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Reform Works

Texas’ 2003 medical liability reforms have attracted new doctors to the state.  More about these reforms and why preserving them are important to health care access can be found here at Texas Civil Justice League.

It Starts With You! Fairness in Our Legal System Is Up to Each of Us

By D’Anne Buquet, Sergio Contreras and Bobby Jenkins

Texans value the independence and freedom to make their own choices.  But those choices can have an impact in all aspects of our lives in Texas, including at the courthouse. And, in return, what happens in the courtrooms can impact every Texans’ lives and livelihoods, too.

Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA), a national movement of small business owners, medical professionals and community leaders committed to smart-minded lawsuit reform, has its roots right here in Texas. Over the years, we’ve been on the front lines of lawsuit reform and ensuring our courts are used for justice, not greed. But, one thing is clear, if we’re going to rein in lawsuit abuse, it starts with you.

That’s the name of our latest education and awareness campaign, one that we hope will get more Texans engaged in our civil justice system through jury service and being well informed about alternatives to lawsuits and how to choose a lawyer when you must sue.

Every day, Texans make choices and important contributions toward stopping lawsuit abuse. From small business owners calling out lawsuit abuse in their communities to local lawsuit abuse advocates making their voices heard at the State Capitol, we’ll say it again, it starts with you.

The Lone Star State was once the wild west of frivolous lawsuits and outlandish court awards, ranked among the American Tort Reform Association’s worst Judicial Hellholes. But over the years, supporters of the CALA movement successfully pressed for reforms to rein in abusive legal practices driving doctors out of under-served communities, exposing employers who own or operate delivery trucks to frivolous claims, and costing Texans jobs.  The goal has always been to embrace common-sense reforms to stop the abuse while preserving Texans’ access to our civil courts where and when they need it.

While Texas has enacted strong reforms over the past 20 years, it’s up to all of us to take it upon ourselves to be savvy legal consumers, to show up for jury service, to cast informed ballots every election, and to do all that we can ensure our courts are used for justice.

There are times when one may need to consult with a lawyer, if only to find out where you stand. Finding a lawyer is often like finding a doctor – usually you only look for one when you are in need of help. While selecting a lawyer isn’t easy, there are things you should know before hiring one and deciding whether to go forward with a lawsuit.

The civil justice system is designed to provide compensation for real injuries, and the more the system is abused, the less it’s able to help those who need it the most.

Our courts should not be used to seek revenge or try to “hit the lawsuit lottery.” Conflicts are inevitable in our society, but a lawsuit should be the last resort, not the first choice. Many disputes can be resolved informally, through phone calls, letters, or personal meetings. Make sure you have exhausted all other means before bringing a costly and disruptive lawsuit.

We think an informed Texan is the best tool to fight lawsuit abuse and to make informed decisions about when and how to find a lawyer when those circumstances warrant.  Becoming a sharp legal consumer means understanding your rights, asking the right questions, and being aware of potential pitfalls or common lawsuit scams.

Being a smart legal consumer can be the best weapon against lawsuit abuse. It really does start with you.

D’Anne Buquet is executive director of Bay Area Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse in Corpus Christi.

Sergio Contreras is president and CEO of Rio Grande Valley Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. 

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

Statement from Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse Regarding Commercial Vehicle Lawsuit Reform Taking Effect on Sept. 1

AUSTIN, TEXAS—The following is a statement from Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse (TALA) regarding House Bill 19, which is aimed at reining in commercial vehicle lawsuit abuse and takes effect Sept. 1, 2021.  The bill was passed during this year’s regular session of the Texas Legislature and signed by Governor Greg Abbott in June.  The statement may be attributed to Marla Mathews, TALA spokesperson.

“With House Bill 19, Texas continues the state’s important work to support reforms that help ensure our civil courts are used for justice, not greed.  

“In the past 25-plus years, Texas lawmakers have made significant progress on reforms aimed at reining in abusive lawsuits and legal practices.  Once the poster child for lawsuit abuse, Texas continues to enact common-sense reforms, contributing to the state’s job-creating powers and business climate.

“With this reform, the state continues this important progress.”

Background on what led to HB 19

From fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2019, the number of motor vehicle lawsuits jumped 118 percent, according to the Texas Office of Court Administration. In contrast, other types of injury and damage cases decreased seven percent during the same period. 

Any truck or car with a company logo on it had become a target for abusive lawsuits, and as a result, insurance rates were skyrocketing, whether or not a company had been involved in an accident. That drove some trucking companies out of business. Nearly 88 percent of commercial carriers in Texas operate 10 or fewer vehicles, underscoring the fact that many of these employers are small businesses.

HB 19 includes needed changes to clarify the rules for how these lawsuits are handled and to ensure that juries have the facts they need to reach fair verdicts. The bill was authored by state Rep. Jeff Leach and sponsored by state Sen. Larry Taylor. 

TALA and Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) groups advocated for the bill during this year’s regular legislative session. 

