Bustos Law Firm

Archive for the ‘Humor’ Category

What Does Tort Reform Have in Common with Chuck Norris? Loser Pays

In Costly Litigation, Frivolous Lawsuits, H.B. 274, Humor, Litigation, Loser Pays, Texas Law, Tort Reform on August 4, 2011 at 9:18 AM

Chuck Norris may be able to beat the sun at a staring contest, yet even he has been victimized by meritless and costly lawsuits. Recently, two women sued Chuck Norris after they tried to tear each other’s hair out in the bathroom of one of his restaurants. The pugilistas based their lawsuit on the claim that a restaurant employee should have been present to stop the fight. It cost Chuck Norris $2,000 to pay them to drop their meritless suit—a resolution less expensive than litigating. Because exporting pain was a less than adequate expression of his frustration with a legal system that incentivizes such litigiousness, Chuck Norris recently co-authored an article in the Wall Street Journal, “A Texas Roundhouse for the Trial Lawyers,” in which he praised Texas’s new “loser pays.”

In his article, Chuck Norris points out that small businesses, which are the creators of 64% of American jobs, are usually the target of frivolous lawsuits, paying 81% of business tort liability costs in 2008. A small business earning $1 million must spend $20,000 annually on lawsuits, money that could have otherwise been spent on job creation or product development. Frivolous lawsuits also affect individual Americans; according to estimates, meritless lawsuits cost each American $838 a year. Additionally, groundless plaintiffs congest the legal system making the court system more difficult to navigate for those who have legitimate claims.

The “loser pays” law, Texas House Bill 274, becomes effective September 1, 2011. One of the most significant changes made by House Bill 274 is an instruction to the Texas Supreme Court to make rules for courts to dismiss meritless suits before hearing evidence on the claims. This is a landmark measure because Texas previously did not have a procedure to file a Motion to Dismiss; heretofore, the defendant had to endure costly discovery before disposing of the suit through a No-Evidence Motion for Summary Judgment.  To prevail under the new Motion to Dismiss measure, the defendant must show the court that the suit has no basis in law or in fact.

The teeth behind Texas’s new Motion to Dismiss is that it encompasses mandatory fee shifting: the party who prevails on a Motion to Dismiss, whether it is the plaintiff or the defendant, will be entitled to have their attorney’s fees paid by the losing party. For example, if the defendant files a Motion to Dismiss that is ultimately denied because the claim is based in law or fact, the case will continue through litigation and the defendant must pay the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees and costs incurred in responding to the Motion to Dismiss. The fee shifting aspect of the new Motion to Dismiss measure thus creates risk for both plaintiffs and defendants. Plaintiffs are less likely to assert frivolous lawsuits, and defendants are unlikely to move to dismiss non-frivolous lawsuits.

Other changes made by House Bill 274 include: (1) raising the caps on attorneys’ fees required to be paid by those who reject reasonable settlement offers; (2) instructions to the Texas Supreme Court to make new rules to limit discovery costs and expedite suits with claims under $100,000; (3) prohibiting joinder of responsible third  parties after the statute of limitations has expired; and (4) prohibiting defendants from designating responsible third  parties after the limitations period has expired (unless they did not know of the responsible third  party before the statute of limitations expired and they did not purposefully withhold such information).

With these significant changes, Texas is at the forefront of the effort to stop frivolous litigation and, in turn, to improve the economy by spurring job creation and product development. Come September 1, 2011, two old axioms will ring even more true: “Don’t press your luck with Chuck,” and “Don’t mess with Texas.” Those civil litigants who ignore these words of wisdom by filing frivolous lawsuits will be made to feel significant pain.

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How Many Lawyers Does It Take to Make a Pencil?

