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Contreras: Right to repair vs. frivolous lawsuits

By SERGIO CONTRERAS, Special to the Valley Morning Star:

The Texas Legislature during its 2019 session passed a law requiring school districts and other governmental entities to give architects, engineers and contractors an opportunity to correct work deemed to be defective after a construction project is completed.

The law is known as the Right to Repair act, and by its formal name, H.B. 2826. The law’s purpose was to mandate communication between local governmental entities, architects, engineers and contractors to jointly address areas of concerns and avoid costly litigation. It is unfortunate to report that, in fact, some predatory plaintiff attorneys are working with some area school districts to file lawsuits against contractors, architects, engineers and the many subcontractors who work with them in the construction of campuses across the Rio Grande Valley. In doing so, these attorneys – many of them based outside of the Valley – are working with their clients, the school districts, and local attorneys to evade the 2019 law in claiming that past contracts between the parties allows them to circumvent Right to Repair.

In doing so, they are denying area designer and builders the opportunity to work with school districts to properly address any perceived problems in the post-construction phase of project completion. It is also a dubious legal claim that is being questioned by state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, as he has asked the state attorney general for an opinion on the matter. “Lawyers are trying to bootstrap themselves to older contracts, claiming they are grandfathered, and therefore not subject to the new law,” Canales said in a statement. “It’s possible these loopholes are not legal, and therefore, the contracts with the school districts are void as a matter of law.”

As an opinion from the AG is awaited, there is no doubt the impact these frivolous lawsuits are having on area contractors, engineers, architects and subcontractors. The cost of insurance premiums is soaring for Valley industries involved in school construction work, with many insurance companies no longer covering our region. One RGV architectural firm, ERO, reports seeing an increase of 360 percent in premiums in recent years. Deductibles are now upwards of $100,000 per claim in dealing with litigation.

Lawsuits against contractors also touch the many subcontractors they utilize, whom are local residents, local tax-payers, local small business owners that are the backbone of our region. One RGV construction company, D. Wilson of McAllen, wrote a letter to Canales stating that 85 percent of its contract revenue is assigned to local contractors and vendors. Wilson’s president and chief executive officer, Josue Reyes, noted in the letter that its history with just one area school district included 10 projects with over 200 subcontractors involved in the work.

The subcontractors include plumbers, electricians, and welders, your neighbors and friends, and their companies play a crucial role in the RGV economy. Frivolous lawsuits adversely affect their companies and employees just as it does for the general contractors who utilize their services. The continued operations of some local businesses will be in peril if the loophole to the Right to Repair continues unabated and some plaintiff lawyers and area school districts are allowed to go around the law.

The need is urgent in addressing this issue and we commend area legislators for their willingness to see to it that Right to Repair is followed. We urge area school districts to communicate with their contractors under current law and work in a cooperative fashion to make the necessary repairs and contain costs for everyone in keeping our local economy humming with jobs and growth.

Sergio Contreras is President/CEO of Rio Grande Valley Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse

Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse Leaders Laud Governor’s Call to Make Pandemic-related Lawsuit Protections an Emergency Issue for Legislature

New Poll Shows Overwhelming Support for Elected Officials to Respond to COVID-19 Relief – Not Personal Injury Lawyers

AUSTIN, TEXAS—Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) leaders are applauding Governor Greg Abbott’s designation of coronavirus-related lawsuit protections as an “emergency item” for the current legislative session, paving the way for swift action on a critical element of pandemic relief and recovery for Texas.

“Unless the Legislature takes action, abusive and frivolous lawsuits will present a serious threat to employers and health care providers – and will undermine our state’s economic recovery from this pandemic,” said Amber Pearce, chair of CALA of Central Texas in Austin. “We thank Governor Abbott for his actions, and we urge the Legislature to act as quickly as possible to pass such legislation.”

According to the Texas Civil Justice League, legislation is expected to provide civil liability protections for businesses and health care providers who are following appropriate public health protocols.

“As Texans work to rebuild and recover from the pandemic, the last thing they need to face is an abusive lawsuit,” said D’Anne Buquet, executive director of Bay Area CALA in Corpus Christi. “Small businesses struggling to keep their doors open shouldn’t have to operate in fear of predatory personal injury lawyers and frivolous lawsuits.”

The grassroots, small business and citizen-led lawsuit reform movement – including Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse and Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse organizations across the state – include COVID-19 lawsuit protections and reforms to rein in abusive and costly commercial trucking lawsuits as top priorities during this year’s Legislature.

The groups point to recent polling by the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) that finds overwhelming bipartisan support for government aid to small businesses and agreement that lawsuits are not the solution to COVID-19 relief.

Nearly 60 percent of respondents to the ATRA survey say those harmed by the pandemic should get assistance from policies passed by elected officials, versus just 7 percent who say they should get payouts from lawsuits. Additional findings from the survey show a majority of voters polled agree law firms using PPP funds for lawsuit advertising is inappropriate, and 65 percent of respondents said personal injury lawyer advertisements are annoying and take advantage of people.

