Posts Tagged ‘CALA in the News’

Ranking on Texas’ litigation environment worsens

By Lou Ann Anderson | Watchdog Arena

A new national ranking suggests generally improved views of state legal climates, yet the Lone Star State’s litigation environment doesn’t fare so well.

For its 2015 Lawsuit Climate Survey: Ranking the States, the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform commissioned the Harris Poll to examine the levels of fairness and reasonability with which U.S. businesses perceive their states’ tort liability systems.

Texas was ranked #40, down from #36 in the last two surveys (2012 and 2010). Delaware took the top position followed by Vermont, Nebraska, Iowa and New Hampshire. West Virginia was #50 with Alabama, California, Illinois and Louisiana rounding out the bottom tier.

East Texas was most frequently cited (26 percent) when respondents were asked about problematic cities/counties for contract and tort litigation actions. Other “worst jurisdictions” included Chicago or Cook County, Illinois (20 percent); Los Angeles, California (16 percent); Madison County, Illinois (16 percent); and New Orleans or Orleans Parish, Louisiana (15 percent).

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YOU’VE BEEN SERVED: Despite the general improvement of the country’s ‘litigation environment’ Texas’ environment slipped four ranks from previous surveys.

“This survey, and our drop in the ranking, is a clear reminder that when it comes to a legal reform, our work in Texas is never done and our successes in the Legislature cannot be taken for granted,” Jennifer Harris, spokesperson with Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse, said of the ranking. “Beyond the State Capitol, judges and juries are the lifeblood of our civil justice system and their actions, and perceived level of competency, impact our litigation climate on a daily basis.”

“Even with the passage of some key reforms in 2015, this is a wake up call for Texas,” Harris said. “We are seeing outsized verdicts in some jurisdictions and we have suffered the effects of aggressive and entrepreneurial personal injury lawyers who turn litigation into a cottage industry that can impact the entire state. The excessive rise in litigation related to two hailstorms in Texas is a perfect example of how quickly a new rash of lawsuits, from enterprising personal injury lawyers, can take hold of the state.”

This tenth installment of the survey found higher overall state scores as well as general improvement in litigation environment perceptions, with half of the respondents characterizing state court liability systems as excellent or pretty good. That said, the other half believe state systems are only fair or poor.

A finding that stood out as significant was 75 percent of respondents citing a state’s litigation environment as “likely to impact important business decisions at their companies, such as where to locate or do business.”

Individual state evaluations highlighted a wide disparity among states with the best and worst performances, as Delaware scored 77 out of a possible 100 while West Virginia scored 46 out of 100. West Virginia’s score, however, is up one point from the 2012 survey results and 11 points from 2010.

More than 1,200 in-house general counsel, senior litigators or attorneys and other senior executives at companies having at least $100 million in annual revenues participated based on their having both knowledge about litigation matters and recent litigation experience in each state they evaluated.

The survey addressed the existence and enforcement of meaningful venue requirements, overall treatment of tort and contract litigation, treatment of class action suits and mass consolidation suits, damages, timeliness of summary judgment or dismissal, discovery, scientific and technical evidence along with judges’ impartiality/competence and juries’ fairness

While seeking to determine states’ general legal climates, the survey notes the possibility of states receiving low grades due to the “negative reputation of one or more of their counties or jurisdictions.”

“This survey reveals that three in four senior lawyers and executives feel that the litigation environment in a state is likely to impact important business decisions, which could have economic consequences for the states,” the survey concludes. “The challenge for the states is to focus on those areas where they received the lowest scores and then make improvements where they are needed.”

This article was written by a contributor of Watchdog Arena, Franklin Center’s network of writers, bloggers, and citizen journalists.

Hazel Meaux, guest columnist: Arbitration can prevent lawsuit abuse, bring quicker legal resolution

Nice guys finish last. Revenge is sweet. Paybacks are a real, well, you know. If you’ve ever found yourself involved in a lawsuit, those expressions may hit a little too close to home.

When it comes to legal disputes, civility doesn’t always win the day. Legal battles can often turn contentious, and many people involved in long, costly lawsuits likely find themselves wishing the dispute never happened.

And while everyone deserves justice and, as the saying goes, “their day in court,” not every dispute must see the inside of a courtroom. In fact, in many disputes, there’s a better path forward to settle differences and make affected parties whole.

