I wanted to congratulate my friend and fellow board member of the Tarrant County Trial Lawyers Association, Wade Barrow, for his excellent letter to the editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in today’s paper. Here it is:
Texas Attorney General — and gubernatorial candidate — Greg Abbott sat down with the Texas Tribune last week for a candid conversation about his personal injury settlement stemming from the tragic 1984 accident that left him a paraplegic.
While the amount of the initial settlement of $3 million (resulting in an at least an $8 million payout to him by 2022) is a large sum of money in some cases, Abbott’s statement that he has been “injured in a way that no amount of money will compensate” is accurate.
It is a sentiment echoed by his fellow Texans who have experienced catastrophic injury. Even Abbott recognizes that $8 million is inadequate to compensate someone with these types of injuries.
However, what is not true is Abbott’s assertion that all of the same remedies would be available today to a fellow Texan who suffered catastrophic injuries.
Since Abbott’s settlement, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, one of his most loyal and robust contributors, has been on a perpetual mission to eliminate the rights of catastrophically injured Texans.
The list of limitations that Texans for Lawsuit Reform has passed since 1986, with the help of politicians like Abbott, that would directly limit his claim if he were to make it today include limitations on medical care in the past, lost wages and punitive damages. Abbott’s settlement document specifically references punitive damages.
However, the much graver threat to Abbott’s case today is the Texas Supreme Court’s continued insistence on substituting its judgment for that of juries. In fact, since Abbott’s settlement, the Texas Supreme Court has repeatedly held that “naturally occurring conditions” do not create an unreasonable risk of harm.
Based on this legal precedent, cases similar to Abbott’s are thrown out of court without a jury hearing them. While it is only known generally that a tree fell on Abbott, it is likely that the Texas Supreme Court would dismiss such a case.
If the Court ruled in that manner, Abbott or anyone with the same type of case would collect nothing today.
Catastrophically injured Texans now often find themselves without the legal remedies Abbott had at the time of his settlement, and they are forced to go on government assistance at taxpayer expense because the liable party cannot be held accountable for negligent acts.
It is impossible to reconcile Abbott’s longstanding relationship with Texans for Lawsuit Reform and his own personal experience. Either Abbott made what he would now have to concede are likely “frivolous” claims for his personal injury settlement, or he is complicit in supporting legislation and court opinions that he knows to be unjust based on his own life experience.
Throughout the interview Abbott regularly defended the amount of money he received in his personal injury settlement. His vigorous defense of the settlement could give the impression he is secretly ashamed of the amount of money he received.
Abbott should have no shame in obtaining a multimillion-dollar settlement for his catastrophic personal injuries. But he absolutely should be ashamed of accepting that settlement money and then turning his back on similarly situated Texans by leading the charge to strip them of their rights.