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

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ATRA’s Everlasting Judicial Hellholes®: A Long Hot 20 Years

Texas has made this Judicial Hellholes list a number of times – but we’ve been spared it in recent years.  Yet, we know lawsuit abuse does continue to fester in our state.  Just this year, legislators had to step in to rein in abusive lawsuits targeting employers who own or operate commercial trucks and cars for deliveries and services.   

Read more about what other states are facing with their hellholes, via American Tort Reform Foundation.

TEXANS AGAINST LAWSUIT ABUSE AND CITIZENS AGAINST LAWSUIT ABUSE LAUNCH “IT STARTS WITH YOU” AWARENESS CAMPAIGN

As a new study shows consumers are paying nearly $500 more for everyday goods and services each year because of lawsuit abuse, Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse (TALA) and Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) organizations are kicking off a summer-long campaign to remind Texans that they play a pivotal role in stopping lawsuit abuse. 

The digital media-based public awareness campaign – “It Starts With You!” – kicks off in June and runs through August.  It includes a legal consumer guide to help individuals know their rights and make smart choices when they hire a lawyer or consider filing a lawsuit.

The effort comes as a new CALA-sponsored economic impact study shows excessive lawsuits and related civil court expenses end up costing U.S. consumers $160.1 billion every year.  That translates into $488 more every American pays each year for goods and services because of lawsuits and over-suing.

“Our ‘It Starts With You’ campaign is designed to remind Texans that they can make important contributions toward stopping lawsuit abuse, which costs us all as consumers,” said Marla Mathews, a spokesperson for Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse in Austin. “While Texas has enacted strong lawsuit reforms, we also know that you can’t legislate personal responsibility. It’s up to all of us to be smart legal consumers, to serve on juries when possible, and to do all that we can ensure our courts are used for justice, not greed.”

Texas lawmakers have made significant progress on lawsuit reforms during the past 25 years. Once the poster child for lawsuit abuse, Texas is now a model for common-sense reforms, which have contributed to the state’s business climate. Mathews said the “It Starts With You” campaign is a reminder of the role all Texans play in curbing lawsuit abuse. 

“We each have a responsibility to stop lawsuit abuse,” said Sergio Contreras, president/CEO of Rio Grande Valley CALA in Weslaco.  “And given that we all pay for abusive lawsuits in many ways, we should all be driven to do what we can to stop questionable lawsuits as quickly as possible.”

D’Anne Buquet, executive director of Bay Area CALA in Corpus Christi, said, “The legal system is designed to provide compensation for real injuries, and the more the system is abused, the less it’s able to help those who need it the most. While conflicts are inevitable in our society, a lawsuit should be the last resort, not the first choice.”

The legal consumer guide provides information to help legal consumers understand their rights, ask the right questions, and warn of some potential pitfalls. 

“In the end, being a smart legal consumer can be the best weapon against lawsuit abuse,” said Amber Pearce, chair of CALA of Central Texas in Austin.  “We hope our summer campaign will show Texans that the choices they make as a legal consumer can make a difference because It All Starts With You.”

Statement from Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse Regarding Governor Abbott’s Approval of Lawsuit Reforms

AUSTIN, TEXAS—The following is a statement from Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse (TALA) regarding Governor Abbott’s approval of lawsuit reforms passed during this year’s regular session of the Texas Legislature. The statement may be attributed to Marla Mathews, TALA spokesperson.

“With Governor Abbott’s signature on House Bill 19 and Senate Bill 6, Texas continues the state’s important work to support reforms that help ensure our civil courts are used for justice, not greed.  

“In the past 25-plus years, Texas lawmakers have made significant progress on reforms aimed at reining in abusive lawsuits and legal practices.  Once the poster child for lawsuit abuse, Texas continues to enact common-sense reforms, contributing to the state’s job-creating powers and business climate.

“By signing these two measures, Governor Abbott continues this important progress.”

HB 19 is aimed at reining in abusive lawsuits plaguing the owners and operators of commercial service and delivery vehicles in the state. The measure includes needed changes to clarify the rules for how these lawsuits are handled and to ensure that juries have the facts they need to reach fair verdicts. This law takes effect on Sept. 1, 2021.  

SB 6, the Pandemic Liability Protection Act, provides civil liability protections for employers, health care providers and non-profits that are following appropriate public health protocols. This measure took effect on June 14, 2021, the day it was signed by the governor.

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

Statement from Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse Regarding Legislative Passage of Lawsuit Reforms

AUSTIN, TEXAS—The following is a statement from Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse (TALA) regarding passage of lawsuit reforms during this year’s regular session of the Texas Legislature.  The statement may be attributed to Marla Mathews, TALA spokesperson.

“With the passage of House Bill 19 and Senate Bill 6, Texas lawmakers continue the state’s important work to support reforms that help ensure our civil courts are used for justice, not greed.  

