Would you buy a study of tort reform from this man?

The, uh, gentleman who runs the Texas House of Representatives issued instructions to various House committees last November.  Speaker Tom Craddick charged the Committee on Civil Practices (yes, it’s plural) to research five things.  He put this at the top of the list:

Study the cumulative effects of Texas civil justice reforms enacted since 2003, with particular attention toward effects on Texas job creation, judicial efficiency, medical access, and medical malpractice insurance rates.

Blawgletter’s heart leaps at the thought of laying bare the true "effects" of recent "civil justice reforms" in the state from whose craggy soil we sprang and whose increasingly smoggy and substandard air we breathe every day.  Less justice!  Greater cost!  Additional despair!  Further cynicism!

We somehow doubt that the Honorable Speaker had those effects in mind.  But we do imagine that an objective look at the data he does want the Committee to examine would reveal some unpleasant facts:

  1. Texas job creation.  Reforms aimed to cabin or eliminate tort claims, substantively and procedurally, and therefore to cut the resources that go into obtaining compensation for tort victims’ injuries.  The savings might, in theory, "create" more Texas jobs — either because bidnesses now have more money to pay additional workers or because the reforms immunize the harm-causing work that before the reforms resulted in tort liability.  (We can talk about externalities — forcing others to subsidize your harmful activities — another time.) 
  2. Judicial efficiency.  We suppose that by efficiency the Speaker meant how much more quickly courts dispose of tort lawsuits.  (Because, you know, he really cares about expediting entry of judgments that favor plaintiffs.)
  3. Medical access.  This one looks like an invitation to count the number of doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, and other healers who’ve streamed into the Lone Star State since 2003.  (Including the hacks.)
  4. Medical malpractice insurance rates.  Have rates gone down?  (Does association equal causation?) 

Blawgletter would emphasize different — or at least more — questions.  To wit:

  1. Who pays the cost of not compensating tort victims adequately?  Tort liability shifts loss from victim to wrongdoer.  The loss doesn’t vanish just because the wrongdoer eludes full responsibility.  It just means that the tort victim absorbs the loss — or passes it on to taxpayers, and society generally, in the form of things like "free" healthcare at the county hospital emergency room, food stamps, disability payments, unemployment benefits, and the victim’s general inability to contribute as an active and able citizen and taxpayer.
  2. Does rationing civil justice make sense?  We favor efficiency in litigation but not if it means shorting individual cases.  Over the last decade, the number of civil trials has plummeted in Texas state courts while the number of cases that judges have taken out of the hands of juries has skyrocketed.  In a representative democracy, can we afford that kind of rationing?
  3. Have we started attracting better medical professionals — or the less capable?  And do poor and working class people benefit from the larger numbers?  Or do they still go to the emergency room for their primary care?
  4. What’s happened to the insurers’ underwriting profits on malpractice policies?  They’ve gone way up.  See, e.g., this.

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