WASHINGTON – The House Rules Committee Wednesday reviewed a bill that could have a significant impact on class-action lawsuits such as those that could be brought against Volkswagen.
The bill would limit participation in class-action lawsuits to people who experienced the same “type and scope” of injury. The intent is to only allow class-action members who actually experienced an injury to participate, but opponents argue the bill would place far more limitations on such litigation.
“[A class-action lawsuit] sends a powerful message and forces the claimant to do the right thing,” Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., said. “The scope and economic loss language in (the bill) would make these hurtles more burdensome.”
The committee will decide whether the measure can be amended on the House floor and how much debate will be allowed.
Twelve amendments were submitted for consideration by the committee, including one submitted by Johnson that would eradicate the condition of scope from the legislation. Johnson argued the limitation would make it too difficult to create a class recognized by the court.
Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice & Democracy at New York Law School, said in an email statement that class actions are an essential tool against patterns of discrimination and wrongdoing.
“They are among the most important tools that harmed, cheated and violated individuals have to hold large corporations accountable and deter future misconduct,” Doroshow said.
He said the bill would wipe out all class action lawsuits brought against Volkswagen to date.
Craig Moyer, a member of the American Bar Association Section of Environment, Energy and Resources, disagreed.
Moyer said in an email statement the bill might not apply to class-action cases against Volkswagen depending on whether the legislation would apply to cases filed before it became a law.
Moyer also said the main consideration in relation to the VW cases is the scope limitation in the bill.
“By itself, the certification order would not stop cases like the VW emissions cases from being filed,” Moyer said. “The VW cases are massive enough to support the effort necessary to secure the required certification order. If courts narrowly read the scope of injury requirement, then minimal and, from a policy perspective, irrelevant differences like how many miles a vehicle is driven could limit the class members.”