By: Allan M. Siegel
On February 9, 2017, Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of
the House Judiciary Committee, introduced the so-called “Fairness
in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017.” This bill most certainly
does not make class actions more fair or equitable for the average American.
In fact, as the American Association for Justice CEO Linda Lipsen
recently stated, “[this bill] will eviscerate class actions, which are often the
only avenue for Americans to hold corporations accountable if they are
victims of widespread illegal behavior.”
Class actions enable people who have suffered similar harms at the hands
of a corporation or governmental entity to band together to bring a case
and seek justice. Without class actions, most of these suits would simply
not be possible. This bill does a number of things to prevent people from
bringing a class action, including the requirement that each class must
suffer “the same type and scope of injury as the named class representative[.]”
H.R. proposed Section 1716(a).
As almost any personal injury will tell you, this is a highly impractical
if not impossible standard, as the same wrong or harm inevitably affect
different people in different ways. For example, the class action on behalf
of NFL players with neurocognitive injuries – some may develop Alzheimer’s,
others may develop Parkinson’s, or suffer from a variety of issues
due to the head trauma experienced by the class. This common-sense approach
to trauma, wherein it is recognized that different people can get hurt
in different ways by the same harm, would be eliminated under this bill.
The bill also reduces fees to attorneys in class actions, which very well
will chill attorneys’ abilities to take on class action lawsuits.
If passed, this bill will have a devastating effect on Americans’
ability to seek justice against large, well-resourced entities. This really
leads one to ask – whose interests are they trying to protect with
this bill, and the many other unjust bills currently up for debate? It
has been indicated that this bill will be considered this week.