The Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) and the Tire Industry Association (TIA) are among more than 70 business associations that have joined a new coalition to support passage of a major tort reform bill.
The bill, the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act, passed the House last September by a 229-174 vote but failed to make headway in the Senate before the 108th Congress adjourned the next month.
In an effort to ensure the bill's passage in the 109th Congress, the groups that supported it last year have formed the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Coalition. Besides the RMA and TIA, the associations participating in the coalition include the American Trucking Associations, the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, the Small Business Legislative Council and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).
As it did last year, the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act would amend Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to require courts to sanction attorneys who file frivolous lawsuits. Currently, courts have the power to issue such sanctions, but that power is discretionary.
Those sanctions under the bill would usually be monetary, in the form of reimbursement of defendants' attorney and litigation fees and court costs.
Rule 11 has what is known as a ``safe harbor'' provision, giving plaintiffs and their attorneys 21 days to withdraw a lawsuit after the defendants' attorneys file a motion for sanctions. The new bill would abolish that provision.
In addition, the bill would end ``forum shopping'' among attorneys who seek to file lawsuits in jurisdictions that offer the biggest payoffs to plaintiffs in product liability or personal injury litigation. It would require suits to be filed only in courts near where the plaintiff lives; where the plaintiff lived at the time of the injury; where the injury occurred; or where the defendant has his or her main place of business.
Both the RMA and TIA have said that revising Rule 11 has been a major goal of business since the mid-1990s.
The legislation's chances for ultimate passage are much better in the current Congress than the previous one, according to Brad Close, manager of legislative affairs for the NFIB.
``We didn't have as big a vote in the House as we hoped for last year,'' he said. ``It was right in the middle of the presidential campaign, and it was not a good time to have a vote. We also didn't have a coalition then that was dedicated to passage of the bill.''
No hearings have yet been set for the bill, although Mr. Close said he expected committee action before the August recess.