Dreading a return to when Texas was crowned “courthouse to the world,” a tort reform group is urging Lone Star residents to contact their representatives and ask them to support a bill crafted to thwart lawsuit filings brought by out-of-state plaintiffs.
Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse has reached out to residents, seeking support for one specific bill among the 6,000 filed by the legislature’s March 13 deadline – House Bill 1692, introduced by state Rep. Kenneth Sheets, R-Dallas.
The bill seeks to close a loophole for lawsuits brought by out-of-state plaintiffs – a hole purportedly created last year when the Texas Supreme Court ruled a suit filed on the behalf of a Mexican national who died in an automobile collision in Mexico belonged in Texas.
The decision, In re: Ford Motor Company, required the high court to interpret the definition of “plaintiff” in the Texas-resident exception to the forum non conveniens statute – a court's discretionary power to decline to exercise its jurisdiction where another court may more conveniently hear a case.
Justices found that the wrongful-death beneficiaries are distinct plaintiffs that can rely on the Texas-resident exception.
“Due to a 2014 Texas Supreme Court decision, Texas courts have once again become a magnet for lawsuits from outside our state, which are filed here with the thinnest of connections,” TALA says in the statement.
“What’s at stake here is Texas returning to being the ‘courthouse to the world,’ a title we surely do not want to reclaim. Failure to close this loophole would endanger our work to continue to sustain Texas’ business climate as one that is friendly to small business owners, startups and larger companies looking to invest in and expand in Texas.
“Rep. Sheet’s legislation would prevent Texas citizens from being denied access to the legal system at the hands of a courtroom clogged with lawsuits from around the world.”
HB 1692 would amend the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code to read as follows: “In determining whether a case should be dismissed under this subchapter, the plaintiff's choice of a forum in this state shall be given substantial deference, provided that the plaintiff is a legal resident of the state and the underlying litigation has a significant connection to this state.”
If passed, the bill will ultimately redefine the word “plaintiff” in Texas civil law, ensuring the term no longer includes:
- A counterclaimant, cross-claimant, or third-party plaintiff or a person who is assigned a cause of action for personal injury, or who accepts an appointment as a personal representative in a wrongful death action in bad faith for purposes of affecting in any way the application of this section;
- An intervenor, beneficiary, next friend, or other derivative party to the plaintiff's claim; or
- A decedent's estate, if the decedent was not a legal resident of this state at the time of death.
TALA is a non-profit, statewide grassroots coalition dedicated to educating the public about the cost and consequences of lawsuit abuse, according to the organization’s website.