Magistrate Says Tort Reform Not Unconstitutional

A federal magistrate says the medical malpractice caps Texas lawmakers instituted in 2003 should withstand a constitutional challenge — an opinion advocates for tort reform say could have national implications.

In a report and recommendation filed in federal court in the Eastern District of Texas on Monday, Magistrate Charles Everingham says Texas' Medical Malpractice and Tort Reform Act of 2003, which capped medical liability for noneconomic damages at $250,000, doesn't violate victims' constitutional rights. He says it doesn't violate victims' right of access to the courts, or the takings clause, which says the government can't confiscate property without compensation. And he recommends that the federal judge presiding over the case grant summary judgment to the defendant — the state of Texas.

"The plaintiffs have not shown that the challenged statute, H.B. 4, violates their constitutional right of access to the courts or the Takings Clause," Everingham wrote.

Jon Opelt, executive director of the Texas Alliance For Patient Access, which advocates for medical lawsuit reform, called the opinion "very, very big." If Texas' cap is found unconstitutional, he said, it would set a legal precedent for other states that have implemented them.

A ruling is expected within the next few weeks.

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