On Saturday, August 13, 2011, Texas Governor Rick Perry announced that he will run for President of the United States as a Republican candidate. As the Republican Governor of Texas for many years (and as the current Governor of Texas), what has he done in Texas regarding medical malpractice and other “tort reform”?
A press release from the Texas Governor’s Office sheds some light on Governor Perry’s position on medical malpractice and other tort reform initiatives.
In 2003, Texas passed “tort reform” legislation that made wholesale and dramatic changes to the tort laws in Texas. In a statement entitled “Tort Reform” that addressed the 2003 tort reform changes in Texas, Governor Perry’s Office stated:
Summary of Achievement
Frivolous lawsuits are not only one the top job killers in America, but were also hurting the quality and availability of healthcare across the state. Under Governor Perry’s leadership, Texas enacted several key legal reforms that are protecting the state’s economy and improving the availability of medical care.
These reforms freed doctors from excessive medical liability insurance premiums that had been driven many doctors out of Texas and some out of medicine altogether, depriving Texans of needed medical care. They also stemmed a tide of frivolous and excessive litigation by ending class action abuse, protecting innocent parties from expensive product liability suits, reining in excessive punitive damages claims and cracking down on phony asbestos suits. Ultimately, the reforms imposed reasonable limitations on lawsuits while still allowing Texans with valid claims their day in court.
Abuse of the state’s legal system, including frivolous lawsuits and excessive settlement demands, had transformed Texas courthouses from places where neighbors could peacefully resolve disputes into forums for a seemingly endless flow of questionable claims. They also significantly decreased the number of physicians practicing in the state due to skyrocketing malpractice insurance premiums.
Over several decades, Texas had developed a well-deserved but unfortunate reputation for big jury verdicts in frivolous lawsuits against the businesses that provided jobs and created prosperity for Texans. As a result, businesses were leaving Texas while those that stayed were reluctant to expand or invest in their operations. These constraints cost Texas jobs and diminished our economy’s ability to grow and benefit Texas citizens.
Economists estimated that as a result of frivolous lawsuits the average family was paying $2,600 per year in higher prices embedded into the costs of the goods and services. This “tort tax” siphoned money out of the economy that was needed to create jobs and fuel economic growth. Eliminating part of that tort tax would essentially be like giving every Texan a pay raise.
Action / Initiative
In 2003, Gov. Perry led the effort to pass sweeping lawsuit reforms so that innocent employers could put their money into job growth rather than damage awards. In 2005, Gov. Perry signed a law cracking down on junk asbestos claims that were forcing innocent employers into bankruptcy and putting thousands of people out of work. He also signed a law to prevent trial lawyers from suing restaurants on the charge of obesity-related health problems, and another to stop venue-shopping which had allowed lawyers to sue dredging companies in hostile forums hundreds of miles away from the site of their operations. A leading economist projected that 240,000 new jobs would eventually be created as a result of these reforms.
Key provisions of the 2003 reforms include:
- Defendants can appeal class certification directly to the Texas Supreme Court to decide up front, not after years of costly litigation, if the plaintiff has a class action.
- Law ensures that lawyers are paid in coupons if clients in a class-action suit get paid in coupons.
- A new standard to ensure sued parties pay only their proportionate responsibility.
- Reformed product liability laws so retailers are not liable for a manufacturer’s mistake.
- Enacted liability limits for good Samaritans, volunteer firefighters, charity volunteers and teachers.
- Closed loopholes that allowed trial lawyers to venue shop.
As a direct result of Texas’ tort reform efforts, filings of frivolous lawsuits have been vastly reduced, allowing employers to put their money into economic growth and creating jobs rather than litigation.
Tort reform has improved access to medical care in Texas, particularly in underserved areas, and has removed a large threat to job creation and economic growth that had been created by excessive litigation.
The Texas reforms, combined with Governor Perry’s emphasis on economic development, have helped foster an environment of job growth, economic opportunity and prosperity for the people of Texas. In fact, last year Texas created more jobs than any other state in the nation, and is consistently ranked the best place in the country to do business.
Governor Perry followed-up on the 2003 tort reform legislation in May, 2011, when he signed the so-called “loser pay” legislation. In announcing his signing of the new legislation, Governor Perry’s Office issued the following press release:
Gov. Perry: Loser Pays Lets Employers Spend Less Time in the Courtroom, More Time Creating Jobs
Gov. Rick Perry ceremonially signed House Bill 274, which brings important lawsuit reforms to Texas courts, including implementing a loser pays system for frivolous lawsuits in the state. The governor designated this issue as an emergency item for this legislative session. Gov. Perry was joined by Rep. Brandon Creighton and Sen. Joan Huffman for the signing ceremony.
“HB 274 provides defendants and judges with a variety of tools that will cut down on frivolous claims in Texas,” Gov. Perry said. “This important legislation will help make Texas that much more attractive to employers seeking to expand or relocate from countries all over the world by allowing them to spend less time in court and more time creating jobs.”
HB 274 implements several measures to streamline and lower the cost of litigation in Texas courts, allowing parties to resolve disputes more quickly, more fairly and less expensively. This includes:
• Allowing a trial court to dismiss a frivolous lawsuit immediately if there is no basis in law or fact for the lawsuit;
• Allowing a trial judge to send a question of law directly to the appellate court without requiring all parties to agree if a ruling by a court of appeals could decide the case;
• Allowing plaintiffs seeking less than $100,000 to request an expedited civil action; and
• Encouraging the timely settlement of disputes and helping prevent a party from extending litigation by seeking a “home run” if they have already been offered a fair settlement.
“House Bill 274 signifies a major landmark for tort reform in Texas,” Rep. Creighton said. “I am pleased with the outcome and am positive that this bill, now signed into law by Governor Perry, will make litigation in Texas fair, expedient, and affordable – helping to create jobs, make plaintiffs whole and protect defendants from meritless cases.”
“Texas remains a national leader of tort reform with the signing of HB 274. The legislation curtails the frivolous lawsuits that can harm individuals and small businesses and fosters a more efficient and accessible court system for all parties,” Sen. Huffman said. “I was pleased to sponsor the bill in the Senate and thank my colleagues for supporting these important improvements to our legal climate.”
What position might Governor Perry take with regard to the debate involving medical malpractice tort reform on the federal level now that he is a candidate for President of the United States? Only time will tell but his position on this important issue will need to be thoroughly flushed out so that people may decide if the issue of federal medical malpractice tort reform is an issue that they find important enough to affect their vote when its time to choose a candidate during the 2012 Presidential Election.
When the devastating effects of medical errors and medical mistakes take a toll on you and your family, you owe it to yourself and to your family to find out about your legal rights. At the present, medical malpractice claims and your legal rights are based on the laws of the state in which the medical malpractice or the resulting injuries occurred. Visit our website to be connected with medical malpractice lawyers in your state to find out your rights and to find out if you have a claim for medical malpractice. You may also call us toll free at 800-295-3959. Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.