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W. Gardner Selby
By W. Gardner Selby August 23, 2012

Lawmakers shied from saying new laws should say if they are creating new causes for legal action

Touting 2003 medical lawsuit reforms on the campaign trail in 2010, Gov. Rick Perry proposed attacking afresh what he described as frivolous lawsuits.
   
"Texans and Texas employers are still hit with frivolous lawsuits that cost thousands or even millions of dollars in legal fees to defend,” he said in a Sept. 15, 2010, press release. "It is time to introduce a higher degree of balance and accountability into our legal system.”
   
To do so, he proposed a "four-point approach that will limit unfounded claims and bring greater accountability and efficiency to our judicial system.” We have tracked each point as an individual promise. (See the other three here, here and here.)
   
During the 2011 legislative session, Perry revisited his call to action with state Rep. Brandon Creighton and state Sen. Joan Huffman, Republicans sponsoring legislation in Perry"s vision.

Perry said: "We should also make it clear that a statute doesn't create a cause of action unless the legislature specifically says it does, because everyone has the right to know if their behavior would subject them to a lawsuit.”

The idea made it into proposals, but did not pass into law.

Both Senate Bill 13, by Huffman, and House Bill 274, by Creighton, originally included language holding that a law cannot become grounds for a lawsuit unless the law clearly specifies that violations may be grounds for a lawsuit.

However, such language is absent from the final version of HB 274, which passed into law.

David Chamberlain of the Texas chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates told us by telephone that legislators were ultimately uncomfortable with making the change. Especially among senators, Chamberlain said, there was concern the restriction would keep the state"s common law from continuing to develop because courts would kept from interpreting statutes.

Creighton later said by phone: "I don't personally believe that's anything other than an opponent's argument.”

We mark this as a Promise Broken.

Our Sources

Office of the Governor, Press release: Gov. Perry: Lawsuit reforms will expedite justice for legitimate claims and help strengthen Texas" economic climate, March 14, 2011
   
Office of the Governor, Speech: Gov. Perry: Lawsuit reforms will expedite justice for legitimate claims and help strengthen Texas" economic climate, March 14, 2011
   
S.B. 13 relating to the reform of certain remedies and procedures in civil actions, filed March 10, 2011
   
H.B. 274 relating to attorneys" fees, early dismissal, expedited trials and the reform of certain remedies and procedures in civil actions, filed March 10, 2011

Telephone interview, David Chamberlain, legislative director, Texas chapter, American Board of Trial Advocates, Austin, Aug. 22, 2012

Telephone interview, Brandon Creighton, Conroe, Aug. 22, 2012

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