September 17, 2004Though perhaps not as exciting as the recent National Waffle Week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform is celebrating a successful end to its "Tort Reform Week" - a push for quick passage of new legal legislation that could benefit small businesses.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4571 by a vote of 229 to 174, sending it on to the Senate. Supporters say the measure will curb unnecessary litigation by re-enforcing rules already on the books, and by creating a new requirement preventing plaintiffs' attorneys from shopping around for friendly legal venues.

"The Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act will help put an end to the abuses of our civil justice system by unscrupulous trial lawyers," said Lisa Rickard, president of the Institute for Legal Reform. "The House has taken an important step toward providing much-needed relief to small business owners and consumers who are footing the bill for America's legal crisis."

Specific provisions include:

  • Making monetary sanctions against attorneys who file frivolous lawsuits mandatory rather than discretionary, and removing an earlier "safe harbor" provision that allows attorneys who file frivolous lawsuits to avoid sanctions by withdrawing their suit after a motion for sanctions has been filed
  • Allowing sanctions for frivolous or harassing conduct during discovery
  • Allowing a plaintiff to sue only where he or she lives or was injured, or where the defendant's principal place of business is located

Critics counter that lawsuit abuse is not on the rise, and that the measure is "frivolous legislation" to be debating during an election year. Republicans have assailed Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry and his running mate, John Edwards, a former plaintiffs attorney, for their stance on tort reform, though both Kerry and Edwards have stated that lawyers who attempt to game the legal system should face sanctions.