ATRA Urging Mich. House Committee to Keep State a Leader in Tort Reform

March 8, 2006

The American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) testified this week before the Michigan House Committee on Tort Reform, urging lawmakers to help the state retain its reputation as a leader in the national legal reform movement by continuing to push for meaningful civil justice reforms.

“Michigan has long been a model for establishing a fair civil justice system as lawmakers tackled issues such as medical liability reform, frivolous lawsuit sanctions, and obesity litigation reform,” said ATRA President Sherman Joyce. “But legislators and the citizens of Michigan must remain vigilant to ensure that personal injury lawyers do not exploit new avenues for lawsuit abuse and earn the area a distinction as a Judicial Hellhole®.”

Judicial Hellholes are state trial court jurisdictions where ATRA believes that impartial justice is unavailable. Personal injury lawyers seek out these jurisdictions and file cases there because they know they will receive a large reward, a favorable precedent, or both.

In his testimony, Joyce urged lawmakers to continue the positive trend around the country toward reform by considering civil justice reform legislation that would:

* Establish a more equitable system for asbestos and silica litigation;
* Regulate government officials who hire outside counsel on a contingency fee basis;
* Reform the jury service system; and
* Ensure that Michigan’s consumer protection statute does not become a vehicle for lawsuit abuse.

“Along with passing new reforms, legislators and the Judiciary also must be mindful of the costs of rolling back or watering down meaningful reforms that are already on the books,” Joyce said. “The consequences of turning back the clock on a fair courts system are already being seen in nearby Wisconsin where several Supreme Court decisions last year opened the flood gates to litigation in the state.”

The Wisconsin Supreme Court was given a “Dishonorable Mention” in the 2005 ATRA Judicial Hellhole report for several decisions last year—including one that struck down the state’s 1995 limit on noneconomic damages in medical liability lawsuits—that could create a potential access to healthcare crisis and make businesses think twice about investment in that state.

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