This editorial first appeared in the Tyler Morning Telegraph on Aug. 21.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s entire presidential campaign is “hey, look at Texas.” And that’s valid. But it’s also an opportunity to do exactly that - where did the “Texas miracle” (the sustained economic boom) come from?
A pretty good case can be made that in part, at least, it came from tort reform measures passed more than a decade ago.
Texas began reforming its medical malpractice system in 2003. It’s been a huge success. Before that, the state’s civil justice system was “known nationally as one where justice was for sale, and awards too often had little correlation to actual harm,” according to the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Bill Peacock.
But the Legislature embarked on a campaign to reform tort (injury) law.
“It’s been almost a decade since Texas began taking major steps to restore justice to our system,” Peacock wrote in 2012. “In 2003, the Texas Legislature passed comprehensive reforms, including the capping of non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. Reforms affecting asbestos and silica cases followed in 2005, and have continued up to the present, with ‘loser pays’ in 2011 being the most recent.”
The results have been astonishing.
“According to the Texas Medical Board records, we’ve picked up 1,271 New York physicians since September 2003, when Texas voters approved the Proposition 12 medical-liability reforms,” Peacock reported. “Overall, our state has nearly 26,000 more physicians than the 33,000 in practice pre-Prop 12. The vast majority moved from other states. We have seen $7 billion of investment in new medical infrastructure and $1.2 billion of additional charity medical care in the past two years alone while increasing the number of Texans with health insurance by almost 500,000.”
Some people question whether tort reform has truly been a good thing.
Writing for Breitbart Texas, Lana Shadwick points out that lawsuits are down.
“Civil lawsuit filings are down 17 percent in Texas over the last 10 years,” she writes. “Texas lawyers put forth a variety of reasons for the drop but the consensus is that tort reform is responsible. The bad news, some say, is that medical malpractice cases have all but been annihilated. Top civil trial lawyer W. Mark Lanier says the majority of valid medical malpractice cases have to be turned away.”
How is that a bad thing - except for trial lawyers? Of course those attorneys don’t like tort reform.
“Medical malpractice, for example, is basically gone in Texas with tort reform,” Lanier says. “We have to say no to nine out of 10 medical malpractice cases that are deserving of a day in court because of the caps on non-economic damages.”
But it’s only non-economic damages that are capped. Patients with legitimate claims can still have their day in court.
In the last legislative session, Texas lawmakers took further steps on tort reform. A bill was passed that outlaws “forum shopping” by out-of-state plaintiffs when the incidents didn’t occur in Texas.
Tort reform has been a success. And it’s part of why Texas’ economy has fared better than the nation’s in recent years.