Arbitration is a voluntary, out-of-court method for dispute resolution, one where both sides makes their case to a neutral, independent arbitrator whom they mutually select. It’s typically a faster, simpler, fair and less expensive alternative to litigation.

Many arbitrators are retired judges, and many have training and expertise specific to the types of disputes they handle. An arbitrator’s decision is called an “award.” Awards are made in writing and are generally final and binding on the disputing parties. The awards can bestow the same type of damages a claimant could seek in court.

Because arbitrators reach decisions promptly after disputing parties provide their facts and arguments, the parties can get decisions more quickly and efficiently than in court.

The only ones arbitration isn’t good for are personal-injury lawyers. The more disputes resolved through arbitration or other alternative dispute options, the fewer lawsuits there are and the less personal-injury lawyers make in fees.

So it should come as no surprise that some personal-injury lawyers oppose arbitration as an alternative to a full-blown trial. It’s a classic case of some lawyers wanting to use our courts for greed, not justice.

America’s litigation system already costs families and small businesses thousands per year on average, and if some personal injury lawyers get their way, it could end up costing even more. That’s because these lawyers want to take away our access to arbitration and other alternative dispute resolution options.

What are they fighting against? They’re waging war on consumers, taxpayers and many businesses, quite frankly.

According to the American Arbitration Association, arbitrations can reach a final decision on average a full year faster than it takes for court cases to reach a final judgment. Another study found the median length of time from the filing of an arbitration demand to the final award in domestic, commercial cases was just less than eight months. By contrast, the typical length of time from filing a lawsuit through trial of civil cases can be three years or more.

And the fact is, arbitration is a process supported by our courts. The U.S. Supreme Court has on multiple occasions endorsed arbitration as being effective and a fair alternative dispute resolution process.

Arbitration is pro-consumer, too. Outcomes for consumers through arbitration are similar to those reached through the court system. According to the National Arbitration Forum, a consumer who would have won a case in court or received a favorable settlement is at least as likely to achieve the same result in arbitration. So lawsuit reform organizations like ours want to educate and empower consumers and small businesses about the benefits of arbitration.

Smart legal consumers know our courts should be used for justice, not greed. And, oftentimes, justice can be found just as easily away from a courtroom and around a table where all parties can mutually agree to settle their differences with the guidance from a well-trained, specialized judge arbitrator.

Hazel Meaux is a board member of Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse.

Hailstorm lawsuits are threatening Texas homeowners

Via Texas Tribune

By Julian Alvarez and Abraham Padron

May is stormy in Texas, both weather-wise and politically.

This year, the literal storms sweeping across our state and the figurative storms in the Capitol are more closely related than usual. As destructive spring hail pummels Texas from Amarillo to Port Arthur, state legislators in Austin are advancing bills that seek to protect homeowners’ access to affordable insurance that allows them to repair after these storms.

At issue is legislation sponsored by state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, and state Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, that will stop opportunistic, storm-chasing trial lawyers and their soliciting agents in Texas from using a new method they’ve pioneered to abuse our lawsuit system to get rich.

Here’s how they do it. Immediately after a storm, lawyers swoop into affected areas and do everything possible to whip up disputes, inflate claims and cajole, coerce or seduce homeowners into needless lawsuits in hopes of reaping windfall profits.

Tens of thousands of Texans already have personal experience with intrusive knocks on the door from trial lawyers promising them “free” roofs and easy money if they agree to sue their insurance company.

How many lawsuits have been ginned up through these cynical tactics? A report published last year by Rio Grande Valley Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse found that 5,740 lawsuits were filed in Hidalgo County following a pair of major hailstorms in 2012. As of April of this year, that number is closer to 11,000 in the Valley alone.

These techniques are not typical or harmless legal maneuvers. They’re cynical, industrial-scale methods that do real damage, and homeowners and businesses pay the price. It is these people this hailstorm lawsuit abuse legislation will protect.

The dramatic increase in storm-related litigation is much higher than we’ve ever seen in Texas, and wildly out of proportion with other states.

This chaotic legal storm on the heels of any bad weather event funnels money out of the system that is needed to pay real claims to homeowners, and in a flood of greed washes it away into the pockets of a few aggressive storm-chasing trial lawyers. Honest, hardworking local independent claims adjustors are also beaten down by a hail of frivolous harassment lawsuits designed to intimidate, embarrass and frustrate normal legal processes.

