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Tort reform bill would restrict access to courts for asbestos plaintiffs

Readers who follow the happenings in Washington D.C. may have heard that Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are currently pressing a handful of bills aimed at reforming the tort system. Tort reform has long been a battle fought at the state level, but the series of bills currently being advanced aims to make changes that would have a national impact.

One bill, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act, was passed by the House last Thursday. The measure would, among other things, make it a requirement that every member of a proposed class has suffered an injury of the same type and scope in order for class certification to be granted and the class action to move forward. The bill would also limit the types of clients attorneys are able to represent in class action litigation and would limit attorney fees based on settlement amounts. 

Naturally, attorneys who routinely represent clients in class action cases have raised alarm about the measure on the grounds that it will make it much more difficult for plaintiffs to pursue litigation. Opponents of the legislation have also cited potential encroachment on judicial authority over class certification and the regulation of attorneys.

Asbestos litigation would surely be impacted by the bill, since many individuals seek compensation for asbestos exposure through class action litigation. Class actions can be beneficial for consumers since they reduce the costs and hassles of litigation for all, ensure greater consistency in compensation, and bring wide, national attention against companies who have caused widespread harm.

The problem with requiring all class members in asbestos litigation to have the same type and scope of injury is that asbestos exposure doesn’t necessarily have uniform affects on those who’ve been exposed. Asbestos injury also has a relatively wide latency period, which further complicates the matter. Requiring uniformity of injury type and scope will therefore prove to be a serious barrier for asbestos victims seeking compensation.

Not all asbestos plaintiffs pursue compensation for asbestos exposure through class action litigation, of course. In a future post, we’ll look at other common avenues available to plaintiffs.

Sources:                                                              

ABA Journal, “House passes two class-action reform bills,” Stephanie Francis Ward, March 10, 2017.

Los Angeles Times, “GOP marks National Consumer Protection Week by voting to 'obliterate' class-action lawsuits,” David Lazarus, March 9, 2017. 

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