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March 29th, 2012

Good News from the Eastern District of Texas: Reasonable Limits on Noneconomic Damages Upheld as Constitutional

Judicial Hellholes readers know that when we last reported on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas (ED Texas), it was to cite it as our #1 Watch List jurisdiction because certain judges there had allowed it to become the plaintiff-friendly “Center of the Patent Litigation Universe.”  So we’re now happy to report the good news that ED Texas Judge Rodney Gilstrap earlier this week upheld the constitutionality of Texas’s reasonable limits on noneconomic damages in medical liability cases, enacted by the legislature in 2003 and subsequently approved by voters.

As reported by LegalNewsline.com, a 2008 lawsuit engineered by the anti-business Center for Constitutional Litigation and several Texas plaintiffs’ firms “claimed the [limits] violated the Seventh Amendment (the right to a jury trial), the Petition Clause of the First Amendment, the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection clauses.” 

In hindsight, perhaps the plaintiffs also should have invoked the Desperately Clutching at Straws Clause of the all-purpose Kitchen Sink Amendment, because ultimately Judge Gilstrap dismissively saw fit in his curt one-page decision to adopt an earlier report and recommendations by a magistrate judge, who found that the 2003 limits have “not appropriated any of the plaintiffs’ property to [the State’s] own use.  . . . Rather, by limiting the amount of noneconomic damages . . . , the State has enacted legislation in an effort to ‘adjust the benefits and burdens of economic life to promote the common good.'”

And much good has indeed flowed from the 2003 reforms.  According to the Texas Alliance for Patient Access, Texas doctors have seen their liability rates cut in half and new doctors have flocked to the state in record numbers since 2003. Counties that lacked an orthopedic surgeon, an emergency medicine physician or a cardiologist now have one.  Furthermore, physician growth has outpaced population growth every year since 2007 and the ranks of high-risk specialists have grown twice as fast as the state’s population. 

All of which just goes to prove that trial lawyers can be hazardous to your health.

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