“In the past 25-plus years, Texas lawmakers have made significant progress on reforms aimed at reining in abusive lawsuits and legal practices.  Once the poster child for lawsuit abuse, Texas continues to enact common-sense reforms, contributing significantly to the state’s job-creating powers and business climate.”

HB 19 is aimed at reining in abusive lawsuits plaguing the owners and operators of commercial service and delivery vehicles in the state.  The measure includes needed changes to clarify the rules for how these lawsuits are handled and to ensure that juries have the facts they need to reach fair verdicts.

SB 6, the Pandemic Liability Protection Act, would provide civil liability protections for employers, health care providers and non-profits that are following appropriate public health protocols.

Both bills await Governor Abbott’s consideration.

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

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Abusive Commercial Vehicle Lawsuits and Their Impact on Small Businesses (Video)

Bobby Jenkins, CALA Central Texas board member and president of ABC Home and Commercial Services, explains how his commercial vehicles are targeted by some personal injury lawyers for multi-million dollar payouts when involved in an accident.  Additionally, he discusses the impact these abusive lawsuits have on small businesses like his own and encourages the Texas Legislature to enact laws to help prevent these suits from happening in the future.  You can watch his video here

Forum: South Texas commercial vehicle operators, owners under attack

Special to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, April 16, 2021

This opinion reflects the recent trend in aggressive and excessive tactics used to take advantage of Corpus Christi employers. I write on behalf of several small businesses who declined to go public on the issue, knowing that some personal injury lawyers will retaliate against anyone who questions their abuse of the justice system.

Living through a pandemic has made us keenly aware of how important delivery and service vehicles are to our daily lives. From groceries to vaccinations, commercial vehicles have been the integral piece to getting us what we need when we need it most.

Unfortunately, some personal injury lawyers have set their sights on the very businesses that are getting us through this challenging time. And it is not only big 18-wheelers at risk, but also any car or truck with a logo on its door. These local small businesses providing essential services, such as plumbers, electricians, food delivery, waste pick-up, parcel delivery, and A/C repair operators are targets for lawyers searching for another big payoff. Even after our community experienced a historic freeze, leaving many grappling with extensive home repairs, owners and operators of commercial vehicles are dodging frivolous lawsuits as they work tirelessly to serve our neighbors. No matter how minor the accident or who was at fault, these employers are being attacked.

If you wonder why, consider this: Commercial vehicles operating in Texas must carry considerable liability insurance, ranging from $300,000 to $5 million. That means these businesses that employ your family and neighbors are irresistible targets to opportunistic personal injury lawyers. And we’re talking small businesses. Nearly 88 percent of commercial carriers operate 10 or fewer vehicles in Texas today.

A fleet operator in South Texas shared with me how their business has seen aggressive tactics by some personal injury lawyers such as immediately filing for the amount of our insurance or insinuating severe bodily injury occurred even though the damage to the vehicle was minimal and all plaintiffs were fine at the scene of the accident. Providing safe operations, safe drivers, and safe equipment is a priority to this business. If an accident is our fault, they want to pay the appropriate amount to make it right. The problem comes when the payout is above and beyond what is reasonable or supported by the facts of the accident, leading to more and more small businesses unable to obtain the insurance required to operate commercial vehicles.

This is a rapidly growing problem across the state. The number of motor vehicle lawsuits across Texas is increasing, while other types of personal injury lawsuits are declining. From fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2019, the number of motor vehicle lawsuits soared 118 percent, according to the Texas Office of Court Administration. Other types of injury and damage cases dropped seven percent during the same time.

In 2008 in Texas, a lawsuit was filed after one out of 17 vehicle accidents. In 2019, it was about one out of 10 accidents, which is an eye-popping 71 percent increase. The result has been a dramatic increase in insurance rates, and that has already put some commercial vehicle operators out of business.

There’s no question that there may be legitimate insurance claims to be made when accidents occur. But the increasing number of these lawsuits, and the questionable and abusive nature of many, stands to hurt everyone, from the consumer to the business owner.

Between small businesses laden with increased costs of doing business and an increase in consumers’ costs, we are all paying for the problem. It’s time to put a stop to these abusive lawsuits. It’s time for Texas lawmakers to pass House Bill 19 by state Rep. Jeff Leach.

D’Anne Buquet is the executive director of Bay Area Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness of the cost and consequences of lawsuit abuse.

Jenkins: Lawsuit abuse is hurting operators of commercial vehicles

Special to the Austin American-Statesman, Mar. 18, 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 multimillions 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 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. In some cases, owners and operators of commercial vehicles are being sued even when they are not at fault.  And rules are not being applied uniformly so sometimes important evidence is not allowed to be admitted at trial.

As a result, insurance rates are skyrocketing – 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 by passing reforms that clarify the rules for how these lawsuits are handled and that ensure juries have the facts needed to award fair verdicts. House Bill 19 by state Rep. Jeff Leach of Plano is among the key pieces of legislation that will help our courts achieve this needed balance.  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.  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.   

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