MONTGOMERY Gov. Bob Riley’s son is on the patients’ side of a tort reform war between trial lawyers and nursing home owners, one of the most bitter battles of this legislative season.

Rob Riley, a Birmingham lawyer, has represented patients and their families in lawsuits against nursing homes, including partnering with former Lt. Gov. Jere Beasley’s prominent Montgomery law firm.

Nursing home owners are trying to get lawmakers to pass a $250,000 damages cap and other lawsuit restrictions, arguing litigation has caused insurance rates to skyrocket. Trial lawyers contend the restrictions would allow homes to abuse and neglect without fear of repercussions.

The proposed legislation has sparked a public relations melee including a nursing home ad that shows a trial lawyer gobbling up the food of an elderly patient.

David Azbell, the governor’s spokesman, said the younger Riley’s involvement won’t affect the governor’s position on the legislation if it ever lands on his desk for signature.

“Bob Riley was elected governor of Alabama. Rob Riley wasn’t,” Azbell said. “If you look at the governor’s congressional record, he has consistently voted in favor of tort reform measures.”

Azbell said the governor wouldn’t have an official position on the bills until lawmakers pass them. “It could be a totally different animal when it comes out on the other end,” Azbell said.

Beasley said he began working with Rob Riley about two years ago because of his expertise in medical malpractice and other areas.

“I’ve been doing business with Rob long before his dad was elected governor,” said Beasley, one of the most visible lawyers in the fight with nursing homes. “He’s a good lawyer.”

Riley’s work with Beasley’s firm includes a 2002 wrongful death and medical malpractice lawsuit against U.S.A Healthcare, Inc.

Beasley said nursing homes have not proved their claim that lawsuits caused insurance rates to rise.

Rob Riley helped run his father’s campaign for governor, including spearheading fund-raising efforts. Azbell said that involvement does not extend to policy decisions of the administration.

Efforts to reach Rob Riley for comment Monday were unsuccessful.

The nursing home bills are pending in the Alabama Senate, which has been shut down for weeks as minority members try to wrestle more power from the Democratic majority.

Copies of the younger Riley’s lawsuits were circulated around the Alabama State House during the Senate stalemate.

Azbell said the governor’s political enemies must have done that to try to taint him.

“To drag the governor’s children into a political discussion they did not voluntarily enter is highly inappropriate,” Azbell said.

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