Last week, President Obama came to my home state of Texas calling for immigration reform. He should have also rallied citizens for tort reform, which is a hot issue right now around the country and in Texas politics in particular.
I’ve deferred (or better, repackaged) Part 2 of my article on bullies to oppose some real-life legal bullies — those sue-happy individuals (serial litigants) who tie up and abuse our court systems and civil rights to oppress and take from their victims (defendants).
These corrupt plaintiffs often initiate frivolous lawsuits because they know most defendants will settle out of court rather than endure the expenses of a trial. The Point of Law website says that “well over 90 percent of cases settle out of court before a final legal resolution” — a fact that serial litigants are counting on.
Black’s Law Dictionary says a tort is a “private or civil law wrong or injury, other than breach of contract, for which the court will provide a remedy in the form of an action for damages.” Tort law, therefore, is a body of law created through judges and by legislatures that is applied by courts in civil cases dealing with torts. (The term “tort” has its origin from the Latin term torquere, meaning “twist, twisted or wrong.”)
As in most states across our union, Texas is in a battle for tort reform because of the serial litigants who take legal action for issues like getting too many kernels in their movie popcorn or not having toilet paper in a restaurant bathroom.
The travesty of these cases and the need for tort reform is bottled up in the fact that defendants are subpoenaed to court and, even when they win their cases, have to pay the tens of thousands (and often hundreds of thousands) of dollars it cost to defend themselves against outrageous and often bizarre accusations. And if they choose to settle out of court, because it cost less than the legal fees to go to court, they still get the shaft.
I know firsthand because I, too, have been the victim of these frivolous lawsuits.
For example, in the 1980s, I had a family restaurant in Newport Beach, Calif. On average, I would encounter one frivolous lawsuit a month.
One such case was two women who got into a fight in the ladies’ restroom. They sued me, saying someone should have been in there to break it up! (Yes, that is a true story — frivolous and completely ridiculous.) It cost me $2,000 to pay each plaintiff to drop the complaint, which was cheaper than fighting the lawsuit.
Another frivolous lawsuit happened in Dallas, where the plaintiffs were demanding $175,000 in compensation. After talking to my attorney, he advised me that we could easily win the lawsuit, but it would cost me about $250,000 to fight it.
So, I just paid the $175,000 to save $75,000 in legal fees. It was very frustrating to have to hand over the money just in order to settle a ridiculous lawsuit that had no merit.
If you’ve fallen prey to the same type of crazy lawsuits, have no fear — loser-pays tort reform is here!
What loser-pays tort reform is all about is forcing these serial litigants to pay for the defendants’ legal fees if they lose their case. Last Monday, May 9, the Texas House approved House Bill 274, which requires plaintiffs to do just that. This week, the Texas Senate will hear arguments to determine whether the bill deserves its final approval.
Gov. Rick Perry was correct when he said in a press release last week, “This legislation will also protect Texas jobs and stimulate economic opportunity by relieving Texans and employers of the costs and burdens created by frivolous and drawn-out lawsuits.”
This legislation would make the legal system less of a drag on the economy as well as less of a weapon for pilfering wealth. In addition, judges would be further restricted from taking advantage of their sworn duties by unilaterally legislating from the bench in areas that haven’t first been approved by the state legislature. Mostly, this legislation will cut down on bogus lawsuits and discourage unfounded and groundless litigation.
I’m opposed to limiting anyone’s civil rights, liberties or due process, and loser-pays tort reform will not do that. But in a greedy, sue-happy nation like ours, such legal change is definitely overdue in every state. Frivolous lawsuits are tying up the entire U.S. legal system, hurting our economy and costing jobs everywhere.
If Texas passes loser-pays tort reform, which I encourage all legislatures to do, then the Lone Star State will join Alaska, Oklahoma and Oregon in applying this true English (Prevailing Party) Rule to many civil lawsuits.
Texas resident Mark Whittington, who also writes about state issues for the Yahoo! Contributor Network, echoes well why tort reform hasn’t been passed in other states: “… one reason that loser pays has not been more widely enacted in the United States is that the American bar is very powerful and jealously defends what … is a lucrative industry. Contingency fee lawyers can make a considerable amount of money in filing legal actions, even if sometimes the cases are weak.”
I can’t roundhouse every junk lawsuit out of Texas or your state, but there is something we all can do to stand up to the trial lawyers and serial litigants. We can support loser-pays tort reform.
Like in Austin, representatives in your state’s legislature are undoubtedly working right now to make tort reform a reality — but they can’t do it alone. They need to hear from you. Call your representatives and senators, and ask them to help us round up the trial lawyers and lottery litigants by supporting loser-pays tort reform.