By Connie Scott
You don't have to travel to Vegas or across the Texas state line to witness high stakes gambling.
In spite of Texas' significant progress over the past decade to enact lawsuit reform that protects our civil justice system, some personal injury lawyers continue to try to run the table and attempt to use courts for greed, not justice - with the goal of winning big!
Lawsuit abuse hurts us all. It affects small businesses, health care providers, our schools and government, and our neighbors. One study found the cost of lawsuits for small business owners in the United States to be $105.4 billion.
October 6-10 is Lawsuit Abuse Awareness Week, an observance that Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse takes very seriously as part of our year-round work to educate and raise awareness about the costs of lawsuit abuse, the benefits of reform and the importance of basic civic duties like jury service.
So, what can be done to address the excesses of lawsuit abuse and the costs it saddles our court system and businesses with each year?
Stopping the abuse of our courts really starts with each of us-the citizen, the voter, the taxpayer, the business owner and the consumer. As legal consumers, the choices we make determine whether we are part of the solution or contribute to the problem of lawsuit abuse.
If you need to consult a lawyer, choose wisely and only after doing research to make sure you hire someone who is qualified, has high ethical standards and is acting in your interests rather than in their own financial interest.
If you're wronged or suffer a loss, the kneejerk reaction may be to sue, but filing a lawsuit might not be your best course of action. Some personal injury lawyers make their living by urging people to file lawsuits regardless of the merit of the lawsuit. Alternative options, such as arbitration, can frequently offer easier, faster and less stressful ways to resolve a dispute and provide appropriate compensation.
Fighting lawsuit abuse also means each of us doing our part to serve on a jury when called. A fair and balanced civil justice system requires that everyone fulfill his or her responsibility to serve, something TALA's own studies recently suggest is not happening. In some counties, 60 percent or more of citizens summoned aren't showing up at the courthouse. We're all too frequently "talking the talk" on the importance of a fair civil justice system, but we aren't "walking the walk."
Finally, if we're to restore fairness and common sense to our court system - ensuring it is used for justice, not greed - then don't forget elections. Before you vote, get educated and informed on all the candidates, including judges. From the bench and the courthouse to the statehouse, these are the men and women who can impact and influence our judicial system. Electing good judges and policymakers is critical.
Our legislators have taken leadership by passing legal reforms that have had a significant benefit to our state, allowing doctors to practice freely and encouraging businesses to come to Texas and thrive.
But curbing lawsuit abuse means changing a "sue-happy" mentality - and that doesn't happen overnight. It takes a sustained and serious effort. Now it's up to each of us to be good stewards of our legal system, and use it wisely and appropriately, so that it can serve us fairly when we truly need it.
The power is in our hands.
Connie Scott is the president of Bay Area Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse