The following lawsuit reforms were considered but failed during the just-completed legislative session.

Bill ............................................ Senate ....................... ....... House ............... ............... Status ............... ................
Offer of Settlement SB 532 Ratliff HB 1524 Clark Passed by the Senate on April 30. Died in House Civil Practices.
Currently, under Texas law, a party is not penalized for threatening to drive up expenses in a lawsuit, although an abuse of litigation can be extremely costly to both parties. An innocent defendant may be forced to pay huge legal fees to fight an inflated or merit less claim. Conversely, a plaintiff may be left with accepting a low settlement or pursing a lengthy and expensive lawsuit.
  • Allows a party to recover litigation expenses if the opponent rejects a fair settlement offer and then wins less or, in the defendant's case, loses more at trial.
  • Litigation expenses include attorney's fees, court costs, witness fees and reasonable deposition costs.
  • Offers to settle are not admissible. The offer of settlement provision may not be conveyed to the jury.

Class Action SB 274 Bivins HB 1036 Junell Passed by the Senate on April 26. Reported favorably as amended in House Civil Practices on May 19. Died in House Calendars.
Under current law each of 14 different Texas courts applies rules governing class action lawsuits in a slightly different manner. This proposed reform would allow the Texas Supreme Court to apply a consistent rule to all Texas class action suits before the lawsuit goes forward. The lawsuit could be put on hold or stayed until the Texas Supreme Court reviews the certification of the class. Court observers believe this measure could ultimately save litigants from expensive discovery and pretrial proceedings in cases that may not properly be tried as class actions.
  • Allows direct appeals to the Supreme Court to review certification of class.
  • Stays lawsuit until reviewed.
  • The Supreme Court may decline review if it finds the state has no compelling interest.
  • Pertains to all actions pending on September 1, 1999 in which an order granting or denying certification has not been issued or the time for appeal has not yet elapsed.

Third Party Liability/Employer Submission SB 614 Sibley none Reported favorably from Senate Economic Development Committee on April 14. Failed to garner enough votes for a hearing on the Senate floor.
Under current law Texas juries are prohibited from assigning fault in a lawsuit to uncaught criminals or those who provide worker's compensation coverage. Homeowners, business owners and property owners may therefore be sued for the actions of others. Even if a jury feels that an uncaught criminal was 90% responsible for an injury, for example, the jury may be given no choice but to assign the entire responsibility to the defendant who is only marginally at fault. This proposed reform would allow juries to assign fault to all responsible parties while still maintaining the immune status of worker's comp providers.

Trial lawyers argue that business owners will incur additional legal costs and that workers' compensation rates will rise if this bill becomes law. Proponents disagree. A business owner covered by workers' compensation insurance is and will remain immune from suit, they argue. The bill places no additional legal burdens on the employer and small business organizations support the bill. Proponents contend all business- big or small - have an interest in being liable for only their fault when they are sued. The Texas State Office of Risk Management has testified that the significance of this bill in setting workers' compensation rates is negligible.

  • Allows the jury to consider the responsibility of the uncaught criminal who injured the plaintiff and assign a percentage of fault.
  • Allows juries to consider the responsibility of the employer who provides worker's compensation coverage and assign a percentage of fault. Maintains current immunity from suit of the employer providing coverage.
  • Ends the shifting of fault to those only marginally responsible.

Judicial Selection SJR 9 Duncan HJR 49 Hupp Passed by a 21-10 vote in the Senate on March 22. Reported favorably as substituted in House Judicial Affairs on May 3. Died in House Calendars.
Currently, Texas is one of only seven states in which judges are elected, not appointed. Texas has come under criticism for this system which forces judicial candidates to wage expensive political battles. This proposed bill would eliminate the partisan election of judges at the appellate level.
  • The Governor appoints vacancies to the bench (as is presently the case).
  • Appellate justices and judges are retained or rejected through an nonpartisan election.
  • If retained by the voters, the justice or judge serves a six-year term.
  • If the officeholder is rejected by the voters, the Governor appoints a replacement.
  • Write-in candidates are prohibited in judicial retention elections.
  • Eliminates straight-party vote in district court races.

Veggie Libel Law none HB 126 McClendon Failed in the full House by a vote of 54-80 on May 6.
Texas law permits producers of perishable food products to sue anyone who knowingly expresses false information suggesting that a food item is unsafe to eat. Dollar damages may be sought for loss of income. Opponents of this bill claim current law does not require so-called defamatory comments to be specific. Plaintiffs are allowed to claim libel by implication, they argue, plus public debate about food safety could be thwarted.
  • Repeals the false disparagement of perishable food products law passed in 1995.
  • The veggie libel law is most noted as the tool used to sue Oprah Winfrey for allegedly defaming the Texas beef industry.