Chris Dickerson Mar. 31, 2015, 8:16am


By HAZEL MEAUX

Texas has been on the front lines in the battle against the abuse of our lawsuit system, ensuring it is used for justice, not greed.

Years ago, Texas was known as the “Courthouse of the World” because our lawsuit system invited junk lawsuits, and our system was clogged with abusive lawsuits filed by lawyers who flocked here for personal gain.

Seeing how this abuse hurt our economy, everyday Texans demanded reform, which led to reforms restoring fairness and common sense to our lawsuit system.

But when your opponents are well-funded trial lawyers, you cannot rest on past success. Seeking a return to the old days, trial lawyers have found loopholes and work-arounds to the reforms.

For all the progress Texas has seen over the past decade with these reforms, there remains much work to be done. During the 2015 legislative session, our state representatives must pass additional reforms to preserve our stellar reputation for a legal climate that promotes job creation, new investment and economic growth.

One of the areas where trial lawyers have found a new way to abuse the system is by exploiting a loophole in laws governing who can file lawsuits in Texas courts. This loophole risks taking Texas back to the days when it was the “Courthouse to the World.”

A bill to fix this, HB 1692, is pending in the legislature. It would close this loophole and ensure that the lawsuits brought in Texas belong in our courts. This would also prevent Texas citizens from being denied justice because a court is clogged by cases that do not belong here.

Beyond the onslaught of lawsuits filed here under questionable jurisdiction and standing, there is evidence of abuse elsewhere in the lawsuit system.

Consider what a lawsuit abuse watchdog group found following two hailstorms in Hidalgo County in the spring of 2012.

A study commissioned by the Rio Grande Valley Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse found that nearly half of all hailstorm lawsuits were filed in March and April of 2014, as the statute of limitations neared.

Of the 5,740 hailstorm cases filed in Hidalgo County, 2,513 were filed in March and April of 2014. Even more troubling, the study revealed that this rush involved a small number of law firms.

Finally, we are watching developments on a move to increase the number of jurors in county court at law cases – from six to 12 — in civil cases where more than $200,000 is in dispute, a smart move that will create consistency across our court system.

Two decades after the legal reform movement was born in Texas, those in the trenches know we have to remain vigilant. A lawsuit system free of abusive lawsuits ensures access to speedy trials for legitimate claims, and that encourages civic participation on juries, which is good for every Texan.

Meaux is with Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse. This column originally appeared in the San Antonio Express-News.  

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