Is this really Fairness in Class Actions?

At Emerson Firm, PLLC, we believe that many consumer rights are upheld through class actions. Throughout our extensive class action practice, spanning 36 years of fighting corporations for the average consumer, we’ve learned the essentials to protecting the rights of the people come, in part, from the collective power of class actions. Without access to class actions, the average person can’t hold corporations accountable when they steal money or take advantage of people in other ways.

A new bill in the US Congress, HR 985, aims to diminish the rights of average Americans in favor of corporations and those with deep pockets. Sponsored by Rep. Goodlatte, this bill will do substantial harm to consumers. There are 5 main reasons why HR 985 hurts Americans:

HR 985 is rushed and extreme

The bill was sent through the House Judiciary Committee in less than a week, which is an extraordinary breakneck speed to push through a bill. Most bills take months, if not years, to get out of a Committee and be sent to the floor for a vote.

American Association for Justice CEO Linda Lipsen, wrote in a letter to Rep. Goodlatte, “Shockingly, this committee has not held a single hearing to consider the consequences of this ill-conceived, overly-broad legislation. Supporting a bill that rigs the legal system against your constituents is offensive; doing so without even bothering to hold a public hearing and debate the merits is reprehensible.”

HR 985 may eliminates class actions altogether, not just make them more difficult

The bill makes creating a class action nearly impossible by requiring that that class members have the same type and scope of injury as the named representative.

One class action in the spotlight right now involving wage discrimination at Sterling, the parent company of Kay Jewelers and Jared jewelry stores, is an example of a class action that would be nearly impossible under this new bill. Not every woman experienced the same type of sexual harassment and wage discrimination in the class action. Class actions are intended to help a large group of people hold a company accountable. Individuals on their own wouldn’t be able to do that.

HR 985 seeks to make that a reality by making class actions even harder to create. Thomas M. Susman of the American Bar Association says, “This requirement places a nearly insurmountable burden for people who have suffered personal injury or economic loss at the hands of large institutions with vast resources, effectively barring them from bringing class actions.”

HR 985 violates Attorney Client Contracts

The bill also tries to limit the people an attorney can represent in a class action under the guise of conflict of interest. However, all the bill aims to do is prevent attorneys from representing clients if they’ve previously represented them before as well as family members and employees.

HR 985 targets the underdog

Don’t for a second think that HR 985 imposes these same rules on corporations that class actions are intended to hold accountable. This bill is entirely one-sided and places all the burden on class actions with the intention of making it even harder to fight corporations with deep pockets.

HR 985 changes the rules right now

Class actions often take years of litigation to hold corporations accountable and with the bill’s new rules, current class actions will be affected, throwing out years of work spent fighting for consumer rights. “The bill will undermine the enforcement of this nation’s civil rights laws and upend decades of settled class action law,” says Jocelyn D. Larkin, Executive Director of the Impact Fund. It’ll put many cases back at square one that are necessary to hold corporations accountable and protect consumers.

Emerson Firm, PLLC isn’t the only law firm fighting for consumer rights and we join countless other non-profits and advocacy organizations who fight for the underdog every day.

Legislators Eye Consumer Protection Laws in 2017

There has been a rising interest in reducing the protections afforded by laws, both at the state level in Arkansas as well as at the national level with new legislation working its way through Congress. Two proposed bills directly aim to limit consumer protections by impacting how consumers can hold companies accountable when they’ve caused harm.

Arkansas’ SRJ8 is a supposed tort reform bill that aims to limit the amount Arkansans would be able to receive in a lawsuit. This potentially affects cases related to civil actions, including medical malpractice, accident and injuries, premises liability and product liability, and essentially puts a price on the lives of Arkansans and takes away the right to a jury trial in tort cases.

The Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association recently spoke out about this bill to encourage Arkansans to speak with their representatives, outlining the bill’s goals:

SJR8 is extremely dangerous for Arkansans because it takes away our 7th Amendment right to fight back by:

  1. Putting a price tag on life
  2. Preventing juries from holding harmful entities accountable for causing harm
  3. Giving lobbyists and politicians control of our courts
  4. Taking away our right to hire the legal representation we need to protect ourselves from corporate interests and insurance companies

SRJ8 would directly limit the ability of lawyers to fight for consumer and individual rights.

On the national level, there are new bills reaching the floor that will make it nearly impossible for consumers to recover finances lost in Ponzi schemes. Representative Bob Goodlatte sponsored a bill that recently passed through the House Judiciary Committee titled the “Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act.” Opposed by hundreds of civil rights groups and other advocates for justice, the bill will do tremendous harm in limiting consumer protections.

In an article examining the bill, Paul Bland of Public Justice wrote an explanation of what the bill aims to do:

Goodlatte’s bill was drafted by corporate lobbyists to eliminate the vast majority of class action lawsuits. It would roll back protections for defrauded investors, cheated consumers, people whose privacy has been violated, small businesses harmed by price fixing, workers cheated by wage theft, and pretty much anyone harmed in any way by corporations that break the law.

Regardless of whether these bills become laws both in Arkansas and nationally, it’s clear that consumer protections are under fire in our current political climate.