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Cyrus Dugger

Tort Victim Tragedies: Second Edition - Texas

Welcome to Tort Victim Tragedies.

Each week I will highlight the case of an injured person who was (or likely will be) denied full justice because of changes made to state law by the national anti-civil justice movement (aka the "tort reform" movement). (first edition)

Unknown to most Americans, their right and their ability to access the courts are under assault from what is truly a mass movement by business interests to shield themselves from liability for their misconduct.

This "tort reform" movement frames its agenda as reasonable reform geared to protect corporations from what they describe as frivolous lawsuits which drive up the cost of business, and ostensibly hurt the state's economy.

In most of my posts, I will be addressing the fallacies of the anti-civil justice movement arguments. However, every Tuesday, I will do something unique and perhaps unprecedented.

One of the strengths of the anti-civil justice movement is its ability to put the spotlight on specific ludicrous sounding lawsuits in order to characterize the entire civil justice system as "out of control."

As I've described before in my previous post "Why You Should be Able to Sue McDonald's if You Spill Coffee on Yourself," and as I will continue to describe, often these characterizations distort and re-tell critical aspects of these cases which would otherwise support a finding that they were not frivolous.

One organization has a representative list of said spotlights.

This constant media barrage of outrageous lawsuits has shaped the public opinion against the very civil justice system which protects us.

As a response to this anti-civil justice media barrage, each week I will highlight the other side of this coin: the real victims who are left without access to full justice because of the effects of the laws pushed through the state legislatures by the anti-civil justice movement.

Please join us each week to read incredibly sobering stories regarding the effects of the anti-civil justice movement on real people's lives and families.

The second week highlights a case from Texas.

The names have been changed to protect the privacy of the victim and her family. Sadly, however, the story is true.

While in a San Antonio hospital receiving treatment for diabetes, Margaret developed a high fever and infection in her leg because health care workers neglected to remove a catheter. Doctors told her they would have to amputate her leg.

Margaret's daughter, Carol, insisted on a second opinion, but it was too late. Doctors had already amputated her mother's leg only to find the radical procedure was not necessary. Margaret lost her leg for no reason…

...The epidemic of medical malpractice has injured Margaret twice -- once when her leg was needlessly amputated and again when radical legal changes enacted at the behest of insurance industry lobbyists stacked the deck in favor of those who harmed her.

- N. Alex Winslow, Executive Director of Texas Watch

(click here for the full article)

Texas recently enacted a non-economic damage cap of $250,000 for all medical malpractice suits against individual doctors or practitioners. The legislation means that regardless of the jury's determination of the amount of compensation that should be paid to the victim for her pain and suffering for the unnecessary loss of her leg, as well as for the loss of the leg itself, the judge must reduce the reward to $250,000 (if it exceeds this amount).
For people who are not working or who are making low wages, the primary compensation that they will receive will be from non-economic damages, the very damages that are capped by the law. The imbalance most affects people like stay at home mothers, children, or retired elderly persons.

Case in point, the victim in this case was an elderly woman living in a nursing home who had no salary to speak of. As a result, aside from the medical expenses surrounding the treatment of her leg, this woman can only receive $250,000 from the responsible doctor or practitioner (unless the court grants rarely awarded puntive damages)

Imagine if this were you, and all that you got aside from payment of your additional medical expenses and compensation for your lost wages from the responsible person was $250,000?

The "tort reform" movement's aggressive agenda to limit access to the courts has real consequences for real people. Ironically, Texas is ranked by a supporter of these types of restrictions as the state with the "best" civil justice system.

Please help resist these reforms.

To read the first edition click here.

To contact an organization in Texas workng on these issues, click here.

If you or your organization is interested in learning more about or working on these types of civil justice issues, please feel free to contact me at

Cyrus Dugger
Senior Fellow in Civil Justice
Drum Major Institute for Public Policy

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Posted at 11:51 AM, Aug 02, 2006 in Civil Justice
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