The Greater Houston Pachyderm Club was treated to a very well done presentation today on tort reform. Pat Kiley discussed the history of Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the gains they have made through their efforts, and why it is important to keep pressing on.
Mr. Kiley talked about the early formation of TLR through the efforts of David Weekly and Leo Linbeck, Jr. in 1994. Apparently, Mr. Weekly had suffered a “wrong” at the hands of a trial lawyer and sought to do something about it. In telling the story, Mr. Kiley reminded us of the bad old days in Texas jurisprudence, the days when lawyers could literally shop for the best judge for their case (get hurt in Houston, sue in Beaumont) and the fact that Texas was known as the lawsuit capital of the nation.
TLR’s original goal was straightforward: Balance and fairness in the court regardless of which side you were on. To achieve this goal through legislation, they focused on two areas:
- Elect dedicated public servants to the state legislature.
- Get ordinary citizens to participate at the grassroots level.
Mr. Kiley stated that the second item was the most important for their success because it had never been done before. Most groups had, until that time, focused upon lobbyists to do their bidding. Today, TLR has 17,000 grassroots members that can be called upon to push legislation. The biggest gains for TLR were made under Governor George Bush, who energized the movement.
Mr. Kiley stated that the biggest gains for TLR to date are:
- Stop Judge shopping – as noted above, you used to be able to find the “friendliest” court available.
- Proportionate judgements – if you are found 10% liable for something gone wrong, you no longer have to pay 100% of the judgement simply because you have the most money.
- Medical liability reform – there has been a substantial cut in malpractice insurance rates because of limits on liability. Also, the number of insurers has grown form 3 to 17-18. Mr. Kiley said that there were 18,242 new physicians in the state because of the law.
He also said that tort reform was under attack from trial lawyers, stating that Steve Mostyn alone spent $10 million in the last election cycle. Some of the things to look for are groups using good sounding names that really want to undermine tort reform legislation. He specifically mentioned TWIA and the legislation from the 2011 session – I think he might have erred when he said that TWIA was a state agency. I think that it is actually a pool of private insurance companies. He stated that TWIA was under attack because of Hurricane Ike and that trial lawyers had seen an opportunity to get easy money. Perhaps…but, as a homeowner whose home was flooded during that storm, I think that TWIA was the cause of the problems, not the trial lawyers. Perhaps he should talk to people like State Sen. Mike Jackson and State Rep. Larry Taylor before making that charge.
At any rate, it was a good, informative meeting. Lots of candidates and political types attended. I had the pleasure of meeting Becky Berger, SREC SD-18, and Tina Gibson, SREC SD-17, as well as chatting with Michael Landrum and Justice Jeff Brown. Not a bad lunch.
A few pics from the lunch: