AAJ spokesperson: U.S. Chamber's tort reform efforts are 'wrong'

David Yates Feb. 10, 2009, 2:33am

NEW ORLEANS -- With President George W. Bush out and President Barack Obama in, a spokesperson for America's leading trial lawyers association says things are looking up for the lawsuit industry, but warned the world's largest business federation remains an obstacle.

On Feb. 7, The American Association for Justice kicked off its 2009 Winter Convention in New Orleans, La.

During the opening plenary session, AAJ Senior Vice President for Public Affairs Linda Lipsen addressed members, saying the organization is focused on "undoing" the Bush administrator's tort reform efforts, working with Congress on authoring new pro tort legislation, and eliminating arbitration contracts.

Even though Lipsen implied an Obama presidency would make for a more favorable Washington climate, she expressed concern over the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's persistent tort reform campaign.

"The Chamber is not going to go away," Lipsen said to dozens of plaintiff's lawyers. "They're (the Chamber) wrong and we're (the AAJ) right."

In her opening statements, Lipsen praised President Obama's first piece of legislation – the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which overturns a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision putting a statute of limitations on employees suing over pay discrimination.

Critics of the act say it will open the civil floodgates, creating lawsuit tsunamis.

Lipsen said President Obama's act was "not bad" for his first days in office, and that the AAJ is currently working with several key House and Senate officials, such as U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), to reverse the damage the outgoing Bush administration inflicted on the civil justice system.

Lipsen said Bush's "midnight regulations" (outgoing acts) weakened consumer rights and shielded negligent corporations.

Expressing her opinion of the outgoing administration, Lipsen said the "greatest moment" of the Bush presidency was watching the helicopter take him back to his Texas Ranch.

Another goal set by the AAJ is to weed out employer/employee arbitration contracts, Lipsen said.

"Arbitration is growing like a weed," Lipsen said. "We have to dedicate ourselves to getting rid of (arbitration contracts)."

Some employers incorporate arbitration clauses in new employee contracts, which advocates claim helps to keep disputes from ending up in court.

According to a 2008 Institute for Legal Reform election night poll, 83 percent of voters said the number of frivolous lawsuits was a serious problem, including 77 percent of Democrats; 80 percent of Independents; and 92 percent of Republicans.

The Southeast Texas Record is owned by the Institute for Legal Reform, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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Organizations in this Story

U.S. Supreme Court
1 First St NE
Washington, DC 20543

American Association for Justice
777 6th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20001

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