Tuesday, March 21, 2006

SUPPORTERS and detractors call it the "silent tort reform" movement, and it has quietly and quickly been gaining ground.

Across Washington, federal agencies that supervise everything from auto safety to medicine labeling have waged a powerful counterattack against active state prosecutors and trial lawyers. In the last three decades, the state courts and legislatures have been vital avenues for critics of Washington deregulation. Federal policy makers, having caught onto the game, are now striking back.

Using a variety of largely unheralded regulations, officials appointed by President Bush have moved in recent months to neuter the states. At the urging of industry groups, the federal agencies have inserted clauses in new rules that block trial lawyers and state attorneys general from applying both higher standards in state laws and those in state court precedents.

The efforts by the federal regulators may wind up doing more than Congress to change state tort laws.

Last month, for instance, the bedding industry persuaded the Consumer Product Safety Commission to adopt a rule over the objections of safety groups that would limit the ability of consumers to win damages under state laws for mattresses that catch fire. The move was the first instance in the agency's 33-year history of the commission's voting to limit the ability of consumers to bring cases in state courts.

Read it all. What they can't get above-board, they get below-board.

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