Legislation to improve Alabama’s legal climate to benefit business took center stage at today’s Business Council of Alabama Tuesday Briefing that featured speakers Rep. Matt Friday, R-Montevallo, and Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City.
Today’s Tuesday Briefing was sponsored by Protective Life Insurance Corp.
Rep. Friday, an attorney and member of the House Judiciary Committee, is the sponsor HB 161 and HB 162 that will improve Alabama’s business climate by modernizing laws governing expert testimony in court and prohibit case-running by law firms.
Sen. Williams, also an attorney, sponsored SB 270 that would reestablish pro-business class action rules under the Alabama Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
The BCA supports HB 161, HB 162, and SB 270, all of which are pending in the House Judiciary Committee. These bills are important to the entire Alabama business community as they can help level the playing field in court, reduce costs to business, and bring more fairness to the litigation process.
HB 161 would fully implement the so-called Daubert standard and bring Alabama evidence laws in line with both federal courts and those of 41 other states. Fully adopting the Daubert standard concerning expert technical testimony will keep what Rep. Fridy calls junk science from being admitted in lawsuits.
In 2011 the Legislature improved the business climate by partly adopting the Daubert standard for expert scientific testimony. HB 161 would apply Daubert to technical evidence.
The current rule allows a lot of “junk” testimony to reach a jury, which may not be able to discern what is factual, Rep. Fridy said. Under Daubert, the trial judge would be the gatekeeper of that testimonial evidence.
“The judge has to subject to very direct scrutiny any expert testimony before it’s allowed in,” Rep. Fridy said. “The result of adopting this standard is you have a lot more scrutiny of expert testimony before it gets to the jury and hopefully it keeps junk science out of the courtroom.”
HB 162 would make it more punitive for law firms to send case runners seeking clients for lawsuits. Current law says case running can be punished by a fine of up to $1,000, but that doesn’t deter anyone, Rep. Fridy said.
HB 162 would increase the fine to $5,000 and allow plaintiffs to void improperly solicited contracts that may have been signed in the wake of a tragedy and recover fees, expenses, actual damages, and reasonable attorney fees.
Case running also is not fair to law firms that follow the rules and when lawyers get involved, the business cost of defending an action skyrockets. “It’s unethical,” Rep. Fridy said.
In Texas and Georgia, which have laws similar to HB 162, the number of filed lawsuits has been reduced. Passage in Alabama would positively impact businesses. “It’s really going to help business because it’s going to cut down on frivolous lawsuits,” Rep. Fridy said.
Sen. Williams reviewed business successes in the Legislature since 2010 when a pro-business House and Senate was elected.
They include balanced budgets and no proration in the Education Trust Fund and General Fund for the last six years, the Rolling Reserve Act for education, legislation allowing children to seek a better education no matter where they live, economic development incentives for existing businesses, stopped the gerrymandering of minimum wage increases, and a constitutional amendment ensuring Alabama’s right-to-work status.
Two weeks ago the Senate passed Sen. Williams’ SB 270 by a vote of 31-1 and sent it to the House. The BCA-sponsored SB 270 would reduce large-scale class action lawsuits against manufacturers from private parties by reaffirming the Legislature’s original intent on class action lawsuits.
A recent opinion by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threatens to expose Alabama businesses to class-action lawsuits brought by private parties under the Alabama Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The 11th Circuit, in its ruling that created this problem, interpreted this aspect of the statute to be “procedural” rather than “substantive,” which created a serious threat of increased litigation for business.
SB 270 simply reestablishes the original legislative intent of the ADTPA that the limitation barring private parties from bringing class-actions is a “substantive” limitation.
“That’s going to be securing the financial and legal stability of businesses in this state,” Sen. Williams said.