Bush Urges Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers To Take Up Class-Action Reform
To help push along his recently announced campaign to implement medical malpractice reform and reduce litigation costs, President Bush on Thursday met with several bipartisan legislators to urge quick action on legislation that would limit class-action lawsuits, the Washington Times reports (Curl, Washington Times, 1/7). In a speech earlier this week in Collinsville, Ill., Bush asked Congress to make an immediate effort to limit medical malpractice lawsuits, which he said have led to increased malpractice insurance costs and reduced access to care for patients.
Bush, who has said that he will make malpractice reform a priority in his second term, supports a cap on noneconomic damages in malpractice lawsuits, possibly at $250,000; restrictions on the scope of class-action lawsuits; limits on lawsuits against manufacturers and marketers of products that contain asbestos; eliminating noneconomic damages in malpractice lawsuits except in "egregious cases where they are justified"; allowing defendants to pay jury awards in malpractice lawsuits over time, rather than as a lump sum; and limiting the time in which patients who allegedly experience malpractice could file lawsuits. Bush also has said that he would protect pharmaceutical and medical device companies from certain damages in malpractice lawsuits related to products approved by FDA (California Healthline, 1/6).
During the meeting Thursday, Bush said, "Class-action lawsuits have become a problem in the United States. The judicial system is not fair. It is unbalanced; it is tilted." He added, "It is very possible that a good piece of legislation can move quickly this year out of both the Senate and the House, get it to conference quickly and get it to my desk quickly, to show the American people that both parties are willing to work together to solve the problems."
Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said class-action reform will be the first legislation introduced in the Senate this session (Washington Times, 1/7). The House last year passed class-action reform legislation sponsored by Republican legislators.
The legislation was amended in the Senate but was defeated in part because lawmakers could not agree on certain unrelated amendments. The bill would have tried more class-action lawsuits in federal courts rather than state courts. Federal courts are governed by "more stringent rules," according to CongressDaily (Peterson, CongressDaily, 1/6). In addition, awards in federal court typically are smaller (Washington Times, 1/7).
Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) said he believes a class-action reform bill could be finished by Easter if legislators revisit the Senate version of the bill (CongressDaily, 1/6). He said, "There's a very good chance ... of getting a class-action reform bill done" (Washington Times, 1/7).
Edmund Mierzwinski, consumer program director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said, "I think it's clear that the class-action bill should be defeated, but if it's not defeated, it should be made fair to carve out environmental claims, civil rights claims and consumer protection claims that are brought under state law causes of action" (CongressDaily, 1/6).