Torts' Tough Track

Article excerpt

HARRISBURG

How much clout does a committee chairman have? Quite a lot, is the answer. But in the end, not more than a majority of his or her caucus or the will of the House or Senate.

It's an issue now because Senate Judiciary Chairman Stewart Greenleaf will not allow the "Fair Share Act" to emerge from his committee for a Senate vote. It has been passed by the House and it's a top priority of Gov. Tom Corbett.

It's issue No. 1 for the business community but Greenleaf thinks it shortchanges victims.

The bill would prevent minor parties in lawsuits from having to pay full damages when those most responsible can't pay. Supporters say it prevents targeting "deep pocket" defendants who bear a small share of the responsibility for causing damages. It's based on the concept of "comparative responsibility."

Ultimately, Greenleaf knows he can't block it if a majority of Senate Republican Caucus members demand action. But he is trying to hold out for some modifications.

It's likely there's a majority. And a member of leadership, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jake Corman, R-Centre County, has his own bill, which is like the House bill. It's also parked in the Judiciary Committee.

The bill has been passed twice before by the General Assembly but never became law. So supporters see no need to compromise on a weaker version. The legislation was overturned by the courts and later vetoed by then-Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat.

It pits trial lawyers against the business and insurance communities.

Greenleaf wants to make sure victims have a fair shot and ultimately taxpayers and ratepayers aren't left holding the bag.

But supporters say taking this step is critical for reducing Pennsylvania's reputation as a haven for plaintiffs' lawyers and to improve the overall climate for business. …