Gov. Rick Perry would like some more tort reform, please. Striking a policy note at a campaign stop Wednesday, Perry threw his support behind an effort to pass more extensive legislation on frivolous litigation.
"More is needed to restrain frivolous lawsuits and personal injury lawyers," said the governor, who was in Houston to accept the endorsement of lobbying heavyweight Texans for Lawsuit Reform. He praised the extensive tort reform package the Legislature passed in 2003 but said, "Texans and Texas employers are still hit with frivolous lawsuits that cost thousands or even millions of dollars in legal fees to defend." In particular, Perry said he'd like to see a loser-pays system, in which a plaintiff must pay a defendant's legal costs if a court determines that a suit is frivolous; more strictly defined causes-of-action; and allow courts to expedite legal claims and quickly dismiss those that are clearly groundless.
It's unusual for Perry to make a policy announcement on the campaign trail — a representative said this the first time he's done so while accepting an endorsement — and the move could hint that the Perry camp is readying to bop the governor's Democratic opponent, whom it has already labeled as "liberal trial lawyer Bill White," over tort reform issues. Perry's announcement comes a few days after a federal magistrate recommended upholding the constitutionality of the 2003 legislation's $250,000 cap on medical liability for noneconomic damages.
The initiative, in full, from the Perry press release:
· Loser Pays for Frivolous Lawsuits: If a court determines that a lawsuit is groundless or a jury determines a suit is frivolous, then the plaintiff should be required to pay the defendant's attorney's fees.
· Early Dismissal for Frivolous Lawsuits: Forty-two states and the federal courts already have this mechanism in place for the early dismissal of clearly frivolous lawsuits. If a lawsuit is frivolous, Texas judges should be able to dismiss the case immediately before the legal bills pile up and the trial court should award attorney fees to the defendant.
· Legislature Determines New Causes of Action: Texas judges should not be permitted to create a cause of action from the bench. We should require the legislature to explicitly state when they are creating a new cause of action in statute, forcing courts to read statutes strictly, and providing only those rights and remedies the legislature intended.
· Increased Access to Courts for Legitimate Claims: The court system should be more accessible to Texans with legitimate claims without the incurred costs associated with a drawn out trial. Lawsuits with claims between $10,000 and $100,000 should have expedited trial settings and limited discovery in order to get litigants in and out of the court quickly and allow swifter recovery for damages.