Tort reform advocate says Congress action unlikely

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By Mark A. Hofmann, Crain News Service

WASHINGTON (March 13, 2014) — Enactment of substantive federal tort reform legislation may be a thing of the past, a prominent tort reform advocate said March 11.

Speaking at the American Tort Reform Association’s (ATRA) membership meeting in Washington, the group’s general counsel, Victor Schwartz, said future congressional action affecting tort law is likely to involve solely federal issues that are procedural.

An example is the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, which placed certain interstate class actions in federal, rather than state, courts, he told the gathering of tort reform supporters.

Mr. Schwartz said most civil justice issues and tort law rules are addressed by state courts, with state legislatures coming in “on the periphery”—albeit on often significant issues such as limits on pain and suffering damages. Because tort law is primarily a state issue, substantive federal tort reform has been unusual.

He said a patent law reform measure passed in December by the U.S. House—the Innovation Act, H.R. 3309—does contain some civil justice reforms involving attorney fees, but a Senate measure dealing with patent issues does not.

If Republicans should gain a Senate majority in this year’s elections, legislation dealing with asbestos liability and “frivolous” lawsuits in federal courts could be revived, Mr. Schwartz said.

This report appeared on the website of Crain’s Business Insurance magazine, a Chicago-based sister publication of Tire Business.

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