WASHINGTON – Enactment of legislation curbing class-action lawsuits (search) was the first victory for President Bush's long-running campaign for tort reform — and it may be the last.
Other Bush priorities, including capping awards in medical malpractice (search) cases and setting rules for damage awards in asbestos litigation, appear out of reach.
"I don't believe this foreshadows success at all," said Pete Clemente of Public Citizen. "I think this is the only thing, this was the easier one for them to win."
The class-action bill, signed into law on Friday by the president, passed through Congress with broad bipartisan support; a Democratic filibuster killed it last year. But this time around, after last year's election, Democrats calculated they couldn't block all of the president's tort-reform agenda.
"Before today, trial lawyers were able to drag defendants from all over the country into sympathetic local courts, even if those businesses have done nothing wrong," Bush said during Friday's bill-signing ceremony at the White House. "Many businesses decided it was cheaper to settle the lawsuits, rather than risk a massive jury award."
Class-action cases unite many consumers from many states. The new law shifts these cases out of sometimes sympathetic state courts to federal court. In general, by precedent and procedure, federal courts tend to favor business interests.
Consumer groups say this measure might block cases involving drugs like Vioxx (search), in which the drug maker's been forced to pay to monitor a consumer's health.
"Some state courts have certified these medical monitoring cases where the company is forced to pay for those tests for you to go in and get them and that is the kind of class action that would be very difficult to bring," Clemente said.
Supporters of the bill say these kinds of cases will get a fair hearing at the federal level and only frivolous lawsuits will die.
Click on the video box near the top of the story for a complete report by FOX News' Major Garrett.