Ralph Nader's Open Letter to the Legislature

May 20, 2003
Members of the Texas Legislature
Capitol Building
Austin, Texas, 78701

Dear Legislators:

Lacking any last-minute enlightenment, the Texas legislature is expected to enact the most profound roll-back of injured citizen rights that our nation has witnessed. If you dismantle citizen access to Texas' civil justice system as planned, you will reinforce the common perception that the Texas Legislature serves its big-business patrons over the needs of innocent, common citizens who have been harmed due to the negligence or wrongdoing of others.

The provisions of both the Senate and House versions of HB 4 far exceed their stated policy goal of stopping undefined and unaggregated, "frivolous lawsuits." Whether influenced by myth, money, or malice, these bills would grant the tortfeasors most of what they seek to escape responsibility by hiding behind a shield of immunity that you gave them.

The media have focused on how this legislation would reward those who commit malpractice with arbitrary liability caps on non-economic damages. With no associated sequence that such caps will contain medical malpractice insurance rates, the legislature would substitute itself for judge and jury by imposing arbitrary lifetime caps on pain and suffering for Texans who are horribly injured, maimed, or disfigured. Meanwhile out of this same premium pot arise the swollen salaries of insurance executives who without pain or suffering make $250,000 a month, month after month. If legislative caps are such a sound policy, then cap insurance premiums and these executives' salaries!

Apart from these arbitrary liability caps, the House and Senate bills are full of pernicious provisions that make it harder for injured parties to receive justice and easier for the wrongdoers to escape responsibility for misdeeds. These bills strip away the rights of children, women, small businesses, workers, seniors, and nursing home residents in favor of insurance companies, HMOs, chemical interests, and manufacturers. They take away every Texan's last wall of defense against fraud, negligence, and harm. History will note that Texas lawmakers responded to a big-business crime wave -- that has cost consumers, workers and investors billions of dollars in stolen wealth -- by tying the hands of the only corporate-accountability institution directly available to consumers -- their courts.

You have not met your burden of proof to show that Texas judges and Texas jurors are unwilling, unable, or incompetent to resolve these disputes between plaintiffs and defendants. Not to have the evidence and still enact this cruel legislation is to perform cowardly and commercially. The victims in the future will not forget what you have done. Nor will your loved ones who may, heaven forbid, fall under this legislation's cruelty someday.

These vastly overreaching bills will slam ordinary Texas families to benefit wealthy special interests that pumped millions of dollars into Texas political coffers to promote these anti-consumer measures. Before you vote to enact HB 4 and HJR 3, consider your obligation to represent the interests of all Texas families and consumers -- and not just the self-interests of the insurance industry and the sham Texans for Lawsuit Reform.

Any true "reform" of Texas' consumer rights would strengthen rather than weaken these protections and not make taxpayers pay in order to let wrongdoers off the hook. Texans deserve no less. And they will remember -- one by one as deterrence fails and injuries rise.

Reject this assault on the people of Texas.

Ralph Nader
PO BOX 19312
Washington, DC 20036

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