Preserve tort reform

The SE Texas Record Oct. 13, 2007, 8:29am

Once suffering from a doctor shortage, the Lone Star State can now brag it has longest wait list of wanna-be MDs in the country.

Medical specialists are flocking to Texas from places like New York and Florida, attracted by new laws curbing frivolous lawsuits and the low malpractice insurance rates they've begotten. Austin's biggest health care crisis today: figuring out how to process the deluge of Texas Medical Board applications to set up shop in our state.

Medical malpractice reform, we now know, is working for Texas.

We mean for the patients. It isn't working for the trial lawyers, to be sure. But then again, it wasn't intended to.

Alas, it comes as no surprise that, in light of all this good news, Texas' lawsuit industry is still angling behind the scenes to bring back our state's jackpot justice-happy past.

They aren't doing it in plain view, of course. "More suing" and "higher legal fees" don't quite resonate with your average Texan. Today, the battle over tort reform is raging in our courts, fought by lawyers parsing rules and trying to extrapolate lawmaker intentions.

One of them is Tyler personal injury lawyer Bill Liebbe, seeking to blow up a law that protects doctors expensive, time-eating lawyer fishing expeditions in merit-less cases.

Liebbe wants to interrogate four separate doctors he feels "may" be worth suing on behalf of his client, whose 78 year-old mother died of a heart attack while working in her garden. One of them should have given her a stress test, Liebbe argues.

Thankfully, tort reform prevents this kind of shotgun discovery, which forces doctors to be at the beck and call of any random lawyer who smells an opportunity, rather than that of the patients they've committed to serve.

This isn't to say lawyers like Liebbe still cannot sue. He just needs to find a medical expert to first conclude that his reasoning sounds legitimate on its face before he puts a doctor through the lawsuit ringer. Is that really too much to ask?

Under little media scrutiny, the Texas Supreme Court is currently weighing Liebbe's arguments. Here's hoping they keep tort reform in place.

The redemption of Texas' legal system is a national success story because it was forged with consensus. It would be a shame if we let a handful of lawyers undo the people's will.

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