Tort Reform: Failing Average Texans for 10 Years
October 25th, 2013, by Mark McCaig
Supporters of the so-called “tort reform” agenda often point to Texas as an exemplar of the alleged success of laws that limit the ability of victims of medical malpractice to exercise their Constitutional right to a civil trial by jury.
The “tort reform” laws passed by the Texas legislature in 2003 have undoubtedly been a financial boon to the medical and insurance industries- the biggest proponents of such laws. Unfortunately, the financial windfalls realized by these politically powerful industries as a result of “tort reform” over the past decade have come directly from the pockets of countless voiceless Texans whose lives have been dramatically changed, if not ended, as a result of preventable medical errors.
Limits on the amount a victim of medical negligence can recover were sold to Texas voters as a way to prevent “frivolous” lawsuits from clogging Texas courts and running good doctors out of business. In reality, the arbitrary damage caps that now apply to medical malpractice lawsuits in Texas do absolutely nothing to deter truly meritless litigation.
A frivolous medical malpractice lawsuit filed in Texas today is worth exactly the same as what it was worth prior to 2003- nothing. Instead, these damage caps have the most adverse impact on those with legitimate claims who have been harmed the worst and whose cases would have the most monetary value but for “tort reform.”
Texas law has long allowed for severe sanctions, including the payment of attorney’s fees, against those who file frivolous lawsuits or otherwise abuse the judicial system. The intent of Texas’ “tort reform” laws was never to weed out just “frivolous” lawsuits, but rather to limit all medical malpractice lawsuits regardless of their merit.
Over the past decade, numerous Texans who have been harmed by medical errors have found themselves without recourse because “tort reform” has made it economically impossible for lawyers to accept legitimate medical malpractice cases. Many of these injured individuals are often forced to turn to public assistance programs, leaving taxpayers with the bill instead of the negligent medical provider.
The values of personal accountability and responsibility are frequently held up as core conservative principles. Indeed, most would agree that if one causes harm to another, even if by accident, they should be held accountable for their actions and fully compensate the injured party for the harm done to them. The passage of “tort reform” laws
in Texas has created a special class of citizens who no longer have to face the same consequences for their wrongdoing as the average Texan does.
The impact of Texas’ “tort reform” laws has also been the subject of several recent academic studies. One such study conducted by a group of researchers that included a well respected law professor at the University of Texas found that these “tort reform” laws had not measurably increased physician supply in Texas, debunking claims to the contrary by “tort reform” advocates. Another study by the same group of researchers found no evidence that Texas’ “tort reform” laws have decreased the cost of healthcare.
The Seventh Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the right to a civil trial by jury. Just as the founding fathers trusted the wisdom of citizen juries to listen to the facts of a case and determine a just resolution, juries today should be trusted to determine an appropriate award in a medical malpractice lawsuit.
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