Tire industry representatives praised House passage of a major tort reform bill but said its chances of being approved by both houses of Congress before the October recess are slim.
The Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act of 2004 passed the House Sept. 14 by a 229-174 vote. Earlier, on Sept. 8, it passed the House Judiciary Committee 18-10.
Essentially, the bill would amend Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to require courts to sanction attorneys who file frivolous lawsuits. Judges currently have the power to impose sanctions, but that power is discretionary.
The amount of the sanction usually would be the cost of defending the frivolous suit, according to the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA), a Washington-based, industry-supported coalition.
Also, the bill would ensure that attorneys could not abuse the discovery process. It would require suits to be heard where the plaintiff lives or was injured, or near the defendant's place of business, putting an end to ``forum shopping'' in which attorneys seek out courts that traditionally are unreasonably biased toward plaintiffs.
The bill ``would reinstate the original intent of Rule 11,'' ATRA said in a press release. Today the average family of four pays a $3,236 ``tort tax'' consisting of the cost added to goods and services because of litigation costs, the association claimed.
``Revisiting Rule 11 has been an (industry) effort at least since the mid-1990s,'' said a spokesman for the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA). ``It reflects our feeling that lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits should be penalized.''
But the Senate-where support for tort reform is less strong than in the House-is unlikely to act on the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act before recessing for the election, the RMA spokesman said. Becky MacDicken, government affairs director for the Tire Industry Association, agreed, though she praised the bill for exactly the same reasons as the RMA spokesman.
Consumer groups oppose the Lawsuit Abuse Act and other legislation aimed at tort reform. ``We are a consumer group, and we don't believe in restricting consumer rights,'' said a spokeswoman for Consumers Union.