House Passes Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act

Illustration of legal cases for asbestos and mesothelioma

On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act, which would put new restrictions on class action lawsuits. Among other things, the bill requires each person involved in a class action lawsuit to show that they experienced the same scope and type of injury before a federal court certifies it.

This bill could make it extremely difficult for many people to be able to file a class action claim due to personal injury or wrongful death, since the extent of injury can vary significantly from person to person. It’s one of several bills pushed through the House Judiciary Committee recently that seems to favor businesses over consumers.

“The legislation … addresses the abuses within our civil justice system, helps ensure that baseless lawsuits are quickly dispensed with and improves protections for deserving victims so the doors to justice remain open for parties with legitimate claims,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the author of the bill. He explained he wrote the bill with the intent of creating an efficient and just legal system.

Opponents of the bill argue that it instead makes it virtually impossible to bring forward any class action lawsuits. Christine Hines, the director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, explained most class action suits see a range of injuries. With this bill in place, far fewer people would be eligible to take action against these bad business practices.

This bill could be of particular harm to mesothelioma victims, many of whom seek compensation for unjust exposure to asbestos through a process known as multidistrict litigation (MDL). Asbestos cases are handled as part of MDL No. 875, which is overseen by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. It is one of the biggest and longest-running MDLs in the country.

However, not all cases of asbestos are the same. While asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma, it can also lead to other debilitating and potentially conditions, such as asbestosis and a variety of cancers, including lung cancer. Furthermore, the severity of each condition may differ from person to person.

The bill passed primarily along party lines with a vote of 220-201, although a handful of Republicans sided with the Democrats in opposing the bill. Next, it will move to the Senate, where Democrats will likely try to find enough support to block the bill from being sent to President Trump.