- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 14, 2004

House Republicans fired a shot at the Democratic presidential ticket yesterday by forcing through a bill to curb frivolous lawsuits.

The bill, called the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act, was one of four scheduled for action in the House this week. A handful of other bills are winding their way through the Senate as well.

Republicans have been eager to make hay out of the issue of tort reform since Democrats picked North Carolina Sen. John Edwards as their vice presidential candidate. Mr. Edwards made $39 million during 10 years as a personal injury lawyer, often suing doctors and hospitals.

“This week is John Edwards appreciation week as we take up four lawsuit abuse prevention bills,” said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, before putting the bill to a vote.

The bill, which passed the House 229-174, aims to curb frivolous lawsuits in a variety of ways, including punishing lawyers who bring three or more such lawsuits to court. It also bans “jury shopping,” in which attorneys shop their cases around to find the most favorable juries or judges.

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee issued a seven-page rebuttal to the bill.

“The legislation will have a significant, adverse impact on the ability of civil rights plaintiffs to seek recourse in our court, will operate to benefit foreign corporate defendants at the expense of their domestic counterparts and will massively skew the playing field against injured victims,” said Michigan Rep. John Conyers Jr. and other Democrats, who called it a “sweeping overhaul of our civil justice system.”

The legislation faces an uncertain future in the Senate, which has stalled on several tort reform issues. A bill using similar tactics to curb class-action lawsuits was blocked last year and earlier this year when Republicans fell one vote shy of the 60 needed to override a Democratic filibuster.

Yesterday, Republicans took to the floor of the Senate to push for reforms in the medical malpractice liability system.

“I find it sad that any special interest group — and the senators voting according to the wishes of those groups and not the American people … has denied us the opportunity on each of these three occasions to begin debate, begin the legislative process and hopefully accomplish meaningful reform and improve access to health care,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The House bill yesterday passed with defections by 16 Democrats and support from all but three Republicans.

“Frivolous lawsuits bankrupt individuals, ruin reputations, drive up insurance premiums, increase health care costs and put a drag on the economy,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican and sponsor of the bill.

Even opposing Democrats acknowledged the problem of frivolous lawsuits.

“We are happy to work with the majority in reining in frivolous lawsuits,” the Democrats said in a statement. “But surely we can go after the frivolous cases without harming the ability of civil rights actions to be brought.”

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