House Joins Senate in Backing Limits on Class-Action Lawsuits

WASHINGTON, Feb. 17 – In a legislative victory for President Bush, the House of Representatives easily passed a bill this afternoon that would sharply limit the ability of people to file sweeping, multistate lawsuits against companies.
The vote to limit class-action lawsuits was 279 to 149. Since the Senate approved the measure last week by 72 to 26, it now goes to President Bush, who is eager to sign it and many do so as early as Friday.
The legislation has long been advocated by businesses, especially manufacturers and insurance companies. Business interests have complained that too many frivolous lawsuits by profit-hungry lawyers have sprung up under the label of class actions, roughly defined as those suits brought by large groups of people who are affected by the same questions of law and fact.
The bill passed today would bar state courts from considering the kind of suits most bothersome to corporate America. It would preclude those courts from considering claims of more than $5 million and those in which many members of the suing “class” live in states different from the defendant’s.
Opponents of the bill include civil rights organizations, labor groups, consumer organizations, environmental groups and many state prosecutors. They have complained that the bill would provide shelter for unscrupulous companies by slamming the courthouse doors on many deserving would-be plaintiffs.
The bill would transfer many class-action suits to the federal courts. But some legal experts say the federal courts would not be able to hear them, since they are constrained by precedents from considering large class actions that involve varying laws of different states.
But some experts have said that it is too soon to predict the full effect of the legislation, and that federal judges will indeed find ways to take class actions that they consider worthy.

In today’s House vote, 229 Republicans were joined by 50 Democrats in favor of the bill. One Republican, John T. Doolittle of California, joined 147 Democrats and one independent, Bernard Sanders of Vermont, in voting against it.


Originally written By DAVID STOUT

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