Other Opinions

Keep statute of limitations law as it is. Trial lawyers’ chosen bill should be denied

Dora Westerlund, president and CEO of the Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation.
Dora Westerlund, president and CEO of the Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation. Courtesy of FAHF

California’s trial lawyers are having a field day in Sacramento, and the latest trial-lawyer entitlement bill is just another ambulance chasing recruiting tool being masked as good public policy.

At issue is AB 1510, a bill that would extend the statute of limitations for victims of USC gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall to allow lawsuits to be filed in state court. The legislation purports to be an additional means of recourse for the sexual-assault victims, and there is no question that Tyndall’s victims deserve justice. However, there are a number of issues with this legislation.

First, if this legislation is truly about offering greater civil recourse for victims of sexual assault, then why does the bill explicitly exclude public universities and college campuses? Other campuses in California have had similar issues with clinical staff; shouldn’t these victims be offered the same opportunity to file a claim?

Second, while the Tyndall situation has certainly made headlines in California and across the country, why does this legislation only apply to students who have been treated by a campus physician? If AB 1510 is good and fair policy, why doesn’t the bill extend statute of limitations for employees in workplaces that were sexually assaulted decades ago? Or students that were victimized by a professor? Or legislative staff that were victimized by colleagues or our state’s elected officials?

Third, all victims of Tyndall already have civil recourse through a federal class-action settlement that provides more than $200 million for all of his former patients, no questions asked and with no limitations on when they saw him. The settlement also includes and additional and separate $25 million for attorneys’ fees.

The truth is this legislation is nothing more than an enrichment bill for already-wealthy trial lawyers in Newport Beach. Eroding the state’s statute of limitations laws will open the door to more litigation, and the last thing California needs is new avenues to file lawsuits.

Special interests like the trial lawyers are known for pushing legislation that help their bottom lines, but the precedent AB 1510 sets could be dangerous. The American Tort Reform Foundation lists California as the No. 1 “judicial hellhole” in the country. According to a recent report from the Perryman Group, excessive litigation costs the California economy $11.6 billion annually in direct costs, which results in 197,776 lost jobs. California does not need to give trial lawyers more avenues to bring civil claims to count.

As president and CEO of the Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation, everyday I work with minority business owners to advance policies that ensure California continues to be a great and fair place for them to do business. Civil litigation has a real and negative impact on California businesses, particularly minority owned entities.

If the Legislature can create special statute of limitations exceptions at will, then the whole idea of statute of limitations is at risk — not just in the case of sexual assault. If we can roll back the Statute of Limitations in the USC situation, then where does it stop? The intention of the Legislature with AB 1510 may be to only address the very specific situation at USC, but the California courts could see it differently. The courts could take this legislation and broaden its scope, which could completely undermine our statute of limitations laws.

We must preserve our statute of limitations laws as they help to provide greater certainty for businesses, particularly when it comes to insurance and financial capital. If the precedent is set that statutes of limitations are flexible based on the whims of special interests, it will hurt all business owners, but it will especially be difficult for minority business owners.

We must avoid the terrible precedence of upending our statute of limitations laws that AB 1510 sets. The Legislature must reject AB 1510.

Dora Westerlund is CEO and president of the Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation

.

  Comments