Dick Weekley Trims Lawsuits in Texas

  • Public-Policy Reform
  • 1994

Houston real-estate developer Dick Weekley worried that runaway litigation costs in trial-lawyer-friendly Texas were imperiling the state’s business environment. So in 1994 he and several allies founded a nonprofit called Texans for Lawsuit Reform. The group’s mission statement called lawsuit abuse “the No. 1 threat to Texas’s economic future.”

At first, Weekley contributed his time to the project. Before long, he was contributing his money and raising additional funds from other Texans. Within two years, TLR had convinced the state legislature to put some limits on punitive-damage awards. As the organization pushed for more changes and helped finance the campaigns of like-minded political candidates, it attracted a mass following. In 2014, TLR had more than 16,000 individual supporters, representing 1,266 different trades and professions, from 857 towns across the state. “Membership continues to grow because Texans recognize that a small, powerful group of plaintiff lawyers are abusing the system for financial gain, resulting in harm to consumers and the Texas economy,” said Weekley. “Other groups have raised more money,” wrote Texas Monthly in 2011, “but none have been so singleminded in their pursuit of an ideological goal.”

TLR’s biggest breakthroughs came in 2003. To supplement its research and educational work, the organization had added a political-action arm, TLR PAC, to fund candidates. The PAC’s donations played a key role in the 2002 Republican takeover of the Texas House of Representatives (which Democrats had controlled since Reconstruction). A flood of reforms followed in the next legislative year. Lawmakers overhauled the rules on medical-malpractice lawsuits, for example, adopting a cap on non-economic damages.

By 2008, TLR could take credit for almost two dozen important reforms, and Texas had transformed itself from lawsuit mecca to leader in legal moderation. An  economic analysis calculated that 8.5 percent of the state’s economic growth since 1995 was due to lawsuit reform. It credited lawsuit reform with bringing 499,000 new jobs, a 21 percent reduction in medical liability insurance costs, and health insurance coverage for 430,000 formerly uninsured Texans. After raising more than $100 million from donors in its first 20 years, TLR continues to pursue adjustments to the state civil-justice system in each legislative session.

  • “New group hopes to quell lawsuit abuse,” Houston Chronicle, August 30, 1994
  • The Perryman Group, “Texas Turnaround: The Impact of Lawsuit Reform on Economic Activity in the Lone Star State,” April 2008