By Bruce Kaufman
The formula can easily be sketched for a major business victory in Congress on legislation aimed at tilting the civil litigation system more in the favor of companies.
First, strike quickly in the House with multiple bills, before opponents can muster their defenses.
Second, divide the Democrats in the Senate by focusing on red state Democrats with tough reelection fights in 2018.
Third, brand the legislation as “pro jobs,” and toast to victory after President Donald Trump signs a series of bills into law.
But the developing battle over a half-dozen pending federal litigation measures, colloquially known as “tort reform,” comes with many uncertainties. …
A key opponent of the legislation, Joanne Doroshow, the founder of the consumer rights group Center for Justice & Democracy in New York, agreed in part.
“Perhaps the House will vote soon, but nothing will be speedy after that,” she said, foreseeing slower action in the Senate, where opponents have more sway.
“So far, the only bills introduced and moving through Congress are bills that Republicans have introduced in multiple Congresses over many years and which have repeatedly failed,” she said.
“These bills have nothing to do with Trump. The entity exerting the most influence is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a small number of the chamber’s gigantic industry members who have liability exposure for harming the public. They run the show,” she said.
Opponents also plan to argue that these bills are not bipartisan, an approach broadly favored by the public.
Doroshow, who helped orchestrate a February joint letter from dozens of consumer groups opposing the bills before Goodlatte‘s committee, said the real reason these measures haven’t passed both houses in past years is simple: “These bills are not popular.”
The only bipartisan aspect to these bills is “the opposition to them,” she said.
Doroshow cited the House vote on H.R. 1927 in 2016, when one litigation-related bill addressed both class actions and asbestos.
“Not a single Democrat voted for that bill and over a dozen Republicans opposed it,” she said.
“The same is basically true for the other bills in the House last year. All of these bills are coming up again in the House. They are not bipartisan bills,” she said. …
Another important strategy: putting a human face on the issues, ideally while painting the other side as out-of-touch and beholden to special interests.
Doroshow said her coalition includes “consumer, civil rights, environmental, worker safety, and a range of other credible public interest organizations who are united in their opposition to these measures.”
These groups represent the public’s “strong belief that large companies would cut corners and risk the public’s safety and security if corporate liability were weakened. They will be most influential in the outcome,” she says.
To read the full article, click here.