Over the past six years, RIMS members have descended upon Washington, D.C. for their annual lobbying event, RIMS on the Hill. Armed with a laundry list of issues ranging from tort reform to an optional federal charter, ergonomic standards to the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), these risk managers have embraced this unique opportunity to share their views with key policymakers. Most political operatives would concede that only lobbyists donning rose-colored glasses could hope to secure a victory with such an ambitious agenda. However, in the wake of the November 2004 elections, risk managers should be prepared to replace those rose-colored lenses with those tinted red.
The 2004 elections saw the Republican Party increase its majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, not to mention the renewal of the Bush family's lease at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But numbers do not tell the whole story. As members convened for the 109th Congress, it became clear that an ideological sea change had indeed occurred. President Bush, along with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) indicated that tort reform would be a top priority for the new Congress. Legislation dealing with medical malpractice, class action and asbestos litigation--which languished during previous Congressional sessions to the chagrin of the risk management community--would be resurrected and passed without further delay. This was more than just political rhetoric; this was a call to action.
On February 18, 2005, President Bush signed class action reform legislation into law. After much negotiating in the House and the Senate, Congress approved a bill to discourage multi-million dollar class action lawsuits by transferring most large, multi-state claims to federal court. Moreover, this legislation seeks to remedy abuses of the nation's class action system, particularly abuses related to forum shopping.
Following closely behind is a reexamination of the environment for asbestos litigation. During the previous Congressional session, then-Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) had been in the midst of negotiations with Senator Frist to create a 30-year trust fund for victims of asbestos poisoning when his reelection bid failed. Despite the loss of Senator Daschle, Republicans and Democrats have continued discussions on asbestos litigation reform. Current proposals floating about put the estimated size of the trust fund at $140 billion over 30 years. …