Madison County action hastens bill signing

The Madison County Record Feb. 20, 2005, 3:16am

From The Washington Post:

Ultimately, however, the skepticism of many Democrats to this argument pushed the measure to passage. In the Senate, the new rules for class-action suits were supported by Democrats with generally liberal voting records such as Sens. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.). They agreed with such advocates as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that waging class-action lawsuits amid a patchwork of state laws produces irrational verdicts and invites abuse by plaintiffs' attorneys filing lawsuits in certain courts known to be sympathetic to the cases, no matter if there is any particular logic to hearing the case in that jurisdiction.

One of the most celebrated of these localities is Madison County, Ill., which Bush visited last month in his campaign to pass the legislation. A White House official last night said Madison County's record as a magnet for dubious class-action cases was one reason Bush was eager to sign the bill as quickly as possible this morning, before leaving for a European trip Sunday morning.

From CNS News Service:

"I'm pleased to join my colleagues here today who support taking a historic first step towards breaking one of the main shackles holding back our economy and America's workforce - lawsuit abuse," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) in a statement Thursday.

"I'm from Illinois - the Land of Lincoln - where downstate Madison County has the dubious distinction as a personal injury lawyer's paradise. There aren't palm trees or sandy beaches there. Instead, Madison County, Illinois, is home to very warm courtrooms where frivolous lawsuits are filed virtually everyday," said Hastert.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Hoping to boost its tort-reform agenda, the White House has slated a signing ceremony for this morning, amid a flurry of last-minute lawsuits filed in state courts. But the victory belongs foremost to the business lobby, which has spent millions of dollars in a seven-year campaign to prevent plaintiffs' lawyers from shopping among local jurisdictions in search of big awards. And underscoring this concern, juries in state courts have returned a string of large punitive-damage awards against big companies in recent years.

Future civil actions will be subject to a new, more federalized framework that would remove cases from state courts if the aggregate claims are more than $5 million. The legislation doesn't affect any class-action suits filed before the bill is signed into law. Exemptions would permit localized controversies to remain in state courts, but the basic thrust, supporters said, is to adjust the U.S. court system to be more in line with Congress's own powers over interstate commerce.

From Business Insurance:

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue hailed the reform as an event that "will reduce frivolous lawsuits, spur business investment and help restore sanity to our legal system."

The law's passage could also act as an impetus for further reform, other tort reform supporters say. "It's the first inning of a nine inning game," said David Winston, senior vp-federal affairs for the National Assn. of Mutual Insurance Cos. in Washington. "The insurance and business community that strongly supported class action reform have a nice early lead and hopefully this will have some legs and translate into broader tort reform."

Other tort legislation introduced thus far in the Congress includes a medical malpractice liability reform in the Senate that would cap non-economic damages at $250,000, and a House measure that would require federal judges to sanction lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits.

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