WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (search) decided Tuesday to wait until later to bring up a GOP bill that would curb the class-action lawsuits (search) they say are bankrupting American businesses.
Frist, R-Tenn, said the decision was made after "some requests from a number of Democratic senators."
Frist had wanted to skip over the Defense Department authorization bill to get to the class action bill on Tuesday. Several Democrats had agreed to cross party lines to give Republicans the 60 votes they needed to get a filibuster-proof majority on the legislation.
But those same Democrats had said they would not vote to skip over the defense bill. Frist said he hopes the Senate will now go to the class action bill whenever the defense bill is completed.
The GOP bill would move more class-action lawsuits - where one person or a small group represents the interests of an entire class of people in court - out of state courts where juries are often more generous to plaintiffs, and into federal courts where awards typically are smaller.
The bill's supporters say that businesses are drowning in frivolous lawsuits (search) while trial lawyers profit handsomely, sometimes by just threatening legal action.
But many Democrats say the legislation only helps businesses escape judgments for wrongdoing. Huge damage awards are needed to ensure corporations play by the rules, they say.
GOP senators fell one vote short of achieving a filibuster-proof, 60-vote majority in October. But now several Democrats, including Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Charles Schumer of New York, have agreed to support the legislation.
Democrats feared some of their state constituents would lose their right to sue in their own courts. Under the deal, Democrats get additional exceptions in the bill that they say will preserve class-action lawsuits that belong in state court.