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Tort Reform, Class Action Limits Pass in House; Will They Become Law?

A bill intended to curb class action lawsuits passed in the House of Representatives last week. H.R. 985, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017, would make major changes to class action litigation, limiting attorney's fees and narrowing what plaintiffs can be certified as a class. It has, unsurprisingly, faced strong opposition from plaintiffs' lawyers. The bill is one of several litigation and tort reform measures passed by the House in recent days.

Still, the bills' enactment as law still remains uncertain.

FCALA Passes in the House

The FCALA would change class action litigation in several major ways. It would limit class certification, for example, to plaintiffs who have "suffered the same type and scope of injury," and institute several checks on attorney's fees. In multi-district litigation, for example, lawyers would be limited to 20 percent of the recovery.

The law is needed to help control class action litigation, Republicans argued. Class actions are meant to "provide a fair means of evaluating similar meritorious claims, not to provide a way for lawyers to artificially inflate this size of a class to extort a larger settlement fee for themselves," Representative Blake Farenthold said last Thursday.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, however, argued that the law wouldn't just reform class actions, it would all but kill them. "This doesn't formally abolish the class-action mechanism," the legislator from Maryland said. "It's not the guillotine, but it's a straight jacket."

The bill passed 220 to 201, with 14 Republicans breaking with the party to vote in opposition.

Tort Reform Advances, but Are the Bills Doomed in the Senate?

Though the bill made it through the House, it might not fare well in the Senate. Last year's class action reform bill, H.R. 1927, instituted much less drastic changes, but stalled in the Senate, never coming to a vote. The new legislation, described as "H.R. 1927 on steroids" may do no better.

The class action bill wasn't the only tort reform legislation the House has passed recently. The Innocent Party Act would prevent lawyers from joining parties to suits in order to keep litigation in state courts, while the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act would institute mandatory sanctions for bringing frivolous claims. Like the FCALA, both bills face questionable futures in the Senate.

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