So, in the midst of this economic and budgetary crisis, what is so important to insurance companies, large corporations, and our Governor that it is worthy of ‘emergency” legislative status: stripping you of your fundamental American right to a civil jury trial. Texas Watch, an organization dedicated to protecting consumer rights, issued a press release discussing the latest efforts of these special interest groups to close the courthouse doors to Texas families. Every Texan who cares about fairness and justice should read it. The full release can be found here, along with additional information on this important issue, but the relevant text is also copied below.
Under the House Rules, an emergency item is one that is ‘of such pressing and imperative import as to demand immediate action.” After 20+ years of pro-defendant legal changes, Rick Perry believes that making it even more difficult for Texans with valid claims to access the legal system rises to the level of a statewide emergency.
‘This is a sad state of affairs. Rick Perry is so transparently kowtowing to the special interest lobbyists who want even more immunity protections for polluters, insurance companies, and other big corporate wrongdoers,” said Alex Winslow, executive director of the citizen advocacy group Texas Watch. ‘Texas has plenty of emergencies to deal with. Immunizing needless death, injury, or financial devastation caused by corporate wrongdoers is not one of them.”
CSHB 274, the so-called ‘loser pays” bill, is an un-American scheme that is not in the best interest of public safety, public justice, or public policy. It threatens families and small businesses with having to pay the bloated legal costs of big insurance companies and multi-national corporations. It is designed to intimidate families and small business owners into foregoing the legal accountability process, thereby immunizing polluters, insurance companies, and other big corporate defendants from responsibility.
Under CSHB 274…
- Middle class families could be financially devastated not only if they lose a valid lawsuit, but even if they just don’t win big enough.
- Small business owners are put at a severe disadvantage when facing a big corporation in court.
- Defendants are in complete control over with the exclusive option of whether to invoke this new provision, leaving the family or business owner at the whim of the accused wrongdoer
- Even if a family or small business owner wins a verdict against a corporate defendant, they could still be forced to pay the defendant’s legal costs. In other words, you can win and still lose.
Florida’s experience with a scheme similar to CSHB 274 was so bad that lawmakers there repealed it just five years later. As the Duke Law Journal notes, proponents are ‘diplomatically silent about Florida’s unsuccessful experience.” A former president of the nation’s oldest association of civil defense lawyers put it bluntly: ‘They tried it in Florida, and it was a disaster.”
Known as the ‘British Rule,” this concept was roundly rejected by our nation’s founders more than two centuries ago because it guts individual liberty. In recent years, however, Britain and other countries have begun to rethink the wisdom of this system. In fact, the British Ministry of Justice recently commissioned a report that recommends that Britain scrap its current system in favor of the ‘American Rule” in which both parties are responsible for their own legal costs. The Economist magazine proclaimed that ‘every citizen in the land would, at last, have a fair opportunity to have a case heard in the nation’s courts.”
‘The bottom line is that Texas families already face significant barriers to accessing the constitutional promise of a right to Trial by Jury,” said Winslow. ‘Adopting a scheme that has a dubious history and is designed to force families and small businesses with valid claims to weigh the possibility of paying the legal costs of insurance companies and multi-national corporations is at best detrimental to public accountability and at worst unconstitutional.”