'Yes' to change doesn't mean more lawsuits

The SE Texas Record Jan. 26, 2009, 9:00am

By Clay McPhail
Chairman, Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse of Central Texas

When voters went to the polls in November, their desire for change was unmistakable. Yet, while a majority of voters wholeheartedly supported change in Washington, they also know what would make things worse for our nation: more junk lawsuits.

According to an Election Day poll conducted by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), the vast majority of voters believe junk lawsuits remain a serious problem in the United States.

Nearly 80 percent said that if Congress expands opportunities to sue, it will have a negative impact on the economy - most important issue in determining how they cast their vote.

As our economy weathers the worst crisis in a generation, attention to the negative economic consequences of junk lawsuits is critical, not only in Washington, but here in Texas.

Even before the 81st Texas Legislative Session opens this month, some personal injury lawyers have been looking for ways to undo quality reforms that have stemmed the tide of lawsuit abuse. A dedicated faction is committed to laying the groundwork for new laws that would create new ways to sue, siphoning precious resources from our healthcare system and our nation's employers.

Personal injury lawyers pumped big bucks into the last election cycle, hoping to build on anti-reform efforts from last session when they pushed almost 400 pieces of legislation to undermine existing reforms, create new ways to sue or expand existing causes of action.

Fortunately, their efforts failed then but with their latest heavy donations they clearly plan to make a big push to pass their anti-business, anti-consumer agenda in 2009.

This year, we expect more of same.

Specifically, we expect to see proposals that would allow personal injury lawyers to sue for reimbursement of health care expenses that were never incurred. This change wouldn't help truly injured Texans but would instead simply enrich personal injury lawyers.

Voters are watching.

In the ILR research, 77 percent of voters said they would have a less favorable impression of lawmakers who pass laws allowing personal injury lawyers to bring more lawsuits.

And voters understand who profits – and who doesn't – from abusive lawsuits. Fully 73 percent of voters identify personal injury lawyers as benefiting most from lawsuits, while only 4 percent say victims do.

In Texas, we know firsthand the benefits a balanced civil justice system can bring. We've come so far and have made great strides in creating a legal system that is based on common sense and fairness.

According to a recent national economic competitiveness index, Texas ranks as the top state for business. In 2008, the Lone Star state passed California and New York as the home to the most Fortune 500 company headquarters.

Texas's legal climate is a national standard and reforms led to the first decrease in tort litigation costs since 1997, according to the 2007 Tillinghast tort costs study. And just last month, the American Tort Reform Foundation moved the Rio Grande Valley and the Texas Gulf Coast from its annual Judicial Hellholes List to its "Watch List."

It's been a long, hard battle to improve our state's civil justice system, but now is no time to rest. Fighting lawsuit abuse – in the face of economic hardship and those who would seize upon these stressful times to encourage more lawsuits – has never been more timely or more necessary.

Our state clearly doesn't need the kind of "change" touted by members of the personal injury trial bar. That's change that Texas families and small businesses simply can't afford.

Editor's Note: The Southeast Texas Record is owned by the Institute for Legal Reform, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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