What if you had no way to hold big companies accountable? What if people couldn't come together — with their strength in numbers — to make big corporations pay for the harm their defective drugs, medical devices, products, and business practices cause everyday people?
There's a bill under consideration in Congress that could do just that.
On Feb. 15, the House Judiciary Committee approved the so-called Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017 for a full vote in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill would essentially eliminate the rights of all Americans to seek redress in our court system through class actions or multidistrict litigation efforts, which are often the only viable options for injured patients and consumers to level the playing field and seek compensation when they have been harmed by large corporations.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, proposed the bill — AKA H.R. 985 — to ostensibly ensure "fairer, more efficient outcomes from claimants and defendants." However, the outcome wouldn't be fairer or more efficient for those looking to get justice in the courts through collective means. It's the opposite of fairness, according to scores of civil rights groups.
Contact your congressperson and senators and tell them you don't want the courtroom door slammed shut. The most effective way to get your message heard is to call your representatives or write a letter to their district offices.
Why This Matters
Whether they are participants in a class action or filing individual lawsuits that are consolidated in pre-trial proceedings for cheaper, more efficient lawsuits that could individually go to trial, people sometimes need to come together to take on big companies for their negligence.
Think of those big class actions, such as the one Morgan & Morgan is leading on behalf of as many as a billion Yahoo users, whose data was hacked in the biggest breach ever; or the effort to get justice for the Porter Ranch gas leak.
Or consider those MDLs against the likes of Johnson & Johnson, which juries have ordered to pay out millions upon millions of dollars to individuals alleging that the company's medical devices and products such as talcum powder have caused great, sometimes fatal, harm.
In any instance, it was crucial that people had the right to come together to hold big companies accountable.
What is the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act?
The changes proposed could keep you from seeking legal recourse to punish corporations that engage in illegal or dangerous activities like deception, environmental destruction, ignoring signs their product causes health problems, and more.
The bill proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives could weaken this method of punishing wrongdoers.
Below are some key aspects of the proposal:
- Restricts class actions and MDLs to those who have “suffered the same type and scope of injury,” meaning even tiny differences in injury caused could be enough to prevent a class action.
- Put heavy burdens of proof to gain class certification.
- Restrict compensation in many cases to injured plaintiffs and not their families or loved ones.
- Restrict your right to choose a lawyer.
- Take away states’ rights in setting the specifics of the attorney-client relationship.
- Reduce and/or cap the amount of money attorneys can receive for their services during a settlement.
These are only the most obvious effects of the bill. It's important to note these changes could also retroactively apply to pending cases. Speculation is growing that the cumbersome rules could lead to a significant reduction of class action and MDL suits. This might sound good to people who think there are too many "frivolous lawsuits," but this isn't about that, really. In actuality, the bill could very well eliminate existing rights and place new burdens on injured people, requiring them to prove their cases prematurely. This could result in no jury trials.