By Adam W. Pittman on April 4, 2017
The United States Senate will vote on the mistitled “Fairness in Class Action Act of 2017,” H.R. 985, a bill that passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 220-201. The bill was sold by its sponsor, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), as a way to “assure fair and prompt recoveries for class members and multidistrict litigation plaintiffs with legitimate claims.” But the real aim of the bill would prevent recoveries for consumers in almost every type of class action imaginable.
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What do Class Actions do for me?
Class actions are lawsuits brought by one consumer on behalf of other people who have the same problem. Some of the most important civil rights cases in our history, such as Brown v. Board of Education, were class actions brought to address the rights of multiple people at once. Class actions help protect people who can’t afford to have their problems addressed alone. For example, if a company defrauded 1,000,000 people for $100 each, no single person could afford to spend thousands of dollars to get their $100 back. Class actions allow people who have been harmed to band together. A win for one consumer, known as a “class representative,” is a win for everybody else that the Court determines is in “the class.” Without class actions, there would be no consequence for a business or government that hurts a lot of people at once—as long as it didn’t hurt any one person enough for them to create a costly individual lawsuit.
The Proposed Law Would Take Away Your Protections!
This proposed law in Congress would make sweeping changes to decades of law that would bar consumers with legitimate claims from going to court. The bill requires that all potential members of a class have the “same type and scope of injury” before the lawsuit proceeds as a class action. Class actions are a compromise designed to address many people’s claims at once—but two people rarely have the exact same harm. A bank that defrauds its customers through bogus fees may not charge everyone the same bogus fee the same number of times. 100,000 people who unknowingly bought the same defective car will all have paid different amounts of money. These are classic cases for a legitimate class action, but these class members have different “scope” of injury, and could not bring a class action under the new law. This rigid requirement would not help consumers—it is designed to help corporations escape their responsibilities through a technicality.
Commentators have explained that requiring all class members to have the exact same type and scope of injury could be used to prevent almost every kind of class action you can imagine: Recalls of dangerous products. Banking fraud. Civil rights cases against blatant discrimination. Wage and hour disputes under Federal law. Asbestos and drug injuries. Environmental contamination. Any recent and important lawsuit that created a safety recall—Takata airbags, GM ignition switches, VW diesel emissions—would have been impossible to bring under the new law.
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What can I do about it?
This bill would not protect Americans with legitimate claims—it would protect corporations that knowingly broke the law. Call your Senator and demand they vote “NO” on H.R. 985!
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