On March 9, the House vot­ed 220 to 201 to pass the Fair­ness in Class Action Lit­i­ga­tion Act. Accord­ing to its author, Bob Good­lat­te (R-Va.), the Act is intend­ed to make “an effi­cient and just legal sys­tem” by lim­it­ing friv­o­lous class action lit­i­ga­tion. Its major pro­vi­sion pre­vents the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of a plain­tiff class unless every indi­vid­ual mem­ber of the class suf­fers “the same type and scope of injury.”

Pro­po­nents argue that the Act reduces friv­o­lous suits by requir­ing that all class mem­bers suf­fer a com­pa­ra­ble injury, pre­vent­ing unin­jured indi­vid­u­als from rid­ing the coat­tails of their injured co-plain­tiffs. This would also pre­vent lawyers from arti­fi­cial­ly inflat­ing class sizes in order to increase their own share of the set­tle­ment. Rep. Good­lat­te fur­ther sug­gests that the bill serves a pro­tec­tive func­tion, shield­ing the small busi­ness­es and low net worth indi­vid­u­als whom he believes are the true vic­tims of these suits.

While on paper the bill may sound uncon­tro­ver­sial and even ben­e­fi­cial, a host of crit­ics rang­ing from civ­il rights groups to labor orga­ni­za­tions have claimed that the new require­ments would “oblit­er­ate class actions in Amer­i­ca.” Chris­tine Hines, leg­isla­tive direc­tor of the Nation­al Assn. of Con­sumer Advo­cates, explained that under the cur­rent sys­tem, class­es “typ­i­cal­ly include a range of indi­vid­u­als who almost nev­er suf­fer pre­cise­ly the same degree of injury.” Take for exam­ple, the class action suit against air bag man­u­fac­tur­er, Taka­ta. Their mal­func­tion­ing airbags caused harms rang­ing from super­fi­cial wounds to fatal­i­ties. Though few would con­sid­er the Taka­ta claims friv­o­lous, the range of injuries pre­sent­ed by the plain­tiffs are unlike­ly to be con­sid­ered of the same type and scope under the pro­posed Act.

Regard­less of these sig­nif­i­cant class for­ma­tion issues, even if a suf­fi­cient­ly sim­i­lar class could be assem­bled it would still face a length­i­er cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process. This process would increase the admin­is­tra­tive bur­den on courts and the finan­cial bur­den on plain­tiffs. As Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) sum­ma­rized “it’s not the guil­lo­tine, but it’s a straight-jack­et.”

So far, the bill shows no signs of los­ing steam. It was intro­duced in ear­ly Feb­ru­ary, approved by the Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee less than a week lat­er, and passed by the House in March. Now the via­bil­i­ty of the class action suit rests in the hands of the Sen­ate.

House Takes a Swing at Class Actions (PDF)

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Source: The Net­work

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