to the civil justice system.
Underwood did not mention tortreform in his most
recent State of the State address, and he did not introduce legislation on
the subject during this year's session. But he pushed a sweeping proposal
with the 1998 Legislature that targeted most aspects of the civil justice
- Underwood supported changing how lawyers and clients reach
"contingency fee" agreements, in which clients pledge a percentage of any
damage award as payment to the lawyer. Underwood wanted such
arrangements set in writing before a case proceeds. He also wanted the fee
to be based on the damage award: the larger the award or settlement, the
lower the percentage the lawyer receives as payment.
- Underwood has embraced much of the state Chamber of Commerce's
curbed "punitive damages," or money meant to punish the defendant, be it a
business or person, for their conduct. For corporate defendants, the
limits would have been based on the company's size.
- Underwood wants to similarly limit damages meant to compensate
plaintiffs for such intangible things as "pain and suffering." They are
called non-economic damages. Underwood has proposed caps
proportionate to the amount awarded for such "economic damages" as lost
wages or medical bills.
- Underwood also wanted to toughen the standard of evidence that
plaintiffs must meet to ask for punitive damages. His proposal would have
also changed just how defendants are found liable when a lawsuit targets
more than one person or business.
Wise has usually voted against such proposals in Congress.
Further, he has supported measures which would benefit the people who file
lawsuits, as opposed to those they target:
- Wise voted against a House bill introduced this year aimed at
limiting damages reached against small businesses, defined as having 25 or
- Wise voted against the most recent bill involving "product
liability" lawsuits. Such suits target defective products. The legislation
focused on certain types of goods and when they were made, setting time
limits on when suits could be filed. After voting against the 1996
measure, Wise also voted against overriding President Clinton's
veto of the bill. The override effort failed.
- Wise voted against last year's bill to protect tobacco
companies from lawsuits targeting cigarettes and their health effects.
- Wise did vote for one "tortreform" measure, a
1999 bill to limit damages and liability in matters involving the Year
2000 computer problem.
- Wise voted for a bill passed by the House last year that would
allow managed-care patients, or their survivors, to sue their health care
plans. The plaintiffs would have to prove that a negligent decision by
plan officials regarding health care resulted in needless injury or death.
To contact staff writer Law-rence Messina, use e-mail or call 348-4869.