The 'Loser Pays Bill': Yes, You're the Loser

Hello, loser: So Republicans in control of the Texas House this week managed to shove through a bunch of bills without debate. This caused a lot of Sturm und Drang—that's German for "really bitchy Tweets"—in the Legislature, chiefly among Democrats who believe the GOP's House supermajority is behaving in a dictatorial and undemocratic (little "d") fashion.

Silly, silly Democrats. Of course the GOPers are behaving like autocrats. Why should Republicans with a supermajority show any respect for opposing viewpoints now? They never did before.

More worrisome is the informal name of the bill that kicked off the hissiness. "Loser pays," it's called. Just who are these losers?

Take a look in the mirror for an answer, Mr. and Mrs. Little Person.

"This is going to hit the middle-class folks right where they live," says N. Alex Winslow, executive director of Texas Watch, a consumer advocacy group—or a front organization for Texas trial lawyers, at least according to Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which says the bill will reduce frivolous lawsuits. Of course, some might say TLR is shilling for big business and insurers.

Let's lay out the deal so you can decide: Say a large, wealthy corporation sells you a product that blows up, and you end up looking like the Elephant Man. You sue over your lost good looks. The company says you were already ugly and offers you a low-ball settlement, so you—Mr. Frivolous Elephant Man—take the case to trial. Under current law, if you lose—or win less than 80 percent of the settlement offer—the company can to make you pay part of its legal bills. But you'll never be forced to pay more than your judgment.

Under House Bill 274, forget that whole "never more than" thing. That's gone. If you win, but don't win quite enough, your ugly ass could go bankrupt trying to pay the losing side's lawyers. Think of it as the "Even Winners End Up Losing, Provided They Don't Have Really Deep Pockets" Bill.

As Winslow points out, HB 274 means a middle-class guy suing an insurance company over a denied claim risks losing his kids' college fund, his savings and his shirt if he doesn't settle. It sort of adds the thrill of high-stakes gambling to Texas' civil justice system, but as any poker player knows, you should never sit down to play against a rich guy. You'll just get driven from the table.

Or the justice system, as the case may be.

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Patrick Williams is editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Patrick Williams