By Jared Edgerton and Keegan Gibson
Today Governor Corbett delivered one of his campaign promises by signing the Fair Share Act, making Pennsylvania the next state to adopt comprehensive tort reform. Corbett has hailed the legislation as shifting the responsibility of financial damages caused by frivolous lawsuits away from businesses clearing the way for job growth.
The Fair Share Act is a key component in addressing one of the most important issues to Pennsylvania – jobs,’’ Corbett said, before signing the bill into law in the Capitol Rotunda. “This bill announces to the rest of the world that Pennsylvania is open for business.
It’s a victory for business groups (whose campaign contributions tend to go to Republicans) in their legislative proxy war with the state’s trial lawyers (whose campaign contributions tend to go to Democrats).
The new law amends the existing requirement that guilty defendants could potentially be liable for 100 percent of damages if their co-defendants cannot pay for the negligence resulting in death or injury to a person or property. Under the new law defendants are only fully accountable if it is proved they are 60 percent at fault. If the defendant is proved not to be 60 percent at fault they only have to compensate for the percent of damages they caused.
The bill was initially set up as a compromise by Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and attorneys’ strongest patron among Republicans. His SB1131 had initially protected the standard of joint liability for cases involving economic damages, like medical expenses and lost earnings. It would also apply in claims involving children who were either victimized, or had a wrongful death interest in a lawsuit. However, those changes were stripped out by an amendment from Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre), leaving the bill practically identical to earlier versions.
House Majority Leader Mike Turzai praised the act because he feels, “it’s a message to employers and entrepreneurs that Pennsylvania is open to jobs,” adding, “it’s about communities, it’s about employers and family-sustaining jobs.”
Earlier today Chairman Rob Gleason, from the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, issued a press released commending the act stating, “The ‘Fair Share Act’ is a necessary reform that helps to end frivolous lawsuit abuse and will make Pennsylvania more competitive…I applaud the legislature for passing this much-needed legislation that will put our Commonwealth on equal footing with other states that have passed similar legislation and enable us to recruit new businesses that create more jobs.”
Although Republicans are enthusiastic about the new law Democrats have been referring to it as “The Wrongdoers Protection Act.” Minority Whip Mike Hanna argues the Fair Share Act marginalizes victims of accidents by limiting their ability to seek legal recourse saying, “the rights of victims should be the No. 1 priority of our legal system.”
The PA Democratic Party blasted the bill as a handout to business.
“Once again Pennsylvania Republicans have sided with corporate special interests over Pennsylvanians,” said Party spokesman Mark Nicastre. “By passing legislation that makes it more difficult for victims, Pennsylvania Republicans have protected wrongdoers at the expense of workers in Pennsylvania.”
The legislation received nearly unanimous party line support with a few Democrats voting for it in the House and a few Republicans voting against it in the Senate. Pennsylvania has now joined the majority of states who have already adopted similar measures.
Correction: an earlier version of this story failed to report that the compromise provisions put forth by Sen. Greenleaf were removed from the final version of the bill. PoliticsPA regrets this error.