When men drink, then they are rich and successful and win lawsuits and are happy and help their friends.
– Aristophanes, Knights, 424 b.c.
Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, was formerly best known as the man who took advantage of the tort laws to set himself up financially for the rest of his life. It began when he had the great misfortune to be hit by a limb that snapