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Filing Frenzy: What the Bills Pending in the Legislature Say and Why They Matter to You

By: Jackie Cooper 

Friday was the last day to file bills and resolutions in this 84th Regular Legislative Session.  At last count, 7061 bills and resolutions had been filed.  The following are just a handful of proposed new laws that litigators across the state are watching closely: 

HB 956 – Narrows Chapter 74’s Definitions of Health Care Liability Claim and Claimant

HB 956 addresses the scope of health care liability claims, governed by Chapter 74 of the Civil Practice & Remedies Code.  Recent Texas Supreme Court cases, including Texas West Oaks Hospital, L.P. v. Williams, have been interpreted as expanding the types of health care liability claims subject to the damages caps set out in Chapter 74. 

HB 956 seeks to amend key terms in Chapter 74, including “claimant” and “health care liability claim.” The definition of “claimant” would change to a “patient, including a deceased patient’s estate,” rather than a “person, including a decedent’s estate.” It would include “both the patient and the party seeking recovery of damages” in cases in which another person is bringing the claims on behalf of the patient or the patient’s estate.  

The new definition of “health care liability claim” would state that such claims arise from “treatment, lack of treatment, or other claimed departure from accepted standards of medical care, or health care, or safety directly related to health care….”  HB 956 also would add that the term “does not include claims arising from an injury to or death of a person who is not a patient, including employment and premises liability claims.”  This is perhaps the most direct attempt to address West Oaks and similar cases.

The bill was authored by Rep. Chris Turner (D - Arlington/Grand Prairie). It is still in the House and has been referred to the Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence committee.  This is similar to a bill that was introduced in the last session that did not pass.

HB 969 – No Evidence of Net Worth for Exemplary Damages

Discovery and admission of evidence of net worth has long been a point of contention for litigators on both sides of the bar, due in large part to the lack of guidance on the issue.  HB 969 would omit “the net worth of defendant” as a factor in the jury’s determination of the amount of an award of exemplary damages, pursuant to Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code Section 41.011.  The Code also would state, unequivocally, that “[e]vidence of the financial condition or net worth of a party is not relevant for the purpose of supporting a claim for or the amount of exemplary damages.” 

The bill was authored by Rep. Ken King (R - Hemphill). It is still in the House and has been referred to the Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence committee. 

HB 247 - Attorney's Fee Agreements

HB 247 would limit claims that could be brought pursuant to certain contingent fee agreements.  Clients’ rights to pursue claims would be limited to situations where the contingent fee agreement (1) complies with statutory requirements for express disclosures regarding calculations of fees and expenses, and/or (2) involves multiple clients, an aggregate settlement, and inclusion of certain terms.   

Any action would have to be based on allegations that the agreement was obtained by corruption, coercion, force, fraud, or other undue means, or that the agreement was forged as provided by the Texas Penal Code.  With respect to claims related to settlement of matters involving multiple clients which are brought on any other grounds, there would be an irrebuttable presumption favoring the defendant(s) and mandating dismissal on the motion of a party.

The bill was filed by Rep. Richard Raymond (D - Laredo). It is still in the House and has been referred to the Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence committee. 

HB 419 - Federal Income Tax Liability for Damages Awarded in Civil Actions

HB 419 would amend Chapter 41 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code to require a defendant to compensate a plaintiff for any federal income tax liability arising from an award of damages.

The bill was filed by Rep. Gene Wu (D – Houston). It is still in the House and has been referred to the Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence committee. 

SB 64 - Relating to Appellate Court Procedures and Deadlines in Civil Actions

SB 64, also known as the “Appellate Court Accountability Act,” would establish deadlines for the Texas Supreme Court and intermediate courts of appeals to act on civil appeals. 

The Texas Supreme Court would have 90 days from the date of filing to deny a petition for review if it does not request a response and 180 days if it does not request full briefing on the merits. The Court would have 300 days after the petition is filed to grant or deny the petition, if it requests briefing.  If the Court determines that the issues relate to a pending decision, it could place the petition on hold.  The Supreme Court also would have to issue a decision for all cases in which it grants a petition during the “term of court” in which the petition for review was granted, absent “extraordinary circumstances.”

SB 64 would require the courts of appeals to announce whether oral argument has been granted in a civil appeal no later than 60 days after the “final brief” is filed. Oral argument would have to be held within 120 days after the final brief is filed.  The court would have 90 days after oral argument, if any, or the date oral argument is denied, in which to issue its decision.

The bill was filed by Sen. Don Huffines (R – Dallas). It is still in the Senate and has been referred to the State Affairs committee. 

 

Jackie Cooper is a litigator and handles primarily business disputes and defense of professional liability claims, including medical and legal malpractice.

For a current version of each bill, please see Texas Legislature Online at http://www.capitol.state.tx.us


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