By David Yates
Southeast Texas Record
March 17, 2014
HOUSTON (Legal Newsline) – While Texas may never match the natural beauty of California, the Lone Star State’s legal and business climate keeps attracting more and more California businesses every year.
But despite Texas’ current legal and business model, Houston trial lawyer Steve Mostyn continues to spend millions each election cycle in what some see as an effort to turn Texas back into the “litigation capitol of the world.”
“Whether he is backing Democrats or Republicans, Mostyn’s motive appears to be to roll back tort reform in Texas and return our state to the days when plaintiff trial lawyers controlled the Texas legislature and the court,” said Sherry Sylvester, a spokesperson for TLR PAC.
TLR PAC is the political action committee of Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a group that has targeted Mostyn with criticism in the past.
Mostyn, who made millions upon millions suing the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, keeps an office in Austin – his home away from home during Texas legislative sessions.
And his presence has not gone unnoticed by Texas legislators.
Texas Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, one of the architects behind the “Loser Pays” bill, says that although he respects that Mostyn represents the little guy, he and lawyers like him cannot be allowed to impede Texas’ tort reform efforts.
“I’m all for keeping the courthouse doors open,” he said. “But at the same time, we can’t let (trial lawyers) undo tort reform.”
The representative used California as an example of what happens to a state where trial lawyers run free, saying that California continues to fall backward while the stigma of Texas being the ligation capitol of the world continues to fall off thanks to tort reform.
The American Tort Reform Foundation ranked California the No. 1 judicial hellhole in the nation in 2013.
One of Creighton’s colleagues, Texas Rep. Rick Miller, R-Sugar Land, agrees with his fellow representative’s outlook, saying the Texas model is being copied by other states.
When asked about Mostyn’s efforts to unravel tort reform, Miller said, “We can’t let that happen.”
“People have to know what he’s up to,” he said. “We lose Texas; we lose our nation.”
When it comes to dealing with both Mostyn and TWIA, perhaps no Texas legislator has more experience than Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, who previously served as a co-chairman of the Windstorm Insurance Legislative Oversight Board.
“I’ve probably been more involved in this than anybody who wasn’t getting paid to do it,” Taylor said with a chuckle.
Taylor believes Mostyn, and attorneys like him, are, in a sense, conditioning people to sue their insurance provider after every disaster.
“People see their neighbors enriching themselves from insurance lawsuits, so they, in turn, sue just to see what they can get,” Taylor said. “It’s no cost to them. It costs no money to sue, and lawyers reap 30 to 40 percent of the settlement.”
Taylor says eventually the mass litigation against insurance providers will “collapse the insurance market or drive up rates to an extreme amount.”
When asked if Texas needed more tort reform, Taylor answered: “Absolutely.”
“There is a place for the trial lawyer, but when they start feeding at the trough, you have to cut them off for the sake of our business climate and to keep our premium insurance dollar as low as possible,” he said.
Overall, TLR believes tort reform has gained bedrock support from members of both political parties in Texas over the past 20 years, and that Texans want tort reform measures upheld.
“However, as time passes, there are fewer and fewer people who recall the poor economic conditions and job losses in Texas pre-reform, as well as the crisis created when high medical liability insurance costs drove doctors out of the state,” Sylvester said.
“For that reason, ongoing public information is critical to make sure Texas does not become vulnerable to someone like Mostyn who has a single-minded, self-interested agenda and unlimited amounts of money to spend on campaigning and lobbying.”
Despite all of Texas’ past tort reform efforts, lawsuits against TWIA, even after the passing of the second anniversary of Hurricane Ike, continued to storm Southeast Texas courthouses by the thousands.
“People went years without filing a claim, then, all of a sudden file a lawsuit first claiming to have 45 percent damage to their home,” Taylor said.
“It’s impossible. You can’t live in a home with 45 percent damage. And you certainly can’t live in a home that damaged and not know it. They only know it’s that damaged after a trial lawyer tells them.”
As for the current state of TWIA, Taylor says the entity has been reformed and can now pay claims quicker. And “at the end of the day, people can still sue” if they are not happy.
However, when and if a hurricane bigger than Ike waltzes through Texas again, it will cause problems, he said.
While the futures of both TWIA and Mostyn’s ultimate political designs remain a topic of speculation, TLR and Sylvester are at least pretty certain of one thing – it’s “difficult to imagine a future environment in Texas in which a personal injury trial lawyer who is as radically liberal as Steve Mostyn would be a viable candidate for significant office in our state.”
Through his media spokesman, Jeff Rotkoff, Mostyn declined to be interviewed.
Rotkoff said Mostyn and his wife, Amber Anderson, who is also a Mostyn Law Firm shareholder, would not participate in any story written by Legal Newsline because it is owned by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.