“Americans are tired of some personal injury lawyers lining their pockets at the expense of small businesses,” said Sergio Contreras, president/CEO of Rio Grande Valley CALA, based in Weslaco.

Despite the lack of public support for lawsuits related to COVID-19, personal injury lawyers’ advertisements have increased nationwide.

“The threat of lawsuits makes it more difficult to weather the pandemic, and it’s frustrating to see some personal injury lawyers receiving government relief loans to in turn use them for lawsuit advertising,” Contreras said. “We applaud Governor Abbott on his work to protect employers and health care providers from frivolous lawsuits and to keep Texas open for business.”

For more on Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, visit www.tala.com.

To read more on the survey released by ATRA regarding COVID-19 related litigation visit ATRA.org.

JENKINS: Stop abusive lawsuits plaguing owners, operators of commercial trucks and cars

Special to the Tyler Morning Telegraph, Jan. 28, 2021 

Groceries to your doorstep. Packages safely delivered. Toilet paper, face masks, holiday gifts, and now, vaccines are all seamlessly transported across the state and around the country. During the pandemic, we have all become keenly aware of the importance of delivery and service vehicles to our daily lives. And, so have personal injury lawyers.

Searching for another big payoff, some personal injury lawyers have set their sights on commercial or company vehicle owners and operators. And it’s not just big trucks like 18-wheelers that are at risk. It’s any truck or car with a company logo on it, no matter the size or industry, and no matter how minor the accident or who was at fault. If your neighborhood pharmacy makes deliveries in a car with a logo on its door, that business is a potential target of a questionable lawsuit. So is everyone from rideshare services to restaurant delivery vehicles to plumbers.

In Texas today, nearly 88 percent of commercial carriers operate 10 or fewer vehicles. And many company cars and trucks on the road these days are operated by small businesses. These entrepreneurs create jobs in hundreds of Texas communities, large and small. All are targets for opportunistic personal injury lawyers.

Why? A commercial vehicle operating in Texas must carry substantial liability insurance, ranging from a minimum of $300,000 to a maximum of $5 million. Many have more than the minimum coverage, with layers of insurance reaching into the multi-millions of dollars. With insurance and their own assets, these business have resources that are irresistible to some personal injury lawyers.

My business offers pest control and other home-related services in Austin, San Antonio, College Station, Bell County and Corpus Christi. Our technicians drive hundreds of thousands of miles in our company trucks. Our drivers complete safe driving training regularly. Our vehicles are maintained on a set schedule, and we have an excellent safe-driving record across our communities. But, increasingly, the threat of lawsuits impacts our business planning.

Motor vehicle litigation is increasing across Texas, while other types of personal injury lawsuits are decreasing. According to the Texas Office of Court Administration, the number of motor vehicle lawsuits has climbed 118 percent from fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2019. During the same period, other types of injury and damage cases decreased seven percent.

In 2008, a lawsuit was filed after one out of 17 vehicle accidents in Texas. In 2019, that ratio was about one out of 10 accidents – a 71 percent increase. As a result, insurance rates are skyrocketing – as much as 30 percent in one year for some companies, and that has already driven some trucking businesses out of business.

While there may be legitimate insurance claims to be made when accidents occur, the growing number of these lawsuits, and the abusive nature of many, stands to hurt everyone, from the consumer to the business owner.

The Texas Legislature should act quickly to rein in this abuse and pass commercial vehicle lawsuit reforms. Without immediate change, small businesses will continue to be saddled with increased costs of doing business, and we could certainly see more trucking businesses close their doors. And all of us will pay more for the goods and services we need and depend on.

It’s time to put a stop to this lawsuit abuse.

Bobby Jenkins is president of ABC Home & Commercial Services in Austin. He is a board member of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse of Central Texas.

2020-21 Judicial Hellholes Report

Earlier this month the Amerian Tort Reform Association released its list of 2020-2021 #JudicialHellholes and while Texas avoided this year’s list, it’s important we stay aware of emerging threats to Texas’ business climate. Read here to see who made the list: https://judicialhellholes.org/reports/2020-2021-executive-summar

Statewide Virtual Summit: Abusive Lawsuits Plaguing Trucking Owners and Operators

On Wednesday, December 9, 2020, at 12 p.m., Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) groups are hosting a virtual policy summit on abusive lawsuits impacting commercial vehicle owners and operators in Texas.  As consumers and small business owners, we all pay and we all lose when lawsuit abuse is allowed to go unchallenged.   Join our FREE webinar to learn how you’re impacted and what we can all do to stop these abusive lawsuits. 

RSVP here: https://bit.ly/CALATruckingWebinar

Do You Know Where Your Candidates Stand on Lawsuit Reform?

Texas, which once had the biggest lawsuit abuse problem in the country, is now a leader in the lawsuit reform movement. 

The changes made have helped:

The progress made has been hard-fought, making it important we elect officials who work just as hard to defend those reforms that have ensured our courts are used for justice, not greed. These reforms have helped Texas become a place where businesses want to be – and that means more jobs and a stronger economy. We must continue to protect these reforms and elect officials who will, too.

