House Republicans pass tort bill by slim margin

Washington Post
Thursday, June 29, 2017

A medical malpractice bill that limits attorney fees and some patient damage fees in civil lawsuits was passed by the House on Wednesday by a narrow margin of 218 to 210, with numerous Republicans voting against the measure.

The biggest point of contention was over a provision that places a cap of $250,000 on noneconomic damages awards to victims, which includes pain and suffering. Nineteen Republicans voted against the bill, many of them citing this as a key reason, saying it would trample on states' rights because it would take away their ability to establish their own laws on the matter.

At least two dozen states do not cap noneconomic damages, and several state supreme courts - including Washington and Florida - have determined they are unconstitutional.

"This represents a massive expansion of federal authority," said Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., who voted against the bill.

"It's a power grab by Washington," said Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., who also voted against the measure.

The opposition from Republican members is a break from the past, when conservative lawmakers have consistently united in their support of similar measures. Several conservative groups, such as Frontiers of Freedom and the Institute for Liberty, also opposed the bill. And former U.S. attorney general Edwin "Ed" Meese, a Republican, announced his opposition Tuesday, calling the bill "constitutional malpractice."

In a letter sent to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Meese said the bill was a "sweeping effort to federalize tort law with our system of federalism, which reserves that province solely to the states."…

The Center for Justice & Democracy - a major opponent of the bill - said it "strongly condemned" its passage.

Joanne Doroshow, the center's executive director, called it a "harsh and mean-spirited bill that will harm the most vulnerable and severely injured Americans. This includes brain-damaged children, quadriplegic workers, and seniors in nursing homes."

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