Civil Justice Legislative Update June 9, 2017

June in Harrisburg is budget season – the busiest part of the legislative cycle. Bills come up fast, committee agendas change at the last minute, and our advocacy efforts are running at full-throttle on behalf of civil justice reform. This week was a particularly active one, and we anticipate busier days ahead as we track legislation that can rise up just as suddenly as it can be set-aside for calmer days next fall.

In addition to the activity we report today on HB 544, HB 1037, and HB 238 we anticipate efforts to change the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law and are on guard against a move to pass a False Claims attorney enrichment bill.

An important part of PCCJR’s mission is to keep you informed. Be sure to check out PCCJR’s new, interactive website and stay on the lookout for email updates and action alerts for the latest information on our civil justice reform efforts.

 

Commonsense Landowner Protection — HB 544

Legislation to protect landowners from liability for the recreational use of their lands was reported from the House Tourism and Recreation Development Committee on June 6, 2017. HB 544 is a commonsense bill, which provides protection to landowners while promoting tourism and economic development as more land is made available for recreational purposes. This bill gives peace of mind to landowners who otherwise would prohibit such use of their property due to the fear of lawsuits.

The Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform (PCCJR) sent a letter to committee members in support of HB 544. The prime sponsor, Rep. Dan Moul (R-Adams), mentioned and thanked the PCCJR for its support during his remarks on the bill.

While a similar bill passed the full House last session by a vote of 187 to 2, the plaintiffs’ bar still opposed the bill in committee last week, resulting in a party line vote of 16 in favor and 9 against.

HB 544 now goes to the full House for consideration.

 

Nursing Home Punitive Damage Bill – HB 1037

On tap next week in the House Judiciary Committee is HB 1037, which will protect our elder care facilities from out-of-state lawyers looking to profit from Pennsylvania’s civil justice system.

Pennsylvania’s nursing homes care for our most vulnerable population in need of healthcare and life services, namely our elderly. Our parents want to stay in Pennsylvania, and it is critical that we maintain the facilities and services they need within our own borders.

Unfortunately, Pennsylvania’s skilled nursing facilities, personal care homes, and assisted living facilities are under attack from predatory, out-of-state lawyers. These out-of-state law firms advertise heavily in newspapers and on television trolling for plaintiffs. Their inflammatory ads breed mistrust and anger against those who care for our elderly citizens.

HB 1037 places reasonable limits on punitive damages against nursing homes, the same limits that protect our medical caregivers. This will allow more money to be spent on patient care and less going into the pockets of lawyers!

 

Asbestos Transparency – HB 238

HB 238, a bill that would put an end to plaintiffs’ attorney practices that systematically manipulate evidence in asbestos cases, was passed over by the House Judiciary Committee this week.

It is important to note the hard work and unwavering support of the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Warren Kampf (R – Chester County) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin). They clearly understand that no one can justify allowing attorneys to deny asbestos exposure in a court case and then file bankruptcy trust claims against the same companies they denied, under oath in court, exposed their clients to asbestos.

Common sense dictates that claims made against the asbestos bankruptcy trusts should be identified in all court proceedings and now that our newly-formed coalition is up and running, court reforms like HB 238 have a voice and presence in Harrisburg like never before.

Passing over bills is very common at this stage of the legislative session. Stay tuned for next steps and action items as the PCCJR continues to work with reform-minded members of the Judiciary Committee to move members and ultimately this legislation.

 

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