I have written many times about the errors inherent in “tort reform” in Texas laws. Basically, these laws deprive citizens of their rights while doing nothing to fix the underlying problems. The net effect is simply to enrich insurance carriers.
This opinion piece on tort reform from the Houston Chronicle is notable primarily because it was written by Mark McCaig, a former member of the State Republican Executive Committee. Here are excerpts:
For more than two decades, special interest groups have thrown around catch phrases such as “tort reform” and “lawsuit abuse” to gain a sympathetic ear from Texas conservatives. Indeed, the Texas Legislature has passed a number of bills over the years at the behest of advocates of so-called tort reform measures. Especially in recent years, however, the agendas of these self-styled reform groups have gone far beyond their stated goal of deterring frivolous lawsuits and into promoting radical public policy that serves to decimate the right of a civil trial by jury that is protected by the Texas and United States Constitutions.
The most prominent tort reform group in Texas, Texans For Lawsuit Reform, has spent tens of millions of dollars to influence elections and legislation in Texas. They also have an active presence at the state Capitol with a cadre of a dozen lobbyists, including the brother of a sitting Democratic state representative and Gov. Rick Perry’s former chief of staff.
The tentacles of tort reform groups go far beyond legislation dealing with frivolous lawsuits or other issues related to civil litigation. Emails uncovered during the recent redistricting litigation showed that Texans For Lawsuit Reform played an integral role in the redistricting process during the last legislative session. In one of these emails, the group’s president was shown to have helped organize a public relations campaign in support of a redistricting proposal that was opposed by some conservative activists.
Most judges and lawyers will agree that truly frivolous lawsuits are a rarity in Texas courts today. State law allows for severe sanctions, including the payment of attorney’s fees, against those who engage in real lawsuit abuse.
However, the vast majority of what is sold to the public today by the tort reform lobby does nothing to prevent frivolous lawsuits. Their self-interested agenda consists almost exclusively of proposals to limit the ability of people who have sustained legitimate harm of some kind from being able to hold the wrongdoers fully accountable for their actions.
Unfortunately, due to the extensive public relations efforts undertaken by tort reform advocates, many Texas voters have been fooled into believing that Texas courts are flooded with meritless lawsuits and that additional tort reform is needed. In reality, the lawsuit abuse crisis in Texas is completely manufactured in order to justify overreaching measures to shield major political donors and their allies from accountability and has no basis in fact whatsoever.
Political action committees supportive of tort reform and their major donors are the largest donors to political campaigns in Texas today. They have used their considerable influence and resources to scare legislators into supporting their special interest agenda at the expense of their constituents. Many legislators who have had the courage to oppose their bullying have found themselves facing well-funded opponents.
Texas legislators should continue to look for ways to prevent true lawsuit abuse. However, they should not allow themselves to become beholden to special interest groups who use the tort reform label to promote the financial interests of their donors at the expense of average Texans.