Tort Reform — Texas Style

Wal-Mart announces reduction in medical coverage due to continuing rise of cost of coverage. Premiums continue to climb while benefits drop. Auto, Home and Business insurance premiums continue to rise. It must be those lawsuits right? What about those trial lawyers they must be the cause. All those frivolous lawsuits keep driving up the cost for everyone. Great tag lines but as the old commercial says “Where’s the Beef?” The insurance industry has done a great job of advertising and obfuscating. They have convinced people that if only tort reform was passed then everyone’s insurance rates would drop. Texas has had tort reform for almost a decade. Have any of your rates dropped? I didn’t think so. Every year it is the same story, well the reforms didn’t go far enough.
Over the next few weeks I will go through some of the different legislative and judicial edicts that form our current Texas law and much ballyhooed Tort Reform. Why don’t we start with the newest fair haired tort reform -known affectionately as loser pays (if you are the one who is injured that is) which allows the Courts to dismiss frivolous cases. That is a great idea. That is probably why we have had that procedure in place for pretty much since the inception of laws in Texas.
The Courts have always had the power to dismiss a frivolous case upon request by either party. So why the need for the new law and why is it that the loser only pays if it is the person bringing the case and not the person who caused the injury. Could it be that the insurance companies defending the person causing wrecks and injuries are trying to intimidate people into not making valid claims? What a strange idea. So here we are with a whole new set of laws designed to reduce the ability to recover for injuries caused by others actions.
Even if it is an unintended (:>)) result at least the overall benefit is for the good of us all — right. Let’s look at that starting with loser pays. Sounds great, but who is the loser who is going to pay? Suppose that a driver, Rich causes a wreck and Joan is injured. Joan is taken to hospital and gets treated. She doesn’t have health insurance so who is going to pay the hospital bills? Well if she doesn’t have health insurance she probably has Medicare or Medicaid maybe — maybe not. If she does then one of those entities pays and has a right to recover all their money. So why if there is a chance of having to pay the person who caused the wrecks attorney fees and expenses would you take the risk? I mean everyone knows juries are crazy right. That is what we always hear as a reason why they shouldn’t be allowed to determine damages in an injury case which could impact a person’s life (but they are great for deciding life in death in a criminal case – but I digress), so why would an attorney agree to represent Joan if he or she has to spend months fighting with Medicare/Medicaid just to get an answer as to how much is owed, invest significant time and money out of his/her own pocket to try and recover the damages for her. It may be that the determination is that it is not worth it so no lawyer, no lawsuit.

Great tort reform works. Oh Wait.

What about the hospital bills that Medicare/Medicaid paid on behalf of Joan. Well you and I paid those bills, after all isn’t Medicare/Medicaid essentially a tax funded insurance plan. But wait there’s more (I love infomercials) and since the hospital didn’t get the full value of their services they raise their charges to offset the loss which causes the cost to go up for everyone else. So now you and I are paying for the injuries caused by Rich. So when we hear loser pays we need to just admit that you and I are paying and Rich gets a free ride for his actions. Next time we will discuss the Court Decision I affectionately call Brainless.

The opinions in this blog, as always, are mine and not necessarily those of the firm.

Death and Taxes

The government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases:  If it moves, tax it.  If it keeps moving, regulate it.  And if it stops moving, subsidize it.  ~Ronald Reagan

Two things people claim are a certainty –death and taxes.   Let me start with a disclaimer — I am not an expert on taxes (or death), and welcome comments by anyone who can help me out.  Here is the question/problem –What is the justification for having different income levels paying a different percentage of tax and why should your estate have to pay taxes on what you made (and probably paid taxes on) while you were alive?  How is that fair?  If I and three buddies go into a store and each get a soda which cost a dollar why should I pay $1, while my buddies pay $1.25, $1.40 and one actually gets it free because of a rebate.  It’s the same soda, we are all getting the same thing for our money, how is that different than paying more based upon how much you make?  The person that makes more than me isn’t getting any greater benefit from the government and the person paying less isn’t getting any less so why the difference?  We elect representatives who all seem to say the same thing, we need to change the tax structure, etc., etc.   Then why haven’t they done it?  Why are we paying billions of dollars to bail out companies, fund “art” exhibits that show Jesus covered in ants and other pork barrel projects which continue to increase our debt?  Why is it ok for “our” representatives to spend our money on things which not only do I not want or need, but am morally opposed to?  Where are our representatives when these appropriations are being made, why are they not taking a stand then and there rather than telling me I will be fighting to stop this wasteful spending, etc.  If all of those elected officials that tell us they will do something actually did it then we wouldn’t be having this discussion.  How can it be that almost everyone of them say they do not support x,y or z, but then apparently by some miracle something gets passed which they did not approve.  Here is a suggestion – stop talking — start doing.  If you are going to pass a law make it mandatory that it impacts you, the congress and senate in the exact same manner as it will impact those you represent.  Do away with your private health care, retirement fund, travel allowances, etc. and make do with the same things you believe are good enough for the rest of us.  I want you to explain to me how a graduated tax structure makes any logical sense (other than to provide you with more money to spend on things I don’t want and to dole out to your friends and contributors) and explain to me why the government needs to tax a person their entire life and when they die tax their estate.  What benefit is that person getting from the government at that point? They are dead.  There is no benefit to them and they are no burden on the government.  What is the justification to tax the estate?  I realize I am just a small town country lawyer, but I could really use some enlightenment here.  I welcome answers.  Real answers, not just “I hear you and I with your continued support we will make these changes” speech. How about forwarding this to all those in congress and the senate and let them answer these questions.   These should be easy answers for them as they constantly vote on tax issues.   I assume they would be proud of how they vote and why they voted the way they did, so why not have them answer the questions and post their answers for everyone to see.   If they agree or disagree with a graduated tax system they can explain the benefit of their position to us.  If they agree or disagree with an estate tax they can explain the benefit of their position to us.  I know some of them will say I fought against it but lost the vote, but put me back in there and we will get them next time.  How about this – put down in writing what you actually believe, stand by it, do what’s right and let the rest take care of itself. But like I said in the beginning what do I know — I am no expert and just a small town country lawyer, so help me out with some explanations here.