By this time of year, many state legislators have moved pass gubernatorial addresses, commemorating those newly elected, and organizing for the legislative session. Not all state legislative sessions are underway, but many have geared up for a hard look at legislative proposals.
As you know, the vast majority of states are holding elections for state officials in 2016, and with incumbents anxious to campaign rather than legislate, the amount and duration of state and federal legislative activity is likely to be diminished. Of course, for so many of you who are passionate about restoring fairness to our civil justice system and curbing lawsuit abuse, the election year means it’s very important for voters to know the candidates and their positions on curbing lawsuit abuse, as well as who is contributing to their campaigns.)
What are some of the civil justice reforms we will see in the states this year?
- Asbestos reform is a hot topic because of the recurring court actions and news items exposing massive fraud and abuse by personal injury lawyers. Their greed, and some notorious courtrooms such as those in Madison County, Illinois, are conspiring to loot the bankruptcy trusts intended for the truly injured and at the same time harm employers by manipulating evidence. Arizona, Texas and West Virginia all passed trust transparency laws in 2015 to make the process fairer. This year, asbestos reforms re likely to be considered in Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Tennessee, and the U.S. Congress is considering reform legislation (The FACT Act).
- A big moneymaker for personal injury lawyers is a type of class action lawsuit alleging fraud on consumers, and these lawyers repeatedly try to pass laws to expand the fraud rules, while tort reform advocates seek laws to make such lawsuits reasonable and fair. The suits, often called “Consumer Protection Act” (CPA) actions represent about one third of all class actions, and a recent study found the number of these suits have doubled over an eight-year period. Don’t be fooled by the words, “consumer protection,” as very often the so-called “fraud” is not about hazards or fooling someone but rather very minor variations of specific rules such as the font size required to be used on a sign. Personal injury lawyers take advantage of minor infractions to file numerous junk lawsuits that make them rich while costing small businesses and their customers money. The personal injury lawyers in California, Oregon, and Washington are likely to seek to make CPA laws cover broader areas, and reformers in Kentucky, Missouri, and New Jersey are expected to push for commonsense reforms.
- In addition to CPA laws, personal injury lawyers can be counted on to try to expand liability rules in many ways. Examples include broadening wrongful death law, attacks on arbitration, expanding health care provider liability, removing damage caps, creating greater workplace liability, and many other legal provisions. States anticipating bad liability legislation include California, Colorado, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.
- Lawsuit lending, where predatory loan companies sometimes charge 200 percent or more for loaning plaintiffs money against an expected verdict outcome, is a hot topic in many states. Because of these loans and massive interest on them, plaintiffs can end up receiving a lawsuit payment and at the same time be thousands of dollars in debt. Arizona expects to see legislation to “regulate” these loans as well as “enabling” legislation seeking to legitimatize them. Alabama, Indiana, Missouri and New York will work to regulate, and Kentucky expects to fight enabling legislation.
Many other important legal reforms are in the works, too many to discuss all at once here, and personal injury lawyers undoubtedly will have many tricks up their sleeves. Stay tuned, as we’ll be highlighting some of the reform efforts – and battles against personal injury lawyer greed – in the coming weeks and months. We urge you to do all you can to help stop lawsuit greed and unfair courts. It starts with you!