AUSTIN - All 26 Republicans in the House freshman class -- a formidable voting block that comprises one-sixth of the Texas House -- announced Tuesday they support House Bill 4 which involves sweeping lawsuit reform. The bill heads to the House floor this week for debate. Driving down insurance prices and restoring fairness and balance were among the goals of the freshman.
"In my campaign, constituents told me it was time to work hard to clean up the out-of-control nature of lawsuit abuse that scares many law-abiding citizens," said Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston). "I am happy to be fulfilling a campaign promise by co-authoring a bill that improves our civil justice system in Texas for plaintiffs and defendants alike. We must move towards a society in which litigation is not a lottery for self-enrichment, but a useful, efficient, and fair way to resolve otherwise unresolvable disputes. This is right for Texas and will have the effect of driving down insurance costs."
House Bill 4 deals with a number of lawsuit reform areas, one of them being medical malpractice reform. The solution to skyrocketing insurance premiums can be found, in part, in medical malpractice reform.
"Our hospitals and doctors are facing a crisis, and our constituents are demanding a solution,”said Bohac. “The crisis we are facing is a loss of health care in communities across this state. In my District in particular, Spring Branch Medical Center on Longpoint closed it Obstetrics (OB) unit due in part to skyrocketing hospital malpractice insurance costs. Had they kept the OB unit open, their malpractice insurance costs for this particular division would have increased from $600,000 last year to $1,600,000 this year. This is shocking and saddening. We need doctors and hospitals in our neighborhoods to take care of our mothers and our children, and malpractice reform will help.”
Pat Currie, CEO and President of Spring Branch Medical Center, said “The closure of the department truly saddens me, as the Obstetrics unit was such an integral part of the hospital and the community. It was a very difficult decision to make, and every effort to reverse this situation was taken.”
The centerpiece of HB 4 is a $250,000 cap on difficult-to-measure non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering and mental anguish, and only in medical malpractice cases. The cap does not apply to economic damages suffered or to punitive damages that are rewarded to punish wrongdoers and to send a message that similar actions will not be tolerated.
Another important component of HB 4 is proportional responsibility. Under current law, if defendants are held liable for even a small a portion of the responsibility for the harm suffered by a plaintiff, any one of the defendants can be made to pay 100% of the entire jury award, even if they were only, say, 10% responsible.
“This is not right. The one with the financial means to pay is the one that gets stuck with paying entire jury award, even if they were only liable in a very small respect. The economic award should be shared based on proportional responsibility. This just makes sense. If you are 10% liable, you should only have to pay 10% of the damages--not 100% just because you have the ‘deep pockets’,” continued Rep. Bohac.
The 78th Legislature's effort at tort reform is composed of two key parts. In addition to House Bill 4, House Joint Resolution 3 is a proposed constitutional amendment which will allow Texas voters to put the $250,000 cap on non-economic damages to work immediately, perhaps as early as Jan. 1, 2004. The Texas House of Representatives is expected to spend several days debating the bills on the House floor.