As the November election approaches and you consider your options on the ballot, do you know where your candidates stand? Every day candidates talk about the need for continued job growth and the importance of access to health care — each vitally important to the continued wellbeing of Texans.  But are your candidates willing to protect lawsuit reform and fight against attempts by some personal injury lawyers to undo those reforms?

Before you head to the ballot box make sure to research your candidates and ask them questions.

Early voting starts on October 13 and ends October 30, 2020.

Absentee ballots requests must be received by October 23, 2020.

Election Day is November 3, 2020.

If you need to check if you’re registered or find out where you need to vote, click HERE.

For more voting information on the upcoming primary elections, visit VoteTexas.gov.

Statewide Virtual Summit: Pandemic Liability Lawsuits

On Wednesday, October 7, 2020, at 2 pm, Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) of Central Texas is hosting a virtual policy summit on pandemic liability lawsuits in conjunction with Bay Area CALA and CALA RGV.

RSVP here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/pandemic-liability-lawsuits-growing-covid-19-litigation-update-on-reform-tickets-121388507293

Pandemic for Profit

From Texans for Lawsuit Reform

As the U.S. continues to deal with the widespread effects of COVID-19, it’s clear no industry is immune to the pandemic’s wrath—including law firms. But do all of these law firms really need to dig into the government wallet?

Some of the largest personal injury firms in the nation (many of which call Texas home) received loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The program is intended to help small businesses keep their workforces employed during the pandemic, primarily by covering the cost of payroll.

Several plaintiff law firms took PPP loans—which required them to certify that the loans were necessary to preserve their ongoing operations—while simultaneously making political contributions to at least one political action committee.

Further, it’s curious that many of these firms have run—and in some cases, continue to run—TV ads touting multi-million-dollar lawsuit awards and settlements, even as they claim to need a taxpayer-funded bailout to keep staff employed. 

These personal injury law firms cumulatively received millions of dollars from the PPP at a time when many small businesses could not access the funds. To add insult to injury to job creators struggling to keep their doors open, some personal injury firms have begun exploring opportunities to file COVID-related lawsuits against a variety of businesses.

As TLR General Counsel Lee Parsley recently noted, the last thing employers need right now is to deal with a costly and time consuming lawsuit, especially if it has been fueled by a taxpayer-funded loan. The majority of businesses are doing their best to serve their communities, adhere to public health standards for their employees and customers and protect jobs. 

Although there is much we still don’t know about how the coming months will shake out, one thing is clear: recovering from this pandemic will require us to do everything we can to support job creation and strengthen our economy. That includes shutting down opportunistic personal injury trial lawyers who attempt to use the pandemic for profit.

www.tortreform.com/for-the-record/pandemic-for-profit/

Senator Cornyn Introduces COVID Liability Protection Legislation

By George Christian, General Counsel, Texas Civil Justice League 

Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) has introduced legislation to shield businesses, health care providers, schools, non-profit organizations, and other entities from liability for personal injury claims allegedly caused by exposure to the novel coronavirus. The Act applies to injuries from alleged exposure occurring between December 1, 2019, and the later of the end of the declared emergency or October 1, 2024. Claimants have one year to file suit from the date of the alleged exposure. The Act applies to pending claims.

The SAFE Act creates a safe harbor for entities that make reasonable efforts to comply with mandatory public health guidelines or, if no mandatory guidelines are in effect, with at least one set of voluntary guidelines. If multiple guidelines apply to the entity, compliance with any one of them will satisfy the safe harbor requirement. An entity loses the protection of the safe harbor if it does not take reasonable steps to comply with guidelines, and the entity’s gross negligence or willful misconduct causes the claimant’s injury. The Act contains similar protections for health care providers, employers for employment related exposure, and product manufacturers. The SAFE Act pre-empts state law to the extent the state does not have more stringent liability protections, so it acts as a floor rather than a ceiling.

TCJL applauds Senator Cornyn for his hard work on this legislation and will work with its members to secure its passage, presumably as part of a larger coronavirus relief bill under consideration in Congress.

Read the bill here: https://tcjl.com/senator-cornyn-introduces-covid-liability-protection-legislation/

Bexar County civil court will be the pilot for virtual jury trials

Our “new normal” is bringing many changes, but one thing hasn’t changed: the importance that jury participation plays in our judicial system. In August, Bexar County will serve as the test case for holding virtual jury trials in Texas. Officials with the 57th Civil District Court, along with the Texas Supreme Court and Texas Office of Court Administration, have been brainstorming on how to conduct virtual court proceedings via Zoom since jury duty was suspended in March.

While jury summons and service processes will certainly look different, many aspects will remain the same. When a resident receives a summons, they must answer a questionnaire the helps lawyers and the court in seating a virtual jury panel. The same exemptions (such as age, student status, active duty military) will apply. However, a summons will also include information on how to use Zoom and access WiFi and electronic devices if needed.

While this transition won’t happen without technical difficulties, many are optimistic that virtual jury trails could bring much-needed progress to the justice system.

Read more: https://www.expressnews.com/news/local/article/In-a-first-Bexar-County-will-attempt-to-seat-a-15429966.php