By Febe Zepeda
It's raining; it's pouring.
The trial lawyer is scoring.
He saw the hail and readied his suit,
And rushed to the courthouse in morning.
The courthouse filings stemming from two hailstorms that struck Hidalgo County in South Texas in March and April of 2012 are a troubling red flag that something may be amiss in the Hidalgo County Courthouse.
This is an issue that should concern every Texan, as it raises the possibility that a sudden upsurge in lawsuits reflects widespread practices of lawsuit abuse that may be going unnoticed.
Rio Grande Valley Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (RGVCALA) recently unveiled a new study highlighting this rush to the courthouse in Hidalgo County.
The study found that half of all hailstorm lawsuits were filed in the two-month period of March-April 2014, as the statute of limitations neared for insurance disputes from the Hidalgo County hailstorms.
In fact, between April 1, 2012 and April 30, 2014 a total of 5,740 hail storm cases were filed in Hidalgo County. And, of those cases, 2,513 were filed in March and April of 2014, meaning just under half of all the Hidalgo County hail storm cases were filed in the final two months of the period reviewed.
What’s even more troubling is the study, which examined lawsuit courthouse filings, also revealed that this rush to the courthouse involved only a small number of law firms.
As a local watchdog on our legal system, RGVCALA wants to make sure that our system isn’t used for greed, which unfortunately is what this rush of filings indicates is happening. Organizations like ours, as well as other organizations, small business owners and concerned citizens, know it’s critical to make sure Texans understand what’s happening in their state so they don’t fall prey to any trial lawyer tactics trying to stir up lawsuits for personal profit.
So, why should other Valley residents and Texans more generally care about the Hidalgo County hail storm suits?
According to the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI), pay outs to homeowners in Hidalgo County totaled more than $550 million, with an additional $47 million in payouts going to vehicle owners in Hidalgo and Cameron counties.
Add to that the direct and indirect costs of this significant flood of lawsuit into the civil justice system, and we’re all paying a price—both in terms of access to our courts for legitimate claims, as well as higher insurance and business costs.
Even as Texas has made major strides in curbing abusive lawsuits, trial lawyers are still finding ways to file questionable lawsuits and clog our courts. It’s a good reason to remain vigilant and strong in our fight to defend smart-minded legal reforms, making sure our courts are used for justice, not personal greed.
Febe Zepeda is executive director of the Rio Grande Valley Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. RGVCALA is Texas’ oldest and founding grassroots lawsuit abuse watchdog organization.