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Texas : Features : Columns : Letters From North America :

Malpractice Insurance

by Peary Perry
Peary Perry
When asked about what this column is about, I usually respond with Ö Ďoh, itís a humor columnÖkind of satireÖí something along that line. I was thinking that this week I could write a light piece about something humorous, but no, not going to happen this week.

In Texas, when you hire an attorney to do some work for you, Iíll bet you didnít know that attorneys are not required to carry malpractice insurance for their practices. At least half of those practicing in Texas do not carry the coverage. Now, we all know that doctors carry malpractice in case they cut off the wrong leg or do something equally tragic to cause any of us injury. I donít know that I would do business with a doctor who wasnít insured. Iím not certain if insurance is required for doctors, but you certainly hear more about them than you do attorneys. Read on a little further.

Anyway, here in the great old Lone Star state, if an attorney screws up your case, and has no insurance, the most you can hope for is a settlement from something called the Texas Bar Client Security Fund which allows for the payment of a maximum of $30,000 for any mistakes made by the attorney on your behalf. Last year, the fund settled 74 cases for an average of $5,900 a case.

WowÖ..Iím impressed.

The story I read goes on to tell about a guy whose attorney failed to file his patent agreements on time. The guy sued and won a 10 million dollar judgment, but the attorney claims he has no assetsÖ so about the only way any recovery can be made is through this fund. Thirty grand isnít much when compared to the ten million is it?

There isnít any hard and fast rule requiring practicing attorneys to make any contributions to the fund on an annual basis. Currently the amount paid out equals to $5.66 for each practicing lawyer in Texas. The fund pays out benefits from the interest it generates from an endowment of about 3 million dollars. If they paid out $437,000 last year, that must mean there are over 70,000 attorneys in Texas. Way too many if you ask me.

It gets worseÖin order to even file for any type of claim under the rules of the fund; the injured party must first file a grievance with the state bar. A hearing on this matter might take anywhere from a year to two years to be heard. Then, if the attorney gets reprimanded, a claim for damages can be filed. The system must find that the lawyer violated some rules of professional conduct. Remember a maximum of $30,000 is all that could be paid in any event.

The Texas Supreme Court authorized a committee to look at whether or not attorneys should be forced to disclose if they had malpractice insurance or not. Last month, by a vote of 6 to 5, they voted that notice should not be required. Texas is only one of three states to vote against such a measure. Twenty three states require disclosure.

So, what does all of this mean? Well, itís simple. Itís a little like going to Las Vegas, you pays your money and you takes your chances. Not much comfort in the system is there? Doesnít exactly warm your old heart.

Here we have another clear cut case of self dealing. The attorneys make the laws as well as enforce the laws as well as interpret the laws. Donít think for a minute itís going to change because it isnít. You and me are going to be in the dark and forced to stumble through life like blind mice in a maze. The attorneys make the rules for us to follow, but not for them. All of us in business have to carry insurance on our various enterprises, but the people we should be able to trust to help us with legal guidance do not have to follow this rule. What a crock, if you ask me.

Iím certain there are plenty of attorneys out there who do look after the best interests of their clients and who do carry liability insurance in case someone in their firm makes a costly mistake.

You would think it would be those who are abiding by the rules, who would be the ones leading the charge to require all of their colleagues to do the same, wouldnít you? One bad apple spoils the barrel.

Or in this case, should I say half the bad apples spoil the entire barrel?


© Peary Perry
Letters From North America
June 26, 2008 column
Syndicated weekly in 80 newspapers
Comments go to pperry@austin.rr.com
 
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