The Texas Supreme Court upheld a law recently aimed at stopping the dumping of out-of-state lawsuits in Texas courts. Most of these lawsuits were asbestos cases with roughly half of them pending in Jefferson, Orange, Galveston and Harris counties.
Legislation was enacted in 1997 to close a loophole in state law that had enabled more than 46,000 out-of-state cases to clog Texas courts. The law was challenged by a group of Alabama residents. They contended the law was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court disagreed.
“The total backlog of cases had nearly doubled in recent years,” said Jon Opelt, director of the Houston Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. “The backlog had become a burden not only on our courts but on Texans who had to wait longer for their own day in their own court.
In 1990, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Texas trial judges were powerless to dismiss personal injury lawsuits filed by out-of-state residents, even when none of the parties or facts relevant to the lawsuits were in any way connected to Texas.
Three years later, the Legislature changed the law to give judges discretion to dismiss out-of-state suits that could just as reasonably and conveniently be heard in their own state.
Exceptions were granted, however, for railroad, aircraft and asbestos cases. As a result, residents of 35 states flooded Texas courts with asbestos claims and judges were powerless to remove the cases from Texas courts.