Trial lawyer attacks against Abbott are dishonest

Posted Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Since Texans for Lawsuit Reform began fighting lawsuit abuse in 1994, organized personal injury trial lawyers have aggressively fought against every tort reform that has brought fairness, balance and predictability to our civil justice system.

They have spent millions of dollars in an effort to prevent or roll back the lawsuit reforms that have strengthened our economy, made Texas the strongest job creator in the nation and improved access to doctors and healthcare in our state.

The personal injury trial lawyer strategy includes misinformation and personal attacks, like the ones launched against Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a recently announced candidate for governor and a consistent advocate for lawsuit reform.

Here are the facts: In 1984, Abbott was injured by a falling tree, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Abbott sued, alleging ordinary negligence against a landowner and a tree company.

It was true in 1984, and it is true today, that no statute places any upper limit on recovery of economic damages (such as medical expenses and lost earning capacity) or noneconomic damages (such as pain and suffering and mental anguish) for a claim of ordinary negligence.

While there are now reasonable limits on noneconomic damages in medical liability cases and on punitive damages, Abbott’s case was not a medical malpractice case and did not involve punitive damages.

Recently on this page, personal injury trial lawyer Wade Barrow asserted that “since Abbott’s settlement, the Texas Supreme Court has repeatedly held that ‘naturally occurring conditions’ do not create an unreasonable risk of harm.”

That is incorrect.

The Texas Supreme Court has considered the meaning of “naturally occurring conditions” only twice.

In 2009, the court held that the city of Waco was not liable in the case of a person who climbed over a barrier and ignored posted warning signs before falling to his death when the cliff on which he was sitting crumbled.

One year later, the court held that a plaintiff could not sue a landowner because the plaintiff slipped and fell on an ice-covered street after an ice storm, which was consistent with long-standing jurisprudence that landowner defendants are not liable for injuries caused by the natural accumulation of ice and mud due to weather beyond the defendant’s control.

Neither case bears any relation to the terrible event that paralyzed Abbott.

Despite Barrow’s assertions, a plaintiff with an ordinary negligence cause of action today would have the same legal remedies that were available to Abbott in 1984, and nothing the Texas Supreme Court has said about “naturally occurring conditions” changes that.

Barrow is simply ignoring the reality that Texans can and do recover damages for legitimate claims every day.

Barrow also attacks Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the state’s largest civil justice reform group, and the reforms it has advocated over the past two decades.

The organization’s goal has always been to create and maintain a fair, honest and predictable civil justice system that balances the rights of both plaintiffs and defendants, recognizing that none of us knows when we may need to access our courts for redress of injuries or to defend against a lawsuit.

Even after decades of relentless attacks by personal injury trial lawyers against tort reforms, polls show that Texans in both political parties strongly support lawsuit reform.

The tort reforms supported by Abbott and other Texas leaders have restored balance to our civil justice system, enhanced access to healthcare and helped make the Texas economy the strongest in the nation.

Richard W. Weekley is the founder and CEO of Texans for Lawsuit Reform.

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