Is Texas Tort Reform Working?
Guglielmo, Wayne J., Medical Economics
Supporters of tort reform have been pointing to Texas with all the unabashed pride of new parents.
In 2003, lawmakers in the Lone Star State passed one of the toughest legal reform packages in the nation, which included a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages. (If the case also involves hospitals or similar institutions, there's another $250,000 liability limit for the first defendant, and up to $500,000 for two or more defendants, for a total cap of $750,000.)
Following passage of the legislation, its proponents, including the Texas Medical Association, took an extra step. Fearing that the trial attorneys would tie up the new law in the courts, as they had similar legislation in Texas and other states, supporters placed Proposition 12 before voters. This public referendum gave lawmakers the constitutional authority to do what they'd already done.
This September, the TMA marked the third anniversary of its victory by distributing the findings of its online physician survey. The results: Texas doctors are now finding it much easier to recruit new physicians to their communities; are more likely to accept patients with complex or high-risk problems; and are more likely than not to rate the state's professional liability climate as "excellent" or "good." Of doctors whose coverage and practice location have remained constant since 2003, about half said their premiums had dropped by up to 20 percent, and slightly more than 1 in 4 said their premiums had dipped by more than 20 percent.
Earlier in the year, Texans who favored stricter liability laws had another reason to cheer. In May, the San Francisco-based Pacific Research Institute, the self-proclaimed "free-market think tank," rated Texas first on its 2006 US Tort Liability Index, which presumably makes it a great place to do business or to practice medicine. The authors of the study praised the state's "relatively low monetary tort losses" and its "recent tort reforms," including its cap in medical malpractice suits. …