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Despite progress, East Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse's founder cites work ahead to combat lawsuit abuse

Southeast Texas Record, February 7, 2017

By: Carrie Salls 

LONGVIEW – Despite progress made in turning around a reputation that has pegged Texas as a popular venue for medical malpractice lawsuits and “not a business friendly environment,” Ruben Martin, founder of East Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse, said in a newsletter entry commemorating ETALA’s 25th anniversary that “junk lawsuits continue to cost us dearly.” 

“Texas has recently been voted as one of the best states for doctors to practice in,” Martin said in the newsletter. “And the state of Texas is now held as an example of how you can turn around your legal system when citizens become united against lawsuit abuse.”

However, Martin said employers are still spending “money that was earmarked for jobs” on defending junk lawsuits. He said this trend is hurting the state’s economy.

“Even the notorious ‘slip-and-fall’ lawsuits can shut down the small business owner,” Martin wrote. “And, whether they choose to fight or settle, it still costs – big time.”

Recent legal activity on the medical malpractice front includes the Jan. 20 announcement that the Texas Supreme Court will consider an appeal of a lawsuit that pits representatives of a deceased woman against the Columbia Valley Healthcare System, according to a Law360 article.

The plaintiffs allege that the patient’s nurses should have voiced their opposition before the pregnant woman was transferred, at the direction of her doctor, to another hospital from a Columbia Valley Healthcare System facility.

The woman died in the ambulance while being transferred.

The state’s high court agreed to hear the case after a lower court denied the hospital’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Also, a May 2016 Texas Supreme Court ruling in a lawsuit tied to the removal by the medical examiner of a dead man’s heart established more stringent standards on the filing of medical malpractice lawsuits in the state, according to an article published by thinkprogress.org.

In this unusual case, the state’s highest court ruled that the two-year statute of limitations placed on medical malpractice claims in Texas, as well as the state’s law dictating the maximum amount of a damages that can be recovered, apply regardless of whether the examinee is a patient or a corpse.

In addition to medical malpractice cases, Martin said Forbes Magazine reported that eastern Texas “is now the venue of choice” for patent litigation.

“It has given East Texas a black eye as well as a horrible reputation as the venue of chose to receive high monetary awards, which do not represent actual damages,” Martin wrote.

Martin added that so-called “hail storm” lawsuits have also gained in popularity in Texas. He said some lawyers go into areas plagued by a hail storm and encourage homeowners to file lawsuits. In some cases, Martin said this type of litigation can drive up insurance premiums.

He called on Texas officials to “act now to curb hail storm lawsuit abuse.”

Martin said ETALA’s current efforts include a “Don’t Let Your Lawyer be Your Doctor” campaign. The organization is also working to address the hail storm litigation trend and “the well-known patent problem we are having in East Texas.”