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Trial lawyer transportation lobbying: It's a pretty big deal

The American Association for Justice has filed its 3rd Quarter lobbying disclosure form, reporting $940,000 in lobbying-related expenditures, down from $1 million in the 2nd Quarter.

One should always look for new areas in which the trial lawyer lobby has extended itself, and the Transportation category provides two, both new to us:

  • H.R. 6150 (no short title), to amend the limitation on liability for certain passenger rail accidents or incidents under section 28103 of title 49, United States Code, and for other purposes.
  • Lobbying with regard to consumer safety as it relates to cars with keyless ignitions.

H.R. 6150 was introduced on Sept. 19 by Rep. Elton Gallegly, a California Republican who announced the introduction in a news release, "Gallegly introduces bill to raise cap on rail accidents." The bill would raise the liability cap on certain rail accidents from $200 million to $500 million. From the release:

The higher cap would only apply in cases where the defendants are grossly negligent--a higher standard than under current law--and would apply retroactively to Sept. 12, 2008, the day a texting Metrolink engineer ran a red light, causing a collision with a Union Pacific train in Chatsworth, CA. Twenty-five people died and more than 150 were injured in that crash. Most of the victims were from Gallegly's congressional district.

"I met with many of the victims of the crash last month," Gallegly said. "Through no fault of their own, many now have injuries that will require a lifetime of medical treatment. Others lost a spouse or parent who was their primary means of support. The current cap will not even meet the medical needs of the survivors of one of the worst passenger train accidents in modern history. My bill is designed to address that."

Retroactive liability, eh? In any case, the bill has gone nowhere.

As for keyless ignitions, the litigation industry seems to have spotted this issue when casting a wide net against Toyota, suing over accidents supposedly caused by sudden acceleration. The AAJ's disclosure form lists the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as agency it lobbied, along with Congress. Of course, the NHTSA's own investigations indicate that driver error -- stepping on the accelerator instead of the brake -- appears at blame for the accidents.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.