245 billion a year. That equates to more than $845 a year that every man, woman and child in America is forced to pay in higher prices, higher insurance rates, and skyrocketing healthcare costs.

The time has passed for mere rhetoric on the issue of legal reform. Immediate action is required to restore fairness in our courts.

For the better part of last year, the Class Action Fairness Act had the bipartisan support of more than sixty U.S. Senators. The bill has already passed the House three times. Election year politics, however, prevented the bill from becoming law.

Despite much progress in negotiations on a solution to the asbestos litigation crisis, Congressional passage of such a bill has also proven elusive. The same could be said for medical liability reform.

This crisis, however, has risen to a fever pitch that can no longer be ignored. A lawsuit is now filed every two seconds in this country. The number of class action lawsuits filed in state courts has risen by more than 1,000 percent in the last decade. More than 70 American companies have now been bankrupted by the asbestos litigation crisis – costing at least 60,000 Americans their jobs.

Doctors are being forced out of business, jobs are being lost, shareholder value is being decimated – all while a select group of unscrupulous plaintiffs’ attorneys are getting rich at the expense of hard-working Americans.

Nevertheless, momentum for legal reform is building. In 2003, Texas enacted comprehensive legal reform legislation. In June of last year, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour signed into law a sweeping legal reform bill that the Wall Street Journal labeled a “case study in how to break the power of the trial lawyer lobby.”

Last November, voters in Illinois’ Fifth District – which encompasses Madison County – elected pro-legal reform Judge Lloyd Karmeier to the Illinois State Supreme Court. In West Virginia, pro-legal reform candidate Brent Benjamin defeated entrenched trial lawyer-backed incumbent Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw in a state that consistently ranks as one of the worst for lawsuit abuse.

Pro-legal reform state Supreme Court candidates also prevailed in Mississippi, Ohio, Michigan, Texas, Alabama and Indiana. In Pennsylvania, Washington and Indiana, voters elected pro-legal reform attorney general candidates who will seek to put an end to lawsuit abuse, rather than let it go unchecked.

Voters also approved a number of pro-legal reform ballot initiatives across the country, including California’s Proposition 64, which eliminates “shakedown lawsuits” by stipulating that only the state attorney general and local district attorneys, and not any plaintiffs’ attorney, can sue on behalf of the general public.

The voters have made clear their desire for legal reform. The state legislatures are starting to pass key legislation. The President and Congressional leadership have made known their intentions. The momentum clearly is with those who wish to make America’s legal system simpler, fairer and faster for everyone.

Now is the time for legislators on Capitol Hill to put partisan politics aside and pass meaningful legal reforms that will bring fairness and commonsense to America’s court system.

The very livelihoods of America’s workers, employers and families depend on such action.

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