Friday, February 25, 2011

Something is afoot at the Legislature...(Update on Branham v. Ford and Proposed Punitive Damages Cap)

I have been hearing for awhile that there is a chance that the South Carolina State Legislature may take action in response to the South Carolina Supreme Court's decision in Branham v. Ford, and these rumors (may have been) confirmed today.

Apparently Senator Brad Hutto has offered an amendment to repeal the holding in the case. I say "may have been" above because I have not obtained a copy of the amendment, but the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce Competitiveness Update talks about this particular issue, and proposed caps on punitive damages, in today's edition. A cut and paste of the article is below (click the hyperlink above for the actual article). I will try to obtain the amendment and determine the nature of the provision.

Trial Lawyers Take Tort Reform Hostage

Last week, a Senate Judiciary subcommittee passed a comprehensive tort reform bill supported by the business community. However, this week the full Senate Judiciary Committee watered down key pieces of tort reform, including a meaningful punitive damage cap. The subcommittee also set unreasonable monetary thresholds for the admissibility of the non-use of seat belts.

The amended bill could be debated on the Senate floor as early as next week, and the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce is asking senators to vote against the committee amendment. If the committee amendment is defeated, the bill will revert back to the House-passed version of tort reform, which is a much stronger, pro-business bill championed by Speaker Bobby Harrell (Charleston).

The South Carolina Chamber and the South Carolina Civil Justice Coalition are also asking senators to examine neighboring states’ punitive damage limits, specifically Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida, and pick a model. Currently, trial lawyers are picking and choosing words and phrases from the other states in an attempt to render any cap in South Carolina meaningless.

The Chamber is also very concerned with an amendment offered by Senator Brad Hutto (Orangeburg), which was adopted by the full committee and repeals the Branham v Ford decision. The decision places South Carolina in the minority compared with other states on product liability issues. It also weakens the state’s business climate. At a time when the South Carolina Department of Commerce is working to expand the automotive cluster, this amendment must be stripped out of the tort reform bill.

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