MCOC targets ‘lawsuit abuse’

“Lawsuit Abuse” is among the Michigan Chamber of Commerce’s top legislative priorities for the Michigan Legislature’s 2009-2010 session.

Here’s what chamber members advocate:

  • Protecting current Michigan laws pertaining to general tort, medical liability, consumer protection and products liability, including Michigan’s FDA [Food and Drug Administration] Defense law.
  • Supporting reforms, such as limitation on attorney fees and loser pay, which ensure Michigan’s civil justice system is fair and balanced.
  • Preserving Michigan’s No-Fault automobile insurance system while allowing for competition, flexibility and choice in the marketplace and opposing attempts to reduce the tort liability threshold or increase the benefit or coverage thresholds.
  • Maintaining the right to enter into pre-dispute agreements requiring arbitration.

The Chamber’s rationale for these priorities seems to be that its members are happy with the current state of affairs.

The general, medical and products liability reforms that were enacted by the Legislature in the 1980s and 1990s have been effective in bringing reliability and balance to our legal system by curtailing lawsuit abuse, helping to retain practicing physicians in Michigan, and focusing court and financial resources on legitimate cases. Given Michigan’s reputation as a leader in the national legal reform movement, Michigan cannot afford to turn back the clock and should instead proactively work to strengthen and improve the state’s civil justice system. For similar reasons, the Michigan Chamber is opposed to any legislative attempts to erode the tort thresholds under Michigan’s No-Fault insurance system. Furthermore, parties should be free to agree in advance to a prompt, efficient and fair dispute resolution process outside of the court system.

The no-fault act’s “serious impairment” threshold is the issue making the Chamber most nervous. This issue will first play out, not in the Legislature, but in the Michigan Supreme Court, where the Chamber’s influence has waned with the departure of former Justice Clifford Taylor and the election of Justice Diane Hathaway.

Tort recovery under the no-fault act is available when traffic accident injuries constitute a “serious impairment of body function.” The current operating definition of this phrase was supplied by Taylor, joined by Justices Maura Corrigan, Robert Young and Stephen Markman, in Kreiner v. Fischer. Justice Michael Cavanagh dissented, joined by Justices Elizabeth Weaver and Marilyn Kelly.

With Hathaway now on the court, a judicial revisiting of the issue is likely. Also likely is a less strident formulation of what it means to have a “serious impairment of body function.”

With the change in the MSC’s makeup, the Chamber is going to have a much more difficult time getting a majority to embrace it’s point of view on the no-fault act.

That’s why it’s more important than ever, as far as the Chamber is concerned, to have a handle on things in the Legislature, which is where the Chamber would seek a remedy for any judicial tinkering with the no-fault act.

A complete list of the Chamber’s legislative priorities is available here.


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