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Politician Who Fought To Cap Medical Malpractice Awards Received Huge Personal Injury Settlement 30 Years Ago

New York proponents of tort reform have looked to Texas as a model for a proposed law. In 2003, Texas capped pain and suffering awards in medical malpractice suits at $250,000. Greg Abbott, a gubernatorial candidate who was then attorney general, supported the cap.

But as he runs for governor, critics have questioned how a man who received a multimillion dollar settlement after a falling tree left him paralyzed and wheelchair bound can support caps on medical malpractice awards, according to The New York Times this month. Abbot thus far has collected more than $5 million for his injuries and will receive $15,000 a month, with cost-of-living increases, for the rest of his life.

When Abbott was a 26-years-old unemployed law school graduate without health insurance in 1984, a tree fell on him while he was jogging. The insurance companies for the homeowner and a tree inspection company paid Abbott a huge settlement for his claim, a settlement that would not be available today to someone who suffered the same injury but because of the negligence of a doctor thanks to the cap Abbott supported.

About half of Abbott’s award goes to medical bills according to court records. But much of the settlement came from noneconomic losses for pain and suffering and mental anguish, the same kind of losses Abbott now fights to cap, said Don Riddle, the lawyer who represented him in that case. Riddle is critical of Abbott’s pro-tort reform stance.

Abbott claims that caps are needed to keep healthcare costs in check. He also justifies his position by pointing out that his settlement was not based on medical malpractice and there is still no cap on nonmedical injuries. But Charles M. Silver, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, said changes in personal injury law and a pro-defendant posture in the judicial branch would still make such a large financial award today substantially less likely.

The New York Times has accused New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver of having a conflict of interest when voting against tort reform while working for a personal injury law firm. It has not yet weighed in on what it thinks of Greg Abbott.