You might think a man who received a multi-million-dollar settlement after a freak accident would support civil lawsuits for people who are injured. You might be wrong. (More)
Árbol Squirrel is a healthy tree. That’s why Mrs. Squirrel and I chose to live there. Well, that and because Árbol Squirrel overlooks the BPI
hot tub faculty lounge squirrel bath. That convenience aside, we chose it because it’s a healthy tree and we wouldn’t want our home to suddenly break off and fall over on some unsuspecting passerby.
That happened to a 26-year-old law student, back in 1984. He was jogging down a street in Houston when a 75-foot-tall oak tree snapped off at the base, fell over, and landed on him. The young man had no job, no health insurance, and would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
The tree was in the yard of a wealthy Houston attorney. The law student sued the homeowner and his tree service, claiming they knew or should have known that the tree was dangerous, and should have posted warnings and taken steps to prevent it from falling. The case never went to trial but the parties reached a settlement that covered over $80,000 in medical expenses, plus lost income, and pain and suffering. Over the past 29 years, that settlement has paid the former law student over $5 million and it will continue to pay him a monthly income for the rest of his life.
After all that, you might think the former law student would be a strong supporter of civil lawsuits for people who suffer injuries. And you would be wrong.
That former law student, Greg Abbot, went on to become a lawyer and a trial judge before then-Gov. George W. Bush appointed him to the Texas Supreme Court, where he served for six years. He is currently the state attorney general, and has boasted “I go into the office in the morning, I sue Barack Obama, and then I go home.”
But he’s not much fond of other Texans filing lawsuits. As a trial judge and a state supreme court justice, Abbot worked to make it easier for doctors, corporations, and other defendants to win lawsuits like the one he filed. He also backed a 2003 Texas law that caps damages in medical malpractice lawsuits.
Like Gov. Perry, Abbot said that would keep doctors from leaving Texas and bring more doctors into the state, and a 2007 New York Times article seemed to confirm that. But the Times reporter got sketchy data. Yes, the number of doctors in Texas was rising, but at exactly the same rate as before the damages cap was passed.
In fact, a 2012 study found the Texas law did not bring more doctors in or keep doctors from leaving. Not for general practitioners. Not for specialists. Not in urban hospitals. Not in rural clinics.
The law’s only effect was to ensure that – if a Texas doctor leaves a patient paralyzed from the waist down – the patient will not get the kind of settlement Abbot still enjoys.
Abbot would, I’m sure, cite the usual arguments for ‘tort reform’: that ‘frivolous’ lawsuits are a tax on productive activity and siphon away wealth, that buyers and sellers or doctors and patients should have the ‘freedom’ to negotiate assumption of risk, and that free market allocate risk most efficiently and people who really want more safety will pay extra for it.
But none of that mattered when a tree fell on him. A lawsuit gave him a ride to the top of the ladder – earning six-figure government salaries while receiving a monthly payment for “lost income” – and ever since he’s been trying to pull the ladder up behind him.
Oh, and he’s running for governor. Because the tree of Texas government isn’t rotten enough yet, I guess.
Good day and good nuts.