April 13, 2000
Contact: Cristen Feldman
Court Quickly, Unanimously Goes With Cash
Insurance Industry Wins Big, Texas Consumers Suffer
Austin, TX: On February 9, 2000 the Texas Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Henson v. Texas Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance. On February 23, 2000 defendant Texas Farm Bureau gave Justice Nathan Hecht $2000. On March 1, 2000 Texas Farm Bureau gave another $2000 to Justice Alberto Gonzales. Today, April 13, 2000, the court delivered a unanimous opinion for defendant Texas Farm Bureau.
"Justice is in crisis in Texas. Money appears to talk louder than justice. What may be an appearance of impropriety is looking more and more like blunt reality. The Texas Farm Bureau knew when to write the checks," stated Cristen Feldman, Director of the TPJ judicial reform project.
The Texas Farm Bureau has given a total of $16,500 to sitting justices over the past several years. Insurance interests have contributed a combined $330,000 since 1994. Mr. Henson and his attorney contributed nothing.
In Henson v. Texas Farm Bureau, Mr. Henson, a Ropesville, Texas farmer, was injured in an auto accident on March 3, 1991. He sued insurance companies Texas Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance and Southern Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance when they refused his claim. The jury found for Mr. Henson. However, the Texas Supreme Court refused to grant Mr. Henson prejudgment interest.
Prejudgment interest is compensation given to a plaintiff for the lost use of money. A plaintiff can typically collect prejudgment interest if there is a lapse of time between the development of a claim and the date of judgment. In this case Mr. Henson had to wait seven years as the insurance companies dragged their feet.
"This opinion does two things. First, it provides an incentive for insurance companies to sit on claims, litigate, and clog our courts with items that should be settled. This opinion is another costly slap in the face to Texas consumers," stated Mr. Feldman
"Second, the timing of the contributions from the Texas Farm Bureau appears to confirm what 99% of attorneys and 86% of judges said last year in a Texas Supreme Court poll - campaign cash influences judicial opinions. Mr. Henson probably feels like the losing contestant on The Price Is Right."
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Texans for Public Justice is non-profit, non-partisan research
and advocacy group that tracks money in Texas politics.
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