President Bush Signs Class-Action Lawsuit Reform Legislation Into Law
President Bush on Friday signed a class-action lawsuit reform bill (S 5) into law, one day after the House voted 279-149 to approve the legislation, the Washington Times reports (Lakely, Washington Times, 2/19).
The law, which the Senate passed earlier this month, seeks to prevent "forum shopping," a practice under which attorneys file lawsuits in jurisdictions that often favor plaintiffs. The law will shift class-action lawsuits from state to federal courts in cases in which more than $5 million is in dispute or in which plaintiffs and defendants reside in different states.
In addition, the law includes several provisions that would protect plaintiffs from settlements in which they receive coupons for discounts on goods and services and their attorneys receive large payouts (California Healthline, 2/18). The law allows state courts to proceed with class-action suits when at least three-quarters of the defendants live in the court's jurisdiction (Washington Times, 2/19).
Speaking at a bill-signing ceremony in the White House, President Bush said the class-action law is "a critical step toward ending the lawsuit culture in our country" (CongressDaily, 2/18). Bush added, "Before today, trial lawyers were able to drag defendants from all over the country into sympathetic local courts, even if those businesses have done nothing wrong." Bush also said the law "maintains every victim's right to seek justice and ensures that wrongdoers are held to account" (Washington Times, 2/19).
But Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said the law is "the final payback" to corporations "at the expense of ordinary families who need to be able to go to court to protect their loved ones when their health has been compromised. And [the supporters of the bill] are saying that your state isn't smart enough, your jurors aren't smart enough" to hear the cases.
Bush said more bills restraining the legal system should follow the class-action bill, including legislation to address asbestos litigation and medical malpractice awards (Holland, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 2/18).