Fort Worth attorney Bob Halsam wrote an excellent editorial for the Star Telegram this week. The topic was some of the off-the-wall “tort reform” bills that have introduced in either the House or Senate recently. Here are the opening paragraphs of the editorial. You can read more after the break.
Gov. Rick Perry’s proposals for Texas’ legal system would help his insurance company contributors further increase their profits on the backs of those least able to help themselves after being injured by others’ negligence — and limit the already small recoveries available to plaintiffs in Texas.
Perry recently called for lawsuit “losers” to pay their opponents’ legal expenses and for an “early dismissal” option to get rid of “frivolous” suits. He said these components would help the state’s legal and economic climate.
But if the governor believes that Texas needs an early-dismissal option and expedited trials with limited discovery for claims between $10,000 and $100,000, he is not familiar with our court system. We’ve had both for years.
Rule 190 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure covers expedited trials. We already have three levels of cases to expedite things. Should we spend more money to add more layers?
Defending cases between $10,000 and $100,000 in Texas now costs very little. Many are defended by salaried insurance company employees with nominal costs to the company. Many are handled on fixed fees, some for as little as $2,000-$3,000 for the entire case.
In Tarrant County, cases involving $10,000 to $100,000 go to County Courts at Law and can get a trial setting in less than a year. The judges should be commended for moving cases fairly and efficiently.
Insurance companies and defendants want attorney fees awarded for frivolous claims by injured people. No problem. But fairness goes both ways: How about attorney fees awarded to the injured for frivolous, fraudulent or false defenses? Insurance lawyers routinely file defenses and make claims that can never be proved. Defendants waste too much time in litigation by stalling, delaying and making frivolous defenses. Insurance defendants and corporate defendants should pay attorney fees to the injured person so the playing field is level for both sides.
Again the governor misleads Texans or doesn’t know the rules.
Texas already has an “offer of settlement” rule, Civil Practice and Remedies Code Chapter 42, which provides for attorney fees. This rule is one-sided because the insurance company or defendant must invoke the rule. It has some fairness because it allows the plaintiff to make a counter-proposal to the insurance company’s usually low offer. The rule is rarely invoked: I haven’t seen it in one of my cases in 10 years.
Perry wants to make it more one-sided, kind of like going to a fight and making the injured person tie one hand behind his back. That is not fair, and that is not what Texas stands for.
Another proposal discusses the feared cliche of a frivolous lawsuit. Insurance companies and defendants already receive protection from frivolous lawsuits under Rules 13 and 169a, and Chapters 9 and 10 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code.
Truly frivolous cases rarely make it to trial. My experience tells me that no “frivolous” case in the past 10 years has made it past a Texas trial judge or reached a judgment where the frivolous case won anything.
The majority of Republican judges in Texas do not believe that there is a problem with frivolous cases.
The government already has the ability to appeal cases before trial to try to get them dismissed. This actually leads to delays and runs up costs to the injured person. As taxpayers pay the government lawyers’ salaries, this delay isn’t a problem for the government; it’s the consumer who faces years of waste on preliminary appeals.
Say “No” to more tort reform and “Yes” to deficit reduction/better education. Texans have been hurt enough by insurance company greed. Let’s focus on education so we can understand the Rules of Court.
Robert “Bob” Haslam of Fort Worth is past president of the Tarrant County Trial Lawyers Association.