Classless Action

Congress passed the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 today, a measure that would move class action lawsuits out of state courts, where they have been historically more likely to be successful, and into “defendant-friendly federal courts.” The legislation will be bad news for U.S. citizens maimed and killed by U.S. corporations, who will now find it harder to hold companies like Merck or Home Depot responsible for wrongdoing. A USAction report in May showed who was really pushing for the bill:

“No industry has thrown more manpower into federalizing class-action lawsuits than the combined efforts of insurance companies and their industry associations, which have devoted at least 193 lobbyists to the issue since 2000. These lobbyists have been divided among life insurance (79), property and casualty insurance (60) and HMOs (59). Some lobbyists have worked for more than one segment of the insurance industry. Some lobbyists worked for clients in more than one of the sectors.”

Chief among the bill’s proponents: Wal-Mart. The retail sector, led by Home Depot and Wal-Mart, devoted 31 lobbyists to the class-action legislation, including 20 lobbyists from retail corporations that settled or lost verdicts in class-action lawsuits concerning their practice of forcing employees to work unpaid overtime.

According to legal analysts, “Wal-Mart is sued more often than any American entity except the U.S. government.” Courts in four states recently certified class action lawsuits involving over 330,000 workers. “By contrast, three federal courts have declined to certify class actions against Wal-Mart for unpaid worker hours.”