Congress Approves Class-Action Lawsuit Reform

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:05 PM EDT

( - In a vote of 279-149, the U.S. House Thursday passed a class-action lawsuit reform measure that would transfer most large multi-state lawsuits to federal court.

The Senate passed the bill last week. Lawsuit reform was one of President Bush's second-term goals.

"I'm pleased to join my colleagues here today who support taking a historic first step towards breaking one of the main shackles holding back our economy and America's workforce - lawsuit abuse," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) in a statement Thursday.

"For the last decade, the Republican Congress has worked to end out of control lawsuits. Today is the day we will pass common-sense legislation and put an end to Class Action Lawsuit abuse," said Hastert, who praised House Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensesenbrenner for "his relentless work."

"I'm from Illinois - the Land of Lincoln - where downstate Madison County has the dubious distinction as a personal injury lawyer's paradise. There aren't palm trees or sandy beaches there. Instead, Madison County, Illinois, is home to very warm courtrooms where frivolous lawsuits are filed virtually everyday," said Hastert.

"Why Madison County? The answer: 'venue shopping.' Cagey trial lawyers have figured out there's a pretty good likelihood their case - no matter its merit - will literally get its day in court because of favorable judges," he said.

The measure would ban state courts from hearing large multi-state class action lawsuits. Those courts are known for handing out multimillion-dollar verdicts, such as lawsuits against Big Tobacco.

Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, called the bill "a payback to big business at the expense of consumers."

"It's the final payback to the tobacco industry, to the asbestos industry, to the oil industry, to the chemical industry at the expense of ordinary families who need to be able go to court to protect their loved ones when their health has been compromised," said Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass).

"And these people are saying that your state isn't smart enough, your jurors aren't smart enough" to decide those cases, added Markey.

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