Trial lawyer legislators behind 'anti-tort reform' bills; CALA fears more to come
Although a pair of "anti-tort reform" bills recently died in a state House committee, legal watchdog groups from across the Lone Star State are prepared to "stand strong" and fight future bills engineered to unravel tort reform laws.
Dubbed "anti-reformist" by pro-tort reform enthusiasts, Texas lawmakers Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa and John Smithee, both of whom are trial lawyers, introduced legislation this past year in hopes of undoing the Omnibus Tort Reform Act of 2003.
Seeking to repeal the current "paid or incurred" provision, state Sen. Hinojosa, a Democrat representing McAllen, sponsored Senate Bill 1119.
To complement his counterpart, state Rep. Smithee, a Republican hailing from Amarillo, introduced companion House Bill 1956.
"This is a non-partisan issue," said Stephanie Gibson, a spokeswoman for Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. "Both Republicans and Democrats supported this bill. And both parties fought it."
Gibson said the congressmen, and the trial lawyers who back them, sought to repeal the part of 2003 Tort Reform Act which allows a plaintiff to recover only medical expenses actually paid or incurred.
She said under current Texas law plaintiffs can still recover as economic damages all legitimate health care expenses, including all out-of-pocket medical expenses. However, the recent legislative push would, if passed, create a financial windfall for trial lawyers by permitting plaintiffs to collect on discounted or forgiven medical bills.
According to the Texas Alliance for Patient Access, "phantom damages" sought by plaintiff's lawyers typically involve the pursuit of full medical charges billed by the physician or healthcare provider rather than the reduced amount paid by the health insurer.
Since the passage of the 2003 reforms, 82 Texas counties have seen a net gain in emergency physicians, including 26 counties that previously had none.
Organizations such as the Texas Alliance for Patient Access contend that growth could be curved or even halted if bills like SB1119 ever successfully clear the legislature and the governor's desk.
"It doesn't make any sense – this bill violates the true intent of what legal damages were actually incurred," Gibson said. "We expect to see bills like this again. It took so much time to get these reforms passed. We are going to be front and center when they come. We will stand strong."
SB 1119 was heard by the Senate State Affairs Committee on March 25, but never made its way to the Senate floor. The House companion bill was heard in House Committee for Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence on March 30 and left pending in committee.
For more information, visit Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse of Texas at www.tala.com.
Information from Texas Alliance for Patient Access was provided by executive director Jon Opelt and the organization's Web site, www.tapa.info.