the doc's back in texas

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					                                                                                                         Winter 2008

                                      Just four short years   changed our health care system, and access to
                                  ago, pregnant women         quality care began to improve.
                                  in Texas often had to           In 2002, Dr. Javier Cardenas, an obstetrician
                                  travel outside their        practicing near Dallas, hoped to relocate to his
county, and sometimes their region, for obstetric             hometown of McAllen in Hidalgo County, then one
care. Parents had difficulty locating pediatric                of the nation’s leading dockets for malpractice suits.
specialists to care for their ill children, and trauma        It wasn’t until legal reforms were put in place that
specialists – the doctors urgently needed when                Dr. Cardenas was able to move his practice
Texans are seriously injured in accidents – were              to McAllen.
rare. In short, access to quality health care in Texas            “The passage of Proposition 15 made the thought
was on life support.                                                                    ”
                                                              of coming back a reality, he says.
   However, the seeds that Texas voters sowed in                  In Southeast Texas, the story is similar. Dr. Keith
2003 are beginning to bear fruit, and our health care         Hill recently set-up his practice as an orthopedic
system in Texas is showing signs of renewed vigor.            surgeon specializing in foot and ankle surgery in
   The lawsuit reforms that voters approved in                Beaumont. According to Dr. Hill, he would not have
a constitutional amendment in September 2003                  chosen Texas over other states if the liability climate
brought back balance to our legal system, and                 had not changed.
brought back the doctors to Texas. Responding to                  Texas hospitals in crisis areas of the state are also
legislation passed by lawmakers in the Spring of              reaping the benefits of voter approval of lawsuit
2003, Texans acted to end the frivolous lawsuits              reforms. They report that recruitment of physicians
that plagued doctors, driving them away from                  is easier. For example, Driscoll Children’s Hospital in
our hospitals and clinics. Four years and one                 Corpus Christi has more than a dozen new pediatric
constitutional amendment later, doctors are flooding           specialists. Hospitals from Beaumont, to the Rio
back into Texas and access to quality medical care is         Grande Valley and the Metroplex report better
increasing all across our state.                              success in recruiting physicians.
   Prior to 2003, access to quality health care was               Even The New York Times has taken note of the
in critical condition in Texas. Many parts of the             progress here, recently reporting that more than
state, South Texas in particular, were feeling the            10,878 doctors have begun practice in Texas since
pain of a broken medical malpractice legal system.            2003, and the medical board’s office is flooded
Doctors were even taunted with a billboard outside            with even more applications. Texas has gained
a Corpus Christi hospital, urging patients to come to         186 obstetricians, 156 orthopedic surgeons and 26
a local law firm to file medical malpractice lawsuits.          neurosurgeons.
Medical malpractice insurance costs and even the                  Thanks to Texas voters and grassroots groups,
lack of available malpractice coverage sent doctors           like Citizen’s Against Lawsuit Abuse, Texans now
running and, too often, closing their doors for good.         have better access to doctors. Health care in our
More frightening was that many Texas counties were            state is as healthy as it has been in long time.
without a pediatrician and obstetrician. In fact, two-        Texas is a national success story, showing the rest
thirds of Texas’ 254 counties had no ob-gyn.                  of the country the benefits of medical malpractice
   But with their September 2003 vote, Texans                 lawsuit reform.
    Texas is known for its ten-gallon hats, wide open    trial actually knew the plaintiff, had accepted
spaces and ardent football fans. This is a state         interest-free loans from her and had contacted her
of enormous economic opportunity that attracts           several times after receiving his jury summons.
wannabe Texans the world over. Unfortunately,            The case was filed by a widow who blamed her
some parts of Texas also attract less than savory        husband’s fatal heart attack on the fact that he’d
“tourists” – opportunistic personal injury lawyers –     taken Vioxx for no more than 17 days. The case
who flock to areas of the state known as judicial         fetched a $32 million verdict despite the fact the
hellholes to bank on biased courtrooms and pad           husband had a 28-year history of heart disease,
their pockets with Texas-sized verdicts.                  had undergone quadruple bypass surgery, smoked
    For the sixth year running, the Rio                    and had high blood pressure long before taking
Grande Valley and Texas Gulf Coast                         Vioxx. Instead of ruling on the defendant’s request
were dubbed judicial hellholes in                          for a new trial with a fair jury, the judge sat on the
the annual Judicial Hellhole report                        request, allowing the 75-day time limit for a new
released by the American Tort Reform                          trial to expire. So much for blind justice.
Association (ATRA). Also known                                                          Personal injury lawyers
for their rich culture and beachfront                                                      boast about their
properties, the Valley and the Coast                                                        successes in these
persist as destinations for what’s                                                          “magic jurisdictions.”
been described as “litigation tourism.    ”                                                 According to one
Courts in these regions                                                                     prolific personal injury
of the state are                                                                             lawyer’s description
notorious for favoring                                                                        of Starr County,
personal injury lawyers                                                                        Texas, “That venue
and are perceived by                                                                           probably adds about
the trial bar as ideal legal                                                                  75% to the value of
venues. As a result, according                                                                the case. ”
to the Judicial Hellholes 2007                                                                   The threat to
report, “plaintiffs’ attorneys                                                             civil justice reforms
become the ‘travel agents’ for                                                        in Texas doesn’t stop in
the ‘litigation tourist’ industry, filing claims in                                 the courthouses of judicial
jurisdictions with little or no connection to their                            hellholes. A statewide movement
clients’ claims. ”                                                        to rollback progress is afoot in Texas
                                                                         and beyond. Through the courts, in
                                                                         the Texas Legislature and in the halls
                                                                           of Congress, innovative, aggressive
                                                                           trial lawyers – and their army of
where judges systematically apply laws and               lobbyists – are searching for and finding new ways
court procedures in favor of plaintiffs and against      to sue and, in many ways, playing the litigation
defendants in civil lawsuits. In fact, the Rio           lottery to their own financial benefit. The public
Grande Valley and the Texas Gulf Coast are known         must declare zero tolerance on lawsuit abuse and
collectively “as one of the toughest jurisdictions for   hold our officials accountable. Judges should be
corporate defendants in the country, according to        applying the law fairly and consistently in all cases
published reports. In an attempt to end Cameron          and lawyers found abusing the system should
County’s long reign as a judicial hellhole, the local    be penalized.
newspaper in the Rio Grande Valley published its             When our communities become breeding
plea to newly elected judges, lamenting that the         grounds for greed, we all pay the price. It may
county is a “place where judges…give preferential        be true that everything is bigger in Texas, but that
treatment to tort cases in general or to cases filed by   shouldn’t include the judicial jackpots so feverishly
attorneys who are personal or political friends.  ”      pursued by personal injury lawyers. Greed-fueled
   In Starr County a district judge single-handedly      notoriety has no place in the proud landscape of
stifled a defendant’s request for a new trial – even      the Lone Star State.
after all parties discovered that a juror in the first
   Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA)              of the relationship between the attorneys general
groups in Texas recently applauded a proposed         and the outside lawyers they hire.    ”
Transparency Code issued by the American Tort             Diane Davis, executive director of East Texans
Reform Association to enhance public disclosure of    Against Lawsuit Abuse, noted the potential conflicts
contractual arrangements between state attorneys      that can arise when AGs award lucrative contracts
general and private contingency fee lawyers.          to their political supporters without competitive
   “It is sometimes necessary for attorneys general   bidding and with little or no oversight from the
to hire outside contingency fee lawyers to work on    public or state legislatures.
behalf of the state, said Kirsten                                               “Without proper oversight,
Voinis, spokesperson for CALA                                               too many gray areas exist that
of Central Texas. “Yet, without                                             could leave taxpayers in the
absolute public disclosure, the                                             dark about an attorney general’s
potential for abuse is far too                                              dealings with private lawyers, ”
great – Texas can attest to that.                                           Davis said. “That is exactly
   The ATRA Transparency                                                    what happened in Texas with
Code calls for disclosure of                                                former Attorney General
contracts, oversight in the                                                 Dan Morales.   ”
contracting process, detailed                                                   “Texas illustrated the
reporting of work performed,                                                potential for abuse and then
and accountability in how large                                             led by example in passing
settlements awarded to the                                                  new laws to keep the problem
state are handled.                                                                                   ”
                                                                            from happening again, added
   “The bottom line is private                                              Chip Hough, Chairman of Bay
contingency fee lawyers                                                     Area Citizens Against Lawsuit
working for the states are                                                  Abuse in Corpus Christi. “Our
working at taxpayer expense,   ”                                            experience here in Texas, and
said Bill Summers, president                                                our constructive response to
of the Rio Grande Valley CALA                                               it, can be a lesson for AGs in
based in Weslaco. “And that                                                 other states. ”
means taxpayers have the right                                                  Starting in February 1998,
to know the extent                                                          Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse
                                                                            (CALA) groups in Texas began
                                                                            to question the legal fees and
                                                                            expenses of outside lawyers
                                                                            hired by then-Attorney General
                                                                            Morales to handle Texas’ lawsuit
                                                                            against tobacco companies.
                                                      The lawyers pocketed $3.3 billion in fees, plus $40
                                                      million in “miscellaneous out-of-pocket expenses”;
                                                      the expenses were never fully documented.
                                                      The CALAs also were the first public interest
                                                      organizations to criticize Morales’ contract with his
                                                      friend, lawyer Marc Murr, who was also hired by
                                                      Morales for the tobacco case. Morales later served
                                                      prison time for falsifying documents in the case
                                                      in an attempt to give Murr hefty fees from the
                                                      tobacco settlement.
                                                          With CALA support, Texas lawmakers ultimately
                                                      passed laws limiting how much any outside lawyer
                                                      may be paid by the state and requiring they keep
                                                      records of time worked and expenses incurred.
Bay Area CALA at (361) 883-1865
or visit
CALA of Central Texas at (512) 481-1000
or visit
East Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse (ETALA)
at (800) 44ETALA or (903) 234-8300
Houston CALA at (713) 267-2302
or visit
Rio Grande Valley CALA at (956) 968-3141
or visit
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