Time to reform class-action lawsuits? Regarding "State Farm verdict makes case for class-action reform" (Oct. 5): The ruling against State Farm and its policyholders by a Marion, Ill., jury is a threat to commerce and consumers on many levels. However, the verdict most importantly should sound a strong call for reform of the way the US judicial system handles class-action litigation.

Because of a class-action system that is severely out of whack, a small group of individuals in south central Illinois were forced into making a decision that will affect millions of auto-insurance consumers across the country through higher insurance premiums. The verdict also hands already rich and powerful automakers a monopoly on the aftermarket parts business.

The case against State Farm is just the latest illustration of the need for sweeping reform of the nation's class-action mechanism.

The Alliance of American Insurers, a national trade association representing 312 insurers, is currently drafting legislative initiatives, procedural changes, and other tools designed to reduce incentives to bring suits that do little but enrich lawyers and increase insurance costs.

The initiatives would move lawsuits from state to federal courts, derail baseless class actions while strengthening state regulation, and create a presumption of validity for insurers in much the same way government standards are invoked in product liability cases.

Other proposals are aimed at controlling discovery costs, promoting alternative dispute resolution, and enabling appeals of class certification long before a case goes to trial. All of these initiatives are procedural in nature, protecting consumers rights, not lawyers' pocketbooks.

The immediate detrimental effect of the State Farm ruling on consumers is bad enough. Let's not compound the problem by passing up a chance to reform the class-action system that made it possible. Ann Spragens, Downers Grove, Ill. Senior vice president and general counsel Alliance of American Insurers

Ratify the test-ban treaty Regarding "New era of doubt over arms deals" (Oct. 7): One view says, "We need to arm so as to be in a position of strength since nothing else will work" (hence, thumbs down on the treaty), while the other says, "Don't fan the flames of the arms race again. Especially the deadliest of all, nuclear" (hence the treaty is the only civilized way to proceed).

I am with the latter view, since I believe (being a physicist) that our system of explosion monitoring by seismic and satellite methods is already good and can be made better, reducing the loopholes to smaller and smaller dimensions. I also believe that the path to building a fabric of trust among nations is possible and necessary in this ever more interconnected world. George Rawitscher, Storrs, Conn.

Overhauling immigration Thank you for your attention to an important subject in your editorial "Reforming US gatekeepers" (Oct. 1). There is growing consensus in the House of Representatives for action to improve immigration services and enforcement. I hope to bring the Immigration Reorganization and Improvement Act of 1999 before the House Immigration Subcommittee soon.

The editorial reflected an ongoing commitment by the Monitor to keep its readers informed about immigration, perhaps the only government policy that affects all Americans. Lamar Smith, Washington Chairman, House Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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