Congress is currently working to pass two major laws that would make it more difficult for American consumers to file class action lawsuits. An article in Rawstory.com calls House Rule 985 (the Fairness in Class Action Litigation” an “Erin Brockovich killer.” The law would basically put restrictions on the criteria for people banding together for a class action lawsuit. It would also complicate and delay any payments for an attorney representing clients.
Laws Would Stifle Class Action Suits
In the end, it’s the consumer who loses because this law will make it risky for an attorney to take on a case to help someone who has been hurt or wronged by a corporation. This law would have prevented someone like Brockovich or anyone else from getting people together to file a lawsuit against a corporation. In Brockovich’s case, she famously brought together residents of Hinkley, Calif. to sue Pacific Gas and Electric for contaminating groundwater, which caused medical issues including cancer and in some cases, death.
The second law, House Rule 720, would require federal judges to penalize or otherwise discipline any attorney who brings what the judge may consider a “frivolous lawsuit.” Right now, this is a decision left up to the judge. This law presumes that there is currently an outbreak of frivolous lawsuits nationwide. Judges already have the authority to dismiss frivolous lawsuits. If a lawsuit does go to a jury trial, it’s only because a judge has determined its validity. Our civil justice system already has several safeguards in place. What these laws will do is prevent consumers from seeking justice and holding corporations accountable.
Why Class Action Lawsuits Matter
Class action lawsuits are often misrepresented as vehicles for attorneys to make more money. But what tort reform advocates fail to understand that class action lawsuits are almost always the only way for consumers to seek justice in cases where large corporations have wronged them – be it not paying them the correct wages or manufacturing dangerous and defective products. Without class action lawsuits, the average Joe will not have the money or the resources to take these corporations to court and hold them accountable.
By passing these laws, legislators will be taking away consumers’ access to the justice system, which is unfair and plain wrong. We hope these proposed laws will be met with resistance in Congress and that there is more awareness created about the value and importance of class action lawsuits through the debate that ensues.