House Bill 274 is an Egregious Attempt by Tort Reformers
In a continued effort by the tort reformers of Texas, the Texas House passed House Bill 274 which is a far cry from the original tort reform efforts of the 1990’s and the last legislation passed in 2003. The original goal of tort reform was allegedly to deter frivolous lawsuits and large judgments received by the plaintiff’s bar. In addition to other tort reform changes, damage caps were put in place causing medical malpractice claims to exist only on life support compared to its previous existence.
In 2003 the reform legislation attacked plaintiffs and their attorneys who would turn down offers to settle by defendants, opting to take their case to a jury. The legislation mandated that plaintiffs who turned down settlement offers and won a jury verdict would have to receive a jury award of at least 80% of the offer otherwise they would have to pay the legal fees for the defendant from the date the offer was made and refused. Those fees could not however exceed the amount of the jury award, so in a worst case scenario the plaintiff winner would go away with nothing. Needless to say, this has tilted the playing field to be heavily in favor the defendants.
If that isn’t bad enough, this new attempt to further make rightful plaintiffs fearful of pursuing legitimate claims is an atrocity. Bill 274 stacks the deck further in favor of the defendants by removing any caps or limitations on the legal fees a winning plaintiff might be forced to pay if they turn down a settlement offer and the jury verdict is less than 80% of the settlement offer. Under this scenario, a plaintiff who wins would be obligated to pay the defendants massive legal fees, not limited to the maximum jury award. Such a law could literally wipe out the plaintiff who won their case, whether an individual, small businesses or even large businesses.
In effect, HB 274 serves to take away citizen’s rights while protecting defendants allowing them to have free reign to force individuals and businesses to take whatever trivial amount is offered otherwise face the possibility of being ordered to pay exorbitant and inflated legal costs of corporate defendants, even if they win.