There's nothing like a good argument

The SE Texas Record Feb. 12, 2011, 1:54pm

In the film version of Mary Poppins, Bert the chimney sweep tells a painfully punny joke and then comments: "I always say there's nothing like a good joke."

To which, Uncle Albert responds: "No, and that was nothing like a good joke."

We feel much the same about legal arguments. There's nothing like a good one, and many are nothing like a good one.

The Texas State Supreme Court had a good one, though, when it rejected a malpractice claim against two doctors because the plaintiff waited too long to add them to a suit targeting other defendants.

The court enforced a statutory limit of two years against Jeremy Molinet, following a rule requiring them to apply the plain language of legislation so long as it doesn't lead to an absurd or nonsensical result.

Justice Phil Johnson affirmed that Molinet could have added the two doctors to the suit within the specified time. "He did not do so, however," Johnson observed, "and it is not absurd or nonsensical for him to bear the consequences of his decision."

Justice Debra Lehrmann dissented, arguing that tort reforms enacted in 2003 created an exception to the two-year limit. The tort reform law allows a malpractice defendant to reduce his liability by identifying a third party who shares responsibility. A plaintiff then has 60 days to add that party to the suit.

One of the original defendants pointed the finger at two other doctors, whom Molinet added to his suit within the 60-day limit. At that point, however, the suit had been in progress for more than two years.

As the majority noted, the two-year statute of limitations begins with the words, "Notwithstanding any other law."

Justice Lehrmann expressed concern that the ruling will prompt claimants to target additional defendants at the outset – in anticipation of blame-shifting -- and thus lead to increased litigation.

Good arguments were made by both sides. Now it's up to the legislature to address the unintended consequences of their lawmaking.

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