This week our Chicago brain injury attorneys were disappointed, but not surprised, that the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass House Resolution 5. H.R. 5 is the bill loaded with “reform” measures to take away legal rights from those injured by the malpractice of others. Considering that many brain injury victims are hurt by the unreasonable actions of medical care providers, this bill, if it actually becomes law, would be incredibly damaging to local families.
The vote, which took place on Thursday, ended with 223 for and 181 against the measure. As usually happens in Congressional votes (particularly high-profile votes like this one), party affiliation was clearly at play, with the House Republican leadership pressing its members to support the proposal. However, in an advocacy update sent following the bill’s passage, the American Association for Justice explained that, comparatively, the final vote actually represents a strong tally for those against the measure. Ten Republicans voted against the measure and another three voiced their disapproval with “present” votes. In addition, the Democratic caucus, usually a bit less disciplined on these issues, was strongly united in opposition, with only seven Democrats switching to vote for the proposal.
While it is always disappointing to see a disastrously misguided proposal like this advance beyond any chamber of Congress, there is still a long way to go. A Senate version of the bill has to pass out of that chamber before the bill is even presented to the President where he will have to sign the bill. The House of Representatives, with its large Republican majority, was always the one chamber with members who are most hostile to civil justice fairness. The Democrats maintain control of the Senate, and therefore civil justice advocates are on firmer ground when trying to defend the community member rights in that body.
Even then, our Chicago brain injury attorneys were encouraged to learn from the AAJ that the President has also spoken out on the measure. In a Statement of Administrative Policy on H.R. 5, the President sent a letter than reaffirmed his support for the rights of those hurt by the negligence of others. The statement explained that the goals of those who claim to support H.R. 5-patient safety, prompt compensation for those hurt, costs savings-are not at all met by the actual policies proposed in the bill.
In fact, the administrative statement is quite clear in its denunciation of tactics outlined in H.R. 5. For example, the statement noted that the “Administration opposes placing artificial caps on malpractice awards which will prevent patients and other claimants who have been wrongfully harmed from receiving just compensation.” It goes on to note that if the bill makes it to his desk, the President’s advisors would recommend that he veto the measure.
These represent good indicators that the measure will not actually become law at this time. However, the advocacy efforts must remain strong. This is an election year, which means that it is incredibly important to elect representatives (and a President) that understands the role of the justice system in keeping community members safe. Similar tort reform measures will no doubt be proposed again down the road, and all advocates must do the work now to prevent those policies from gaining traction.
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