Texas Governor Pushes for More Tort Reform
Tort reform, which usually includes some type of cap on pain and suffering awards, has become an election year issue in the Texas governor's race. In 2003, Texas passed tort reform legislation that limits pain and suffering awards against medical providers to $250,000. Incumbent Governor Rick Perry does not think it goes far enough.
Perry is involved in an election race with challenger Bill White, the former mayor of Houston, whom Perry's camp continually portrays as a liberal trial lawyer. During a recent speech to the lobbying group, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, Perry laid out his proposal to decrease frivolous lawsuits. A frivolous lawsuit is one that has no solid legal basis, but is filed merely to obtain a settlement from a defendant that is less than what it would cost the defendant to defend the case.
Perry's plan consists of four points. First, Perry wants any plaintiff that files a frivolous or groundless lawsuit to be forced to pay the defendant's attorney's fees spent in defending the lawsuit. At present, each side usually pays their own attorney's fees when a case is dismissed.
Next, Perry wants to allow courts to dismiss frivolous lawsuits early, before substantial attorney fees and other legal bills pile up. At present, it can be difficult to have a case dismissed until substantial and costly discovery has been undertaken by both sides.
Judicially-created causes of action would be curtailed. Perry seeks legislation that requires the legislature to expressly state when it is creating a new cause of action. Judges would be required to interpret the laws strictly and provide only the rights and remedies the legislature intended.
Finally, Perry seeks to increase access to the courts and the speed of case resolution. He seeks legislation that will set expedited trial dates and limited discovery for cases with claims between $10,000 and $100,000. He believes that getting litigants into and out of court quickly will lower the cost of litigation and allow injured parties to recover their damages more quickly.
Whether you are in favor of or against tort-reform, one major hurdle will confront Governor Perry's proposals. The legislature, not the governor's office, will be required to draft and pass this program if it is to become Texas law.
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