In Humor, Public Service on May 18, 2011 at 2:12 PM

The title of this blog sounds like the beginning of a good lawyer joke. We are all a fan of jokes – and lawyers, contrary to popular belief, do have a sense of humor. For instance, many of us West Texans find these jokes funny:

Q. Why did the Aggie get so excited after he finished his jigsaw puzzle in only 6 months?

A. Because on the box it said 2-4 years.

Q. What is the difference between the Aggies and Rice Crispies?

A. Rice Crispies know what to do in a bowl.

Q. Why did the Aggie stare at a frozen orange juice can for over an hour?

A. Because it said “concentrate.”

And finally…

A Longhorn, a Red Raider and an Aggie went into a bar for a drink. The Longhorn tells the bartender, I’ll have a TC. The bartender says ”what’s that?” The Longhorn says ”you know, a Tom Collins.” The Red Raider says ”I’ll have a PC.” The bartender says ”what’s that?” The Red Raider says “a Pina Colada.”

The Aggie says “I’ll have a 15.” The bartender says ”what’s that?” The Aggie says “you know, a seven & seven.”

We can all appreciate a good joke – and as lawyers, we are used to hearing them (hence, my attempt to pass the humor onto the Aggies!).

The title of this blog, however, is also one of the themes we recently presented to a bunch of elementary students. Recently we had the opportunity to speak with the fourth graders at Centennial Elementary School in Lubbock as part of the Lubbock Bar Association’s Law Day. We were given red, white and blue pencils to give to the students. We decided to use the pencil as a prop and asked the students “how many lawyers does it take to make a pencil?” As expected, they laughed and said “none” or “lawyers don’t make pencils” and similar statements. But, of course, lawyers do help make pencils. Lawyers are involved in all facets of life – agriculture, mining, international trade, manufacturing, employment, distribution, sales, and everything in between. All these different areas go into making a pencil. The students were, without a doubt, surprised.

We also put together an exercise that tied together negotiations, arguments, and contract formation. Pretty heavy stuff for fourth graders! But, we made it fun. Many in the class stated that lawyers argued and that, they to, liked to argue. They described instances when they would yell at their teacher or parent and plead their case. Their bubble was a bit burst, however, when we pointed out that a lawyer’s argument is not simply yelling and screaming at one another (temper tantrum were the words we used), but a reasoned approach in which the facts of a matter are tied together with the law – and conveyed in a persuasive and logical manner. They seemed a bit surprised by that. Based on that knowledge, we then negotiated a contract between the students and the teachers. The students agreed to give their teachers reasoned arguments based off of the facts of the matter and the classroom rules – all in a reasoned, calm manner. In turn, the teachers agreed to be fair, impartial, and listen to the whole argument before making a decision. Most of the students and all of the teachers agreed!

Finally, we also had the opportunity to talk to the students about how laws are made and how they impact every person. We knew they had been talking about the three branches of the government in their social studies class and wanted to touch on that. In the spirit of a true democracy, we held a popular referendum. It was voted, by an overwhelming majority, that the left handed students would do all the homework for the students in the class. Of course, the left handed students vehemently protested. They did not think that was fair – and rightfully so! This example was a great tool to show the importance of the judicial branch and the nature of our republican form of government. The students were very glad that there were safeguards in place to protect people that are not always in the majority.

The whole experience highlighted important messages – both to the students and to all lawyers. First, it is important for attorneys to be active in their community, be visible, and readily offer their knowledge and services. It is critical to the profession that we hold ourselves out as citizens that truly want to give back, offer our knowledge to the public, and contribute in a meaningful way to the community at large. Without such participation, we become the embodiment of many of the lawyer jokes we hear. Second, the students got to see that lawyers are more than their stereotypes and do more than Hollywood’s vision of a lawyer. Lawyers and the law actually do touch upon the students’  lives in ways they never dreamed – and as an attorney, they would have the opportunity to make a real and tangible impact on the world around them.

It is our hope that they look at their Law Day pencils and remember that a lawyer’s work is diverse. That as a lawyer, they can have the ability to make an impact in nearly any facet of our society. I also hope that they look at the pencil and remember that a lawyer’s greatest tool is their ability to think logically and make calm, persuasive arguments – and that even in the fourth grade, that tool can be used and sharpened – just like a pencil.

As for the negotiated contract…if you are a fourth grade teacher at Centennial, please let us know how the contract pans out!