AUSTIN – Bobby Jenkins, president of ABC Home & Commercial Services, worries about the threat of lawsuit abuse on his company and the people that work for him. But since civil justice reforms in the state of Texas, Jenkins, whose company serves Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Bryan/College Station, says he feels more comfortable.
"Reforms allow me to feel more comfortable doing business here," Jenkins said. "But just because we've made strides, doesn't mean we can say 'Game over, we won.' Fighting lawsuit abuse is a constant battle."
Jenkins is one of several business leaders and doctors providing testimonials for the launch of Reform Works, a campaign by Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse groups around the state to mark Lawsuit Abuse Awareness Week, Oct. 5-9.
Stephanie Gibson, executive director of CALA of Central Texas said civil justice reform has directly benefited the Texas economy and dramatically improved access to healthcare.
"Lawsuit Abuse Awareness Week is an opportunity to shine a spotlight not only on the benefits of reform, but also on the intent of some personal injury lawyers to return Texas to the days when lawsuit abuse ruled this state," Gibson said. "Reform works and it's worth protecting."
According to an economic study by The Perryman Group, Texas has added 499,000 permanent jobs since a series of civil justice reforms passed in 1995. A $112.5 billion increase in annual spending and an additional 430,000 Texans who now have health insurance are also attributed to legal reforms in the study.
"In Texas, lawsuit abuse made life difficult for doctors, many of whom had to decide if continuing in the profession they loved was worth the constant harassment from personal injury lawyers and skyrocketing [insurance] premiums," wrote Gov. Rick Perry in proclaiming Lawsuit Awareness Week.
"Thankfully, with the aid of Texas voters, one of the most sweeping tort reforms in the nation helped reverse a trend, and today many doctors are back in business in the Lone Star State."
Dr. James Castillo, who practices internal medicine at Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen, said legal reform was a "major factor" in his decision to stay and serve patients in the Rio Grande Valley.
According to Michelle Martin, executive director of CALA of Houston, Texas has added 10,000 new physicians since the passage of medical liability reforms in 2003. Patients have access to more doctors in high-risk specialties such as neurosurgeons, emergency room physicians and OB/GYNS, Martin said.
"Texas has enjoyed a tremendous influx of physicians thanks to lawsuit reforms," Dr. Castillo said. "If we lose ground on our progress, physicians will find fewer reasons to stay in historically underserved communities like the Valley."
Doctors like Castillo are concerned because some of the reforms came under threat during Texas' last legislative session. Chip Hough, chairman of the Bay Area CALA, said personal injury lawyers pushed 900 bills that would have created new ways to sue or undermined current laws designed to curb lawsuit abuse.
Dr. Amy Arrant, a physician with Hospital Internists of Austin, said before reforms in the legal system, there was only one neurosurgeon practicing in Austin.
"If a patient suffered a head trauma when that doctor was off duty, he was shipped to San Antonio," Dr. Arrant said. "That is not good medicine."
In reflecting on the impact of civil justice reforms in Texas, Jenkins concluded, "I'm proud to live in a community where fairness matters."
Testimonials describing the real world impact of civil justice reforms from Bobby Jenkins, Dr. James Castillo, Dr. Amy Arrant and several others are available online at www.tala.com.