From Michigan Lawyers Weekly
A bill awaiting action in the U.S. Senate could bring several changes to class action lawsuits nationwide.
The “Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017” was introduced Feb. 9 by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R Virginia, and it passed the U.S. House of Representatives March 9 by a 220-201 vote. A summary of the bill on the official Congress website highlights three key changes that would impact classaction litigation. The top change listed states that in a class action seeking monetary relief for personal injury or economic loss, each proposed class member suffered the same type and scope of injury as the named class representatives. The bill states that it aims to limit attorneys’ fees to a reasonable percentage of any payments received by class members and the value of any equitable relief. It also states that no attorneys’ fees based on monetary relief may be paid until distribution of the monetary recovery to class members has been completed, or exceed the total amount distributed to and received by all class members.
Plaintiffs’ concerns Michael L. Pitt, managing partner of Pitt McGehee Palmer & Rivers in Royal Oak, has worked on many class action suits from the plaintiff’s side. Pitt has expressed numerous concerns about the bill and its potential impact on future class action litigation. “The changes are significant and they really would have the effect of cutting out class action as an effective method of seeking redress for many sectors of our society where claims for personal injury or property damage are asserted,” Pitt said.
Pitt has been working on the Flint water case, and pointed to it as an example of individuals in a classaction lawsuit who have suffered different injuries. “We have people in the same household who are class members, children who have been exposed to lead in the water have suffered serious damage as a result of lead poisoning. We have adults who have developed neurological disorders. You have a mom and dad who own the house, their property value has plummeted, you have property damage, the corrosive water has damaged interior plumbing and in some cases, exterior service lines, those need to be replaced,” Pitt said. “This hypothetical family would not be able to participate in the same class action because they don’t have the same type and scope of injury.”
Pitt said that the bill would result in a decreased desire to pursue class action because of the increase in delays sparked by the new legislation. “What I see here is the amount of delay that’s built into classaction litigation will frustrate many plaintiffs’ lawyers and many plaintiffs in pursuing class actions because any time there’s a ruling the defendants don’t like, they have a way to stay the proceeding and drag it out endlessly,” Pitt said.