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March 6, 2017

House GOP Lawmakers Engage in Cruel and Callous Effort to Take Away People’s Legal Rights

Statement of Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen

U.S. House Republicans are engaging in an unusually cruel and callous effort to strip away the rights of those victimized by corporate wrongdoing and medical malpractice.

Circumventing regular order, they rushed through committee – and are now bringing to the floor for a vote – a spate of legislation that would make it practically impossible to bring class-action lawsuits. The bills also would take away rights from victims of asbestos exposure and undermine the ability of medical malpractice victims to receive appropriate compensation for their injuries.

It matters that the House Republicans are rushing forward without holding proper hearings and following an appropriately deliberative process. If they were to pause, stop spouting evidence-free claims from their donors and actually listen to the stories of the victims who would be affected by their actions, they would change course.

Our nation faces a virtual epidemic of corporate crime and wrongdoing. Just to say the company names – Volkswagen, Wells Fargo, BP, Takata – makes the point. Yet instead of addressing this problem, the House Republicans with H.R. 985 aim to end class actions, among the most effective tools that victims of corporate wrongdoing have to seek redress.

Our nation faces a literal epidemic of medical malpractice, which kills as many 400,000 people a year – making it the third leading cause of death in the United States – and is responsible for 10 times as many injuries. Yet instead of enhancing patient safety, the House Republicans with H.R. 1215 aim to impose severe limits on medical malpractice lawsuits – a move that would both prevent victims from receiving appropriate compensation and make the malpractice problem worse, by lessening the deterrent effect of litigation. There is zero evidentiary basis for such a maneuver, with medical malpractice insurance totaling about 0.1 percent of all health care costs and medical liability premiums declining for nine straight years.

Our nation continues to face an ongoing epidemic of asbestos-related death and disease, with 10,000 people or more dying from asbestos-related causes every year. Instead of ending asbestos exposure and ensuring justice for victims, the House Republicans with H.R. 906 aim to invade the victim’s privacy and deny them compensation.

Other House Republican-backed legislation – H.R. 720, H.R. 725 and H.R. 732 – also would make it harder for victims of corporate wrongdoing to sue and hold corporate wrongdoers accountable.

How to explain these cruel legislative maneuvers? The simple, and correct, explanation is that they are payback to corporate donors.

But it is not only that. Cronyism constitutes a closed system in which the voices of the not-connected are shut out. Backers of these bills are able to introduce and ram through such pernicious legislation – and then sleep at night – because they don’t talk to those affected, don’t listen to their stories, don’t grapple with the real-life impact of their actions.

Courageous victims and their families are ready to speak. Five spoke at a forum on Capitol Hill last week. Shame on the House Republicans for refusing to listen.

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