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Tort reform legislation discussions to continue

A major tort reform bill was filed in the recently-concluded legislative session, but never made it to committee. Some version of the legislation is expected again in 2025.

The Alabama Trucking Association is one of the many major groups behind the push for changes in how lawsuits proceed in Alabama and their potential awards. Mark Colson, president and CEO of ATA, said there’s an acute awareness about the cost of litigation and its impact on businesses, especially small businesses.

He said legislation is needed to address the “systematic tactics” used to intentionally inflate litigation.

There hasn’t been major litigation reform in Alabama for about 30 years, he said.

Trucking isn’t the only organization pushing the effort. The website also lists about two dozen other organizations, including the Business Council of Alabama, Alabama Farmers Federation, the Alabama Association of REALTORS, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the Mobile Chamber and the Birmingham Business Alliance.

“I think there’s growing support in the Legislature and the conversation doesn’t have to be business vs. trial lawyers,” Colson said. 

But there were concerns about the bill among some lawmakers, including that at least some portions of the bill were pushed by national trial reform groups and not specific to an Alabama issue or necessary. 

The Alabama Association of Justice, often referred to as the “trial lawyers” and Executive Director Ginger Avery-Buckner, will be at the table for future discussions.

“We appreciate the opportunity to work with any legislator and organization to address issues that affect the judicial system in Alabama,” Avery-Buckner told IAP last week. “We look forward to continuing to work with those who want to make sure the judicial system is transparent and balanced for all.”  

Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook, and Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, filed House Bill 420 and Senate Bill 293 in early April. A substitute bill was expected but the legislation never moved through committee.

Colson said there’s a need to address several aspects of litigation that have gotten “out of kilter.”

The original bill would have put more limits on third-party litigation financing in which an outside entity not party to the lawsuit agrees to help fund it. They then get a portion of the settlement if the lawsuit is successful.

The bill in its original form also capped non-economic damages in personal injury cases at $1 million.

Some said that while that sounds like a lot of money, if a 20-year-old is paralyzed for life in a wreck that was not his or her fault, is $1 million sufficient? 

The bill also limited the discovery process if an employer admits in a civil suit an employee was working on behalf of it when he or she allegedly caused harm to another. That discovery process could be expensive and unnecessary, bill supporters said.

Others counter that doing away with discovery protects companies from revealing any bad actions or practices that should be corrected. And that information does impact juries and monetary awards.


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