By Richard W. Weekley
Greg Abbott, Texas attorney general and gubernatorial candidate, has a personal story that is inspirational to Texans, regardless of their politics. At the age of 26, shortly after graduating from law school, Abbott was hit by a falling tree while jogging and was left paralyzed from the waist down.
Abbott went on to serve with distinction as a Texas trial judge and as a member of the Texas Supreme Court. In 2012, he was elected to his third term as attorney general. If he is elected next year, he will be the first Texas governor to serve in a wheelchair.
Unfortunately, Abbott's personal story, as inspiring as it is, frequently brings out politicized comments from a few personal injury trial lawyers and their sympathizers. Abbott sued and won a settlement in the tree-falling accident. Over the years, trial lawyers have suggested he is hypocritical and somehow didn't deserve the damage award because of his strong support for lawsuit reform.
Abbott has been outspoken in his support for the tort reforms that have reined in the lawsuit abuses that have plagued Texas. Abbott knows these reforms do not deny any Texan the right to access our courts for legal redress of wrongs or injuries like those he suffered. None of us knows, from one day to the next, when we may need to bring a lawsuit or defend ourselves against one. The goal of tort reform in Texas has always been to create and maintain a fair, honest and predictable civil justice system that balances the rights of both plaintiffs and defendants. Every lawsuit reform that has been passed in Texas, beginning in 1995, has assured those rights.
Over the past 20 years, relentless attacks on lawsuit reform from mass tort and personal injury trial lawyers, including barbs directed at Abbott and others, have had little impact on public opinion. Polls continue to show that Texans in both political parties overwhelmingly support lawsuit reform. In fact, a majority say they would like the Legislature to enact additional reforms to prevent lawsuit abuse.
In the face of this steadfast public opinion, some trial lawyers persist in pushing misinformation about how tort reform works. Abbott's gubernatorial run provides an opening for them to suggest that he somehow received a settlement that other Texans could not receive.
This simply isn't true.
Texans can and do recover damages for legitimate claims every day. The only caps on damages that have been enacted in Texas are a reasonable cap on so-called punitive damages and also a cap on non-economic damages (such as mental anguish) in medical liability cases only. In medical liability cases, a plaintiff can recover all economic damages, without limit, including past and future lost wages and all medical expenses, plus up to $750,000 for non-economic damages. The Texas medical liability reforms that were enacted in 2003 stopped the exodus of doctors who were leaving the state or retiring because of high medical liability insurance costs. The result has been improved access to high-quality health care throughout the state, and similar caps have now been enacted in many other states.
Tort reform has been good for Texas. Over the past two decades, lawsuit reforms have changed our state from the "lawsuit capital of the world" to the nation's model for civil justice reform.
The strength of the state's economy, our position as the country's leading job creator, and continued business expansion and innovation are all a result of the commitment of state leaders and lawmakers to tort reform and the fairness and balance it brings to our civil courts. Abbott and other state officeholders should be commended for the leadership on this critical issue over the past two decades.
Richard W. Weekley is the founder and CEO of Texans for Lawsuit Reform.