S.C. House approves tort reform bill, again

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The fifth week of the legislative session is over and the House has already passed four major conservative government reforms.
We approved a state law requiring roll call voting in the General Assembly that reinforces the House rule that requires it in our chamber. We approved the Voter ID legislation, supported by 83 percent of Americans, to require a photo identification be shown at the polls. We approved new requirements that our public colleges and universities be more transparent in how they spend your tax – and tuition – dollars.
Recently, the House turned its attention squarely toward boosting our economy. We approved new reforms aimed at stemming lawsuit abuse. Frivolous lawsuits are straining small businesses throughout our country, and as our economy attempts to crawl out of recession, small businesses will be the driver of job creation as we go forward.
We all appreciate and enjoy reading the announcements of major businesses locating in our state – and we can never overestimate the impact of Michelin, BMW, Boeing and others.
But the small businesses owned by our neighbors and friends contribute to as much as 75 percent of new job growth, as some studies have asserted.
Many small businesses operate on tight margins for many years, and the smallest bump in the road can seriously derail what could be the next great company. Entrepreneurs relish a challenge, but the potential of outside uncertainty is something that prevents many businesses from hiring, according to business owners polled in 2007.
The House overwhelmingly approved this lawsuit abuse reform by a vote of 100-7. This law prevents outrageous punitive damages, while still ensuring that if a company hurts you, you will continue to have access to the legal system.
Under the provisions of the bill (H. 3375) approved Feb. 9, people who win lawsuits are entitled to a maximum punitive damage award of $350,000 or three times the actual damages awarded, whichever is greater.
The legislation also requires the attorney general and solicitors to disclose contracts when they use outside counsel and imposes limits on the fees the outside counsel may collect from the state.
According to the S.C. Civil Justice Coalition, there has been a slight decrease in the number of criminal and family court cases in South Carolina, but civil cases have increased by 33,000 since 2006. The average cost to defend a “slip and fall” case can cost a small business more than $50,000 in legal fees.
Here’s another alarming statistic: North Carolina has 9.2 million residents, while South Carolina has 4.5 million residents, but both states had about 60,000 workers’ comp claims filed last year.
After the bill was approved, Speaker Bobby Harrell told the media: “A fairly balanced system will protect our state’s citizens, greatly benefit existing businesses and will make our state more attractive to new businesses.”
The House passed a similar tort reform bill last year, but the legislative session ended before it could become law.  This year, we have taken action quickly enough so it has plenty of time to become law this session. The ball is now in the Senate’s court.
In addition to tort reform, a committee began debate on legislation that will get the government out of the way of “angel investors” who want to invest in new start-up companies. We believe this legislation will allow people to invest in the next great company right here in our state – companies that will create jobs and become good corporate citizens here at home. This bill is also a Republican priority for 2011, and I look forward to the debate about this bill on the House floor in the coming weeks.
As always, thank you for the privilege of serving you in Columbia. If I can ever be of assistance to you, or if you have ideas on issues you want me to share with the General Assembly, don’t hesitate to contact me at (803) 547-5215.