House Y2K Lawsuit Bill Moves To Floor : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

11 May 1999, 3:01 PM CST By Robert MacMillan, Newsbytes. WASHINGTON, DC, U.S.A.,

Rep. James Moran, D-Va., one of the original sponsors of the House version of the Year 2000 litigation limitation bill, today told Newsbytes that the full House is expected to debate the bill starting Wednesday.

Unless a three-Democrat substitute amendment to the bill, H.R. 775, is approved on the floor, however, the White House has said that President Clinton will veto the bill.

The House Rules Committee today approved the bill, though it rejected a variety of amendments submitted by Democrats attempting to change the measure to make it more friendly to trial lawyers and stave off what they see as backdoor tort law reform.

Since the bill can be "recommitted," or sent back to the committee process, it could suffer the same near-death that its Senate counterpart, S. 96 from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., currently is experiencing.

The bill requires a 90-day waiting period before plaintiffs can file lawsuits against defendants for Year 2000-related equipment breakdowns, in order to encourage reconciliation and alternative dispute resolution. It also caps the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded in a Year 2000 problem lawsuit, and requires proportionate liability. Its supporters say it will lessen the burden on the legal system that could be snowed under by up to $1 trillion in related legal fees.

Out of the original 17 amendments submitted for the Rules Committee, only five of them will be considered for debate tomorrow. In addition, an amendment proposed by Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Rick Boucher, D-Va., and House Judiciary Committee Ranking Democrat John Conyers, D-Mich., that would substitute for the entire bill now heading to the floor, also was sent on.

Debate grew fierce during the Rules Committee process, as Rules Committee Ranking Democrat John Moakley, D-Mass., grilled the bill's big defender, Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., over what he said was an inauspicious attempt to supersede state tort law.

"Bob, this looks more like sweeping tort reform than a Y2K bill," Moakley thundered. "...I think this bill is a disincentive (to fix Year 2000-related software and hardware problems)."

"I would respectfully disagree," Goodlatte retorted. "This encourages working out (Year 2000 disputes) in a number of ways."

Moakley fielded several amendments by Rep. Robert Scott, D-Va., that failed, including an attempt to make the bill apply only to products that were sold before May 1, 1999 (an anti-profiteering effort), and an amendment that would have exempted private consumers from the bill's language. Scott also tried to exclude consumers from the proportionate liability sections of the bill.

Rep. Vernon Ehlers, D-Mich., failed in his attempt to set a cutoff date for the bill at Jan. 1, 1995.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., lost out on his amendment that would have stricken the requirement for class-action lawsuits that every member of the class be notified separately by mail, though he did get his amendment that would strike all class-action provisions from the bill cleared for debate.

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, was unsuccessful in her bid to add language to make it less difficult for plaintiffs to win Year 2000-related lawsuits (the bill currently requires "clear and convincing evidence" instead of a "preponderance of evidence"). She did win the chance to debate an amendment on language provisions in other parts of the bill, however.

She took another hit, though, losing the chance to add an amendment that would sunset the bill after two years. This feature is currently part of McCain's compromise version of S. 96, arrived at with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Other amendments that will be debated tomorrow include the Lofgren- Boucher-Conyers amendment, as well as one from Moran to exempt all personal injury claims, counterclaims, cross-claims and third-party claims from the bill's language. Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., also will debate his amendment to define what kinds of damages are covered in H.R. 775.

The bill previously included a cap on attorneys' fees of $1,000 per hour, but this was stripped in the House Judiciary Committee.

Reported by Newsbytes News Network, .

15:01 CST


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