- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Republican-led House of Representatives is fighting back against big-money plaintiffs’ attorneys who use campaign cash to control congressional Democrats.

A provision in the budget continuing resolution would forbid government from spending funds to implement a new Consumer Product Safety Commission program. On March 11, the CPSC is set to launch a new online database publishing thousands of outside complaints about allegedly unsafe products. These attacks would be publicized before any investigation and without independent evidence that complaints are legitimate. It’s an open invitation for competitors or interest groups to destroy a product’s reputation - and sales - without proof. It’s also a major come-on to trial lawyers eager to file class-action suits. Attorneys could tell juries that publication on an official government website is evidence that allegations have weight.

Even without this new database, it’s too easy to force products off the market. Previous bogus consumer scares - such as worries about the chemical Alar on apples and the purportedly cancer-causing properties of silicone breast implants - show the dangers of letting unsubstantiated allegations gain premature credibility. The CPSC database would add to the mischief trial lawyers could cause with spurious lawsuits.

The HEALTH Act, stand-alone legislation awaiting consideration, would help limit jackpot justice with a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages (for pain and suffering, for example) on injury suits. States that implemented similar caps have experienced decreases in medical malpractice insurance costs and increases in the number of doctors willing to practice there. The HEALTH Act would put a three-year statute of limitations on lawsuits and tie attorney awards to a sliding scale based on how much plaintiffs are awarded. The Judiciary Committee passed the bill Feb. 16, so it’s ready to be debated in the full House.

Legal reform can protect businesses and help victims by minimizing frivolous lawsuits that clog courts. The only naysayers are ambulance chasers and their minders on Capitol Hill.