In its bid to protect corporate campaign donors, Congress has been working to pass 2 new laws that will provide more protection for corporations against class-action lawsuits.
House Rule 986, which supporters dubbed the “Fairness in Class Action Litigation” law is also referred to as an “Erin Brokovich killer” by critics. The other law, House Rule 720, requires federal judges to discipline any attorney who may file what the judge considers as a “frivolous” lawsuit.
Possible Consequences of the New Laws
One of the aspects of HR 985 is that the victims of a certain corporation’s products, services, or actions, cannot join together as plaintiffs in a class-action suit unless they “suffered the same type and scope of injury as the named class representative.” Thus, if a certain medicine caused death for one victim while another was only paralyzed from the neck down, they cannot join together in a single suit. They have to file separate cases. Even if 2 victims died but they died from different causes then they cannot join together. This prevents class-action suits such as the one featured in the movie “Erin Brokovich”, in which a company contaminated the groundwater for a community that resulted in many different side effects among residents.
That’s not all. It also limits the money that attorneys can get as compensation for their time, efforts, expertise, and often their own investigative expenses. Usually, attorneys for these cases do not receive payment unless their clients receive a settlement or monetary damages from the corporations they sue. This limitation will then keep many lawyers from representing plaintiffs who are already beset by huge medical expenses.
Will the Laws Affect Personal Injury Cases?
The HR 720 law further discourages lawyers from accepting these cases. That’s because they face possible disciplinary action and fines if a judge finds their lawsuit “frivolous”. Currently, judges already possess the power to dismiss frivolous lawsuits. With this new law, they will now have the power to punish the plaintiffs’ lawyers. Currently, big corporations already have the advantages in these cases. They have huge coffers that they can use for their legal defense, and they can afford to extend the trials for years while the plaintiffs desperately hang on cash-strapped. Apparently, businesses have enough money that they have also donated heavily to various politicians to represent their interests in Congress.
This is a serious miscarriage of justice, because potential victims of corporate misconduct will no longer have any recourse in seeking justice.
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