Legal reforms = jobs, stronger economy and greater access to care

The SE Texas Record Mar. 26, 2009, 7:38am

By Bill Summers

As the U.S. weathers its worst economic crisis in a generation, attention to the negativeconsequences of junk lawsuits is critical.

Even before the 81st Texas Legislative Session began, some personal injury lawyers were hard at work looking for ways to undo quality reforms that have stemmed the tide of lawsuit abuse.

A dedicated faction is committed to turning back the clock on the progress that has seen Texas go from the world's courthouse to a national model for lawsuit reforms rooted in common sense and fairness.

Already, in just three months into this legislative session, we've seen dozens of proposals that create new ways to sue and that could, if enacted, siphon precious resources and cost Texas jobs.

At the heart of this invigorated push from personal injury lawyers is pure and unabashed greed. Personal injury lawyers can cloak themselves in the consumer mantle but, in the end, these proposals will help line their pockets at the expense of Texas jobs, economy and our healthcare.

The assault on lawsuit reform isn't new, but it has been reinvigorated by recent successes at the federal level. Giddy personal injury lawyers now are looking for wins at the state level and are pushing changes here that would:

  • Leave consumers no option but to go to court by gutting arbitration agreements in Texas;
  • Line the pockets of a small cadre of lawyers at the expense of the state budget by allowing private "false claims" actions against the state;
  • Encourage a fresh round of asbestos litigation by lowering the causation standards for such suits;
  • Increase costs of health care by allowing personal injury lawyers to sue for "phantom expenses" in health-related cases.

    We also expect to see efforts to reverse medical liability reforms that have dramatically increased access to health care for countless Texans, especially those in rural and underserved areas of our state.

    It would be tragic if personal injury lawyers succeeded in their efforts to gut medical liability reform and once again reduce Texans' access to care.

    The health-related benefits of reform are unmistakable:

  • 10,000 new physicians since the passage of reforms in 2003;
  • More access to doctors in high-risk specialties such as neurosurgeons, emergency room physicians and OB/GYNS;
  • Increased spending on patient care by local hospitals such as expanded emergency rooms and neonatal units;
  • A $1.74 billion direct economic impact (due to increased number of physician practices).

    Bottom line: Reform works.

    On the flip side, states that are still plagued by out-of-control legal climates are losing doctors and basic medical services, forcing patients to go without the care they need.

    In New York, spiraling medical liability costs and runaway lawsuits are forcing hospitals to stop delivering babies. OB/GYN physicians in New York stop practicing by age 48 on average, citing unmanageable medical liability costs.

    Sound familiar? This is exactly what Texas faced before we enacted our medical liability reforms.

    A recent study by The Perryman Group found that legal reforms have strengthened the Texas economy and created jobs. According to their report, approximately 8.5 percent of Texas' economic growth since 1995 is the result of lawsuit reforms.

    And, while every state will suffer in the current economic crisis, our state still ranks as the top state for business and just last year, Texas passed California and New York as the home to the most Fortune 500 company headquarters.

    In contrast, states with unfair and unpredictable legal climates experience job loss and economic strife. In West Virginia, for example, hundreds of workers lost their jobs recently when Chesapeake Energy was forced to shutter its operations there.

    In explaining the company's exit, Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon noted that "until West Virginia's judicial system provides fair and unbiased access to its courts for everyone, a prudent company must be very cautious in committing further resources in the state."

    In Texas, we've come so far and have made great strides in creating a legal system that is based on common sense and fairness. It's been a long, hard battle to improve our state's civil justice system, but now is no time to rest.

    Our progress is worth protecting because civil justice reform clearly works.

    Bill Summers is the founder and president of Rio Grande Valley Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.

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