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May 16, 2003   
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Tort Reform Legislation Passed By Senate

Senator Bill Ratliff
Senator Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant explains the provisions of CSHB 4, the lawsuit reform bill, to the Senate. The legislation, which caps non-economic damage awards at $750,000 per claimant, received final approval today. The bill now goes to a conference committee with the house.

Austin - Legislation aimed at ending what some Senators call lawsuit abuse received the approval of the Senate today. Mount Pleasant Senator Bill Ratliff said the Senate Committee Substitute to House Bill (CSHB) 4 strikes a fair balance by providing for adequate regress for those plaintiffs with truly egregious damages and placing caps on non-economic damage awards. Ratliff, chair of the committee that heard the bill, hopes that it will drive down or stabilize insurance rates.

The State Affairs Committee held eleven hearings and heard more than 61 hours of testimony on CSHB 4 before passing its version to the full Senate. The final bill addresses class action lawsuits, settlement offers, trial venues, products liability, seat belts, medical malpractice, volunteer immunity and liability, and liability relation to asbestos claims.

CSHB 4 would provide a liability limit on individual defendant awards at $250,000, $500,000 for each hospital or other health care institution, and an overall cap of $750,000 per claimant. In addition, the bill would make changes in the qualifications required of experts for reports and bring the access to patient records section in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.

The tort reform bill would also provide for a 15-year limit to the time a lawsuit may be filed for product liability and relieve non-manufacturing sellers from responsibility from harm, unless they took specific actions.

Limits would be placed on liability for school employees, fire fighters, Texas Department of Transportation employees, and non-profit hospitals that provide certain levels of charity care under CSHB 4.

Additionally, the legislation would permit the fact that a person was not wearing a seat belt to be admissible in court.

The bill passed by a 28-3 vote of the Senate. The three dissenting Senators were Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin, Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso, and Mario Gallegos of Houston. Barrientos said that the bill would cut off access to the courts for a lot of people and attempts to put a price on a person's death or disability.

The Senate will reconvene, Monday, May 19, 2003, at 11:00 a.m.

Session video and all other Senate webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's Audio/Video Archive.