Bush to cap awards for compensation

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The Independent Online

President George Bush yesterday launched one of the key second-term legislative battles, carrying his campaign for tort reform into the southern Illinois county which has become the symbol of class action and malpractice awards run riot, and "frivolous lawsuits" of every hue.

Curbing lawsuits has long been almost an obsession of the unabashedly pro-business Mr Bush. He vigorously but vainly pushed the issue on Capitol Hill in his first term and highlighted it in speech after speech during his re-election bid.

In his speech yesterday in Collinsville, in Madison County, Illinois, the President set out his key demands for legislation he says would cut billions from healthcare costs, and remove a heavy financial burden from big US corporations.

The measure sought by the White House have two main components: a $250,000 cap on so-called "pain and suffering" awards in malpractice suits that have driven medical insurance costs higher; and the transfer of most class action suits from state to federal courts.

At present lawyers in class action suits are able to "cherry pick" the state jurisdiction where they believe judges will allow such cases to go ahead. No jurisdiction has proved more compliant than that of Madison County, described by advocates of tort reform as one of America's "judicial hellholes".

Prospects for reform may not be as bright as they seem, despite Mr Bush's victory last November, and the enlarged Republican majorities in the House and the Senate, which began work this week.

The recent withdrawal of popular drugs belatedly found to have dangerous side effects has been a blow to pharmaceutical companies. It has also cast the entire species of trial lawyers detested by Mr Bush, and major financial backers of the Democrats, in a less unfavourable light.

The House is likely to give the White House the bill that it wants, but the same may not be true of the Senate.