DURHAM, N.C. --October 25 -- The Texas "tort reform" experiment, signed into law by Gov. George Bush in 1995 - and now held as the model for the national movement to restrict legal penalties against wrongful corporate behavior|
- has proved to be a disaster for consumers, workers and small business owners, according to a new investigation by award-winning Southern Exposure magazine.
"So-called 'tort reform' has become a hot issue this election year, but few have looked at the record in Texas," said Chris Kromm, publisher of the North Carolina-based investigative magazine. "This report shows in disturbing detail what could happen if powerful interests succeed in making Lone Star justice the law of the land."
"Tort Reform, Lone Star Style," by journalist Stephanie Mencimer details the special interests behind the pioneering Texas movement to limit legal penalties, and the impact it's had on citizens seeking legal recourse in the state. Among other findings, the Southern Exposure special investigation reveals:
*** Key corporate backers of the Texas "tort reform" movement have included a laundry list of corporate wrong-doers, including Ken Lay, CEO of Enron; Richard Weekly, a homebuilder frequently sued for dangerous home construction; James Leininger, who headed up Kinetic Concepts, maker of hospital beds known for dropping and crushing patients; and Jim "Mattress Mac" McIngvale, a furniture store owner sued after a 300-pound lion at his Texas Flea Market mauled an 8-year-old girl, tearing off part of her skull.
*** The interests behind "tort reform" have been critical to George W. Bush's political career. Groups and individuals associated with "tort reform" donated over $4 million to Gov. Bush's campaigns, more than any interest category other than oil and gas companies.
*** Since Gov. Bush signed legislation to limit penalties in 1995, personal injury suits filed in Texas have plummeted 40%, despite a rapid rise in the state's population. Many victims of crooked businesses now can't find lawyers to take their cases; for example, even though a 2002 federal study found that 40% of Texas nursing homes committed violations that caused harm or put residents at risk of death or injury, and 90% didn't meet federal staffing standers, medical malpractice lawsuits have dropped 80% in Texas since "tort reform" was made law.
*** Those suffering from the "tort reform" agenda include consumers, workers, and also small businesses, such as a family computer company that was unable to stop a large corporation from wrongfully forcing them out of software contract, because the penalties were so small.
Southern Exposure is published by the non-profit Institute for Southern Studies. Recent SE investigations have won the 2003 George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting, a 2nd Place "Green Eyeshade Award" in 2003 from the Society for Professional Journalists, and honorable mentions from the National Press Club and White House Correspondents' Association. "Tort Reform, Lone Star Style" was made possible due to support from the Fund for Investigative Journalism, the Alicia Patterson Foundation, and the Bob Hall Investigative Action Fund at the Institute for Southern Studies.