What's in a Name?

I was reading a press release today issued by Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse which is affiliated with Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse and Texans for Lawsuit Reform.  These organizations claim to be “grassroots” and to be “dedicated to educating the public about the cost and consequences of lawsuit abuse . . . .”  I have no idea why there are three organizations rather than one, because they act as one.  Maybe they had three catchy names and didn’t want to waste two of them?

The names of political action committees and their mission statements are always interesting and, of course, deceptive.  The names intend to imply a group of ordinary people who have united in a common cause to right a wrong or achieve a noble goal.  The mission statements always refer to education because that is the key to being considered a nonprofit organization for tax purposes.

Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse is not a bunch of your neighbors who decided lawsuits were a problem.  It is made up of and funded by big business and wealthy businessmen.  It is also supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform, a political lobbying unit of the Chamber of Commerce.  Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse‘s primary purpose is not education.  Its primary purposes are to elect business-friendly politicians, including judges; intense lobbying of the government for probusiness legislation; and, perpetual public relations campaigns intended to demonize lawyers and litigation against corporations.

This organization has been enormously effective in achieving its goals.  Texas is known nationwide for its probusiness laws and legal system.  If one wants to describe that status  as conservative, then Texas is ultraconservative.  By all objective standards, Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse won its battle.  In the 78th Legislative session of 2003, the influence of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse and its sister organizations was so intimidating to legislators that observers began to refer to the place where the Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse and TLR. members/lobbyists sat in the audience as the “owner’s box.”  They got exactly what they paid for - by far the most sweeping package of probusiness legislation ever enacted in Texas and, for that matter, the nation.  Yet, they are never satisfied.  They have continued to push their agenda in elections, legislative sessions and media campaigns.

The press release I referred to says a survey of business ranks Texas 40th in “confidence in the legal system” and lays the blame at the feet of “aggressive and entrepreneurial personal injury lawyers who turn litigation into a cottage industry that can impact the whole state.”

I don’t suppose the facts ought to get in the way of a good press release, but the facts are that the overwhelming majority of lawsuits filed in Texas are not personal injury, wrongful death or medical malpractice suits.  The overwhelming majority of civil lawsuits filed are comprised of divorce and domestic relations, businesses suing businesses for various reasons, collection suits filed by banks, credit card companies and businesses against individuals, and tax suits filed by government against businesses and individuals.  The truth is that there are so few personal injury and wrongful death suits filed and taken to trial that legal writers and commentators have written extensively over the last 10-15 years about the inevitable demise of the civil jury trial system and openly lament the fact that there are so few civil jury trials in today’s legal environment there is no way for so-called trial lawyers to gain actual trial experience.

I don’t have the cumulative data for Brazos County lawsuit filings, but I follow filings clusely through the local Business Digest.  I estimate that personal injury lawsuits are less, perhaps much less, than 5% of the total civil cases filed and that, on average, there may be only 3 to 4 personal injury cases tried to a jury per year.  This is hardly an epidemic of “junk lawsuits” filed by aggressive, entrepreneurial lawyers.

In the meantime, here in the real world, ordinary Texans are told by lawyers time and time again that there is nothing that can be done to help them because the law won’t allow it.  These folks are little consoled by the fact that their helplessness has achieved a favorable business climate in Texas.