Tort reform bills pass House committee

state-capitol2The Virginia House of Delegates Courts of Justice Committee cleared a major tort reform package on Monday, sending six pieces of legislation to the floor of the House of Delegates for final approval. The legislative package represents a major compromise between the business, medical and legal communities and will make significant changes to key areas of Virginia’s tort laws. The measures will help reduce costly and unnecessary lawsuits, streamline the litigation process, protect the integrity of the tort system and reduce legal costs for Virginia businesses.

“Legal costs represent a significant cost of doing business and are a major barrier to job creation and economic growth,” said House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford). “The steps we are taking today to reform our tort system will eliminate barriers to innovation, lower health care costs and decrease the overall cost of doing business in Virginia while protecting the integrity of our legal process. I want to thank all of the parties involved for working on this legislative package and look forward to its passage.”

The final language of the six different bills (House Bills 1618, 1708, 1709, 2004, 1477 and 1545) included in the package was agreed to today in the House Courts of Justice Committee.

Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah), who carried House Bill 1618, said the compromise was another important step in continuing to make Virginia the best state in the country for business. House Bill 1618 will reduce “forum shopping,” which is the practice of picking a Court system more favorable to one party.

“We recognize the importance of reining in the frivolous legal tactics that unnecessarily hurt businesses and hamper economic growth,” said Gilbert. “The tort reform package we passed today is meant to ensure fair and reasonable tort laws that protect all of the parties involved. House Bill 1618 will reduce costly and unfair forum shopping in an effort to protect the integrity of the legal process and ensure both parties involved in a case are treated fairly.”

Delegate Greg Habeeb (R-Salem) carried House Bill 1708, which is the final legislative vehicle for a measure originally introduced by Delegate Chris Head (R-Botetourt) to allow the limited use of depositions for summary judgment motions.

“As a business owner in the health care field, I understand how legal costs can hurt the bottom line of a business,” said Head. “This legislation will protect businesses and business owners by giving them a mechanism to dispose of frivolous lawsuits early on in the litigation process. By reducing the legal costs borne by a business, business owners will be able to invest in their companies and create more good Virginia jobs. The use of depositions for summary judgment will also streamline the litigation process to the benefit of our Courts system. Eliminating or deterring unnecessary lawsuits will ease the case load of our Courts system, which will make our entire legal system more efficient and effective.”

Delegate Habeeb also carried House Bill 1709, which clarifies that costs associated with cases nonsuited during trial are to be borne by the plaintiff. In addition, this legislation streamlines the process for recovering these costs.

“House Bill 1709 adds significant protection in cases that are nonsuited at the last minute” said Habeeb. “This legislation is about protecting the integrity of our civil courts system by discouraging the strategic abuse of nonsuits.”

House Bill 2004 was carried by Delegate Ben Cline (R-Rockbridge). This bill codifies the current state of Virginia’s trespass liability case law in light of recent non-governmental efforts to undermine it.

“Virginia has a longstanding tradition of limiting exceptions to its trespass liability law and this legislation clarifies and strengthens that law from irresponsible or wrongful application in our courts system,” said Cline. “This will protect businesses and individuals from lawsuits based on an injury that occurred while an individual was illegally trespassing.”

The committee also passed House Bill 1477, which was carried by Courts Chairman Delegate Dave Albo (R-Fairfax) and House Bill 1545, carried by Delegate Sal Iaquinto (R-Virginia Beach). House Bill 1477 clarifies Virginia’s deadman’s statute allowing for a business record to corroborate the testimony of an interested party. House Bill 1545 allows a Court to review expert witness certification in medical malpractice cases for good cause shown.

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