Civil Justice Legislative Update June 29, 2017

Budget negotiations grind on this week in Harrisburg.  State spending authority runs out June 30 at midnight pursuant to the state constitution.  But at this point it looks like we’ll be going into budget overtime and with that comes opportunities as well as challenges for civil justice issues.

Without a budget to vote on, it is an active time to move other pieces of legislation, including several bills PCCJR has been monitoring, tracking and actively lobbying.  We’ve seen movement on legislation we support, and are also keeping a close eye on a few pieces of legislation and amendments we oppose, including one bill that could open the flood gates for frivolous lawsuits against Pennsylvania companies.

As we work to educate legislators about these issues, I can’t help but think PCCJR was created just in time!  It’s time to have a counterbalance voice in Harrisburg!

Here’s our update:

Protecting Good Samaritan Rescuers

A bill providing civil immunity to individuals for any damage to a car resulting from entering the car by force to rescue a person passed the House Judiciary Committee by a unanimous vote.  HB 1152, also known at the Hot Car Immunity bill, places several conditions on the grant of immunity, however.  The person in the car must be unable to get out without assistance.  The rescuer must believe the person in the car is in imminent danger of harm.  A reasonable effort must be made to locate the vehicle’s driver.  Law enforcement or the fire department must be contacted, and the rescuer cannot use more force than necessary to enter and remove the occupant.  The rescuer must also leave a note with contact information and why forced entry was used and also must remain with the rescued individual until emergency responders arrive.

HB 1152 now goes to the full House for consideration.

Frivolous Lawsuits Advance In House!

A measure designed to harass businesses large and small with frivolous lawsuits was passed by the House Consumer Affairs Committee this week..  PCCJR is keeping tabs on this plaintiffs’ attorney-driven legislation and actively working to keep the bill from getting to the House floor.

HB 475, sponsored by Representative Anthony DeLuca (D, Allegheny) increases the minimum amount of damages in a private action under the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act from the current minimum of $100 to $500.

Raising the minimum recovery provides incentive to sue for small amounts of  damages that otherwise would never see a courtroom, thus clogging our court system with frivolous cases.  This is the same statute that is responsible for outlandish lawsuits such as the one claiming Subway’s hoagie only measured 11.5 inches instead of the advertised foot long.  There are more ridiculous examples of suits brought under these statutes on our website.

PCCJR strongly opposes this bill and organized opposition to it.  When it was considered by the House Consumer Affairs Committee, Representatives Warren Kampf (R-Chester/Montgomery) and Eric Nelson (R-Westmoreland) were the only two members to vote against the bill.   The committee Chairman, Robert Godshall (R-Montgomery) recommended to his committee to support the bill by saying he promised the prime sponsor he would report it from committee and reminded the committee that the bill had passed in previous sessions without opposition.  PCCJR heard this comment numerous times leading up to the vote.  Our response: This is exactly why PCCJR was created!  No longer will bills that encourage needless litigation, such as HB 475, go unchallenged without critical review and opposition!

PCCJR will continue to work to educate House members about the serious implications this bill will have on the commonwealth’s business environment.  PCCJR is making it known to House leadership that this bill must never be brought to the floor for a vote.

Trial Lawyers Oppose Measure to Curb Opioid Addiction!

It is no secret that Pennsylvania is in the midst of an opioid crisis.  More than 4,600 deathsoccurred in Pennsylvania due to overdoses in 2016. While health care providers, law enforcement, treatment professionals and state officials are seeking solutions to the crisis, unbelievably, plaintiff’s lawyers in the workers’ comp arena are standing in the way of a bill to help curb opioid abuse in Pennsylvania.

That bill is HB 18, sponsored by Representative Ryan Mackenzie (R-Berks/Lehigh), which would regulate what drugs could be prescribed for injured workers under worker’s compensation by implementing a list of acceptable pain drugs, called a formulary.  Such formularies have been enacted in states such as Texas, Ohio, and California and have helped to reduce the number of injured workers who become addicted to dangerous opioid medicine, reducing costs for the system, and in some cases, saving the lives of the injured workers.

Opioid use is high among individuals filing workers’ comp claims. A study recently found that Pennsylvania ranks the second-highest number of opioid pills per prescription per claim and the third-highest number of opioid prescriptions per injured worker.

So why are workers comp lawyers opposed to something that will save lives? At least one Philadelphia workers’ compensation firm, Pond, Lehocky, Stern and Giordano also happens to own a pharmacy, and is running a digital campaign to defeat the bill.  This isn’t about people.  It’s about a payday.

HB 18 received enough votes to pass the House Labor and Industry Committee, but instead of coming up for a vote it was sent to the House Human Services Committee and now the bill sits in the Rules Committee with no indication it will move anytime soon.

It is inconcievable that  House members would allow the wishes of conflicted plaintiffs’ lawyers looking to protect their income prevail at the expense of the public’s health.  However, that appears to be just what is happening.



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