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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

Corporate Immunity?

Lately, insurance industry backed lobby outfits and corporate funded think tanks have started a flurry of press releases and opinion pieces in papers all across Texas. They are pushing news stories in the state and national press spinning a yarn about what they perceive to be the success of so-called tort “reform” in Texas.

What’s all the fuss about? If everything is as rosy as they are trying to make it sound then why the sudden PR onslaught? Wasn’t it Hamlet that said something about protesting too much?

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Texas families are beginning to realize they were duped back in 2003 when these special interests were pushing a package of radical legal changes designed to strip individuals of their legal rights. We were promised big improvements for Texas families, but it has all turned out to be little more than an avenue for insurance companies, polluters, liquor store operators, and corporate wrongdoers to escape accountability.

This all began more than two decades ago when lawmakers who were earnest in their desire to correct a perceived imbalance in our legal system first started considering legislation to curtail access to our courts. This desire for “reform” was corrupted by insurance and corporate interests that are more interested in immunity than in fairness. As a result, Texas families have had a corporate immunity agenda thrust upon them.

In 2003 this corporate immunity movement reached its pinnacle when lawmakers shielded the medical and insurance industries from accountability at the behest of a small band of powerful corporate interests. Now, in order to defend the indefensible, the insurance companies and their talking heads are falling back on misleading rhetoric that is far removed from the reality facing most Texans.

Instead of fulfilling the promise of making healthcare more accessible, improving quality standards, and lowering the cost of healthcare for families, this agenda has exacerbated the problem by threatening patient safety and clouding the real issue facing underserved communities who still struggle to attract good doctors.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, though. The corporate immunity agenda is about using the legislature, the courts, and state agencies to throw up roadblocks so that individuals are unable to hold a wrongdoer accountable.

The Texas Supreme Court has become the latest enabler for the insurance industry and corporate CEOs who are pushing this radical agenda. In one recent decision, the Texas Supreme Court recently provided oil companies, chemical plants, and manufacturing interests a road map to immunity when they fail to ensure the safety of workers who toil in their facilities. This controversial decision has been widely criticized as judicial activism run amok. It ignores the legislature’s clear intent and throws decades of established law out the window. The Houston Chronicle editorial board said that the decision “offends not only the law, but also court precedent, legislative intent, reason, custom and common notions of justice.”

Additionally, these same interests are attempting to use state agencies to block access to the legal system. Take the Texas Residential Construction Commission as an example. This agency was created under the auspices of streamlining disputes between builders and homeowners. In reality this agency is operated by and for the homebuilding industry. It has become little more than a blockade for homebuyers who are left with a shoddy home and no real recourse.

The common thread in all of this is a desire to shield powerful interests from accountability by blocking Texas families from gaining access to the legal system, making the courts a venue that is the exclusive domain of insurance companies and corporate CEOs.

Instead of more insurance industry talking points and press releases explaining away the sad reality we all face, Texas families need real reforms that restore balance and fairness to our legal system. We must all recommit ourselves to honest reforms that strengthen protections for Texas families and ensure full and complete accountability for all Texans.

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