By Karen Easterling
Texas is a beacon for attracting business expansions, relocations, investment and jobs. That’s reflective of the state’s commitment to a business-friendly climate through policies and practices like lower taxes and a predictable regulatory framework. Smart, common-sense legal reforms are another cornerstone of our success.
By targeting abusive lawsuits and questionable legal tactics that plagued our civil justice system for decades, Texas lawmakers have helped ensure our courts are a place for justice, not greed. And, our progress is earning our state well-deserved recognition.
Each year, the American Tort Reform Foundation’s Judicial Hellholes report highlights areas of the country where lawsuit abuse is rampant, and justice is not evenly applied. Texas not only avoided the 2019 Judicial Hellholes list but was recognized as a “Point of Light” for positive lawsuit reforms enacted during last year’s legislative session.
Specifically, the Legislature’s move to rein in deceptive lawyer health care advertising (Senate Bill 1189) and to bring transparency to contingency fee contracts between local governments and personal injury lawyers (House Bill 2826) are two points of light for the state this past year.
For years, all you had to do was turn on your television to catch plenty of personal injury lawyer ads featuring “medical alert,” “public service announcement” or “drug alert.” Such advertising can mislead or scare people, encouraging medical decisions that basically make lawyers your doctors. In response, Texas lawmakers passed SB 1189 by state Sen. Dawn Buckingham.
Thanks to SB 1189, lawsuit ads relating to pharmaceutical drugs or medical devices are now required to clearly state that consumers should consult their doctor before stopping a medication, among other consumer protection language.
In addition, ads are not allowed to display logos of federal or state agencies in a manner suggesting the advertisement was presented by such an agency. And, these ads must disclose they are paid advertisements for legal services, among other requirements.
In another point of light, HB 2826 is aimed at addressing a growing industry among some personal injury lawyers who were recruiting local governments to file lawsuits, many of them against companies. The process lacked accountability and transparency as these contingency fee agreements were often made with limited public input or a competitive bidding process.
The proliferation of these agreements also reportedly resulted in reputable businesses, particularly contractors and subcontractors, shying away from doing business with local governments. HB 2826 by Rep. Greg Bonnen will bring much-needed sunshine into this process.
This new law now helps ensure that the hiring of contingency fee lawyers is openly discussed in a public forum. Under HB 2826, the public now has the ability to monitor whether particular litigation was worthwhile, whether the best lawyers were hired at a fair rate, and whether any improper relationships existed between a political subdivision and lawyers.
It would be easy to chalk up these and previous lawsuit reforms as wins and call it game over on our efforts against lawsuit abuse in Texas, but that’s not the case.
Although Texas has made strides in reining in lawsuit abuse, we’ve seen some personal injury lawyers time and again find new loopholes or avenues to pursue questionable lawsuits and legal practices. So, vigilance is key.
With election season upon us, knowing your candidates’ position on lawsuit reform is vital. Before you cast a ballot, make it a point to dig deeper to educate yourself on candidates from the top of the ballot down to local races. Casting an informed ballot is one way we as voters can help ensure our state defends and advances common-sense lawsuit reform.
Lawsuit abuse affects us all by reducing access to health care, driving up the cost of consumer goods, and limiting job creation. When it comes to lawsuit abuse, we all pay – and we all lose. We’re a “point of light” today, but we can quickly find ourselves back on the “judicial hellholes” list without continued engagement, vigilance and our votes.
Karen Easterling is a small business owner and board member of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse of Central Texas.