In Hidalgo County, at least 10,000 people have lost their homeowners insurance, and three Texas insurance carriers have stopped offering coverage here. At a recent hearing on this legislation, a local housing advocate reported that for some families, premiums have increased 100 percent, from $500 annually to more than $1,200. If left unchecked, this lawsuit abuse will continue to hurt consumers as companies find it too hard to do business in our otherwise business-friendly state.

Sadly, this abuse isn’t confined to the Valley. This hailstorm lawsuit roadshow is racing across Texas like spring thunderstorms — mushrooming from a few hundred lawsuits in South Texas to thousands across the state in the past few months.

Not surprisingly, the plaintiff lawyers getting rich on this system have launched an assault on the legislation that would limit their abusive lawsuits. They try to brand any threat to their money machine as a threat to the consumer, even though the proposed legislation protects consumers’ right to sue an insurance company in court and to collect an 18 percent penalty interest plus attorneys’ fees if the insurance company acts wrongly.

Even worse, protections against the trial lawyers’ destructive personal harassment suits are being falsely portrayed as “immunity,” ignoring the reality that the proposed legislation will ensure that the insurance company takes responsibility for everyone working for it.

We’ve seen hailstorm lawsuit abuse first-hand. We’ve seen the advertising and the door hangers and the billboards and the TV ads. We know that this is opportunism that comes at a cost — to us, the consumers. We know that when these few lawyers hit the jackpot, the rest of us pay the price.

Our elected officials must act now to curb hailstorm lawsuit abuse. The Legislature can’t stop thunderstorms from hitting Texas, but it can do something about the lawsuit storm that now follows them.

GAYLE: Asbestos reform needed to protect legitimate claims

via The Pasadena Citizen

Double dips are good when you’re talking about ice cream. Unfortunately, over the last several years double dipping of another kind has allowed unscrupulous personal injury lawyers to enrich themselves by abusing our lawsuit system.

Simply put, some personal injury lawyers are gaming the lawsuit system, manipulating it by “double dipping” in asbestos litigation so that they can increase their profits. The Texas Legislature is right to take a closer look at ways to rein in this fraud and abuse and make sure our courts are used for justice, not greed.

“Double dipping” in asbestos cases occurs when personal injury lawyers sue a company and claim its products harmed their clients and also file claims with asbestos trusts telling a different story and blaming other products for the same exact harm.

This abuse of our lawsuit system allows personal injury lawyers to get multiple payouts for the same injury while reducing the resources available in the trusts to compensate those who have been truly injured by asbestos exposure – many of whom are veterans.

Our state has long been a leader in lawsuit reform, and putting an end to the abuses in asbestos litigation is something that I believe can and should find broad support at the Capitol and in communities all across our state.

A decade ago, Texas passed comprehensive asbestos litigation reform that eliminated bogus claims while ensuring that truly sick Texans could have their lawsuits resolved in a timely manner.

Undeterred in their quest to enrich themselves by abusing the lawsuit system, some personal injury lawyers pulled new tricks out of their sleeve, exploiting loopholes in the system that allow this “double dipping” to occur. It’s a problem not unique to Texas – in fact, many media outlets have reported on the asbestos double dip in recent years.

Texas lawmakers are advancing House Bill 1492 by Rep. Doug Miller and Senate Bill 491 by Sen. Charles Schwertner to stop this abuse. The proposal would require a plaintiff’s lawyer in an asbestos lawsuit to file claims with a bankruptcy trust, where injured individuals will receive the fastest compensation, before they can pursue additional litigation. It delivers transparency and discourages double dipping.

We can all agree that Texans harmed by asbestos deserve compensation and they deserve it be delivered fairly and swiftly. Greed is a great motivator, though, and these lawsuits can be extremely lucrative for lawyers. So, whether a claim is filed today or years from now, an injured Texan shouldn’t have to worry about resources reserved for paying claims in the asbestos trusts being depleted or reduced by greedy personal injury lawyers.

The reform measures from Rep. Miller and Sen. Schwertner are the sort of smart-minded and balanced legislation worthy of bipartisan support.

After all, two scoops are better than one for ice cream, but it’s not something we should allow our courts and personal injury lawyers to dip into.

DeWitt Gayle is Chairman of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse of Central Texas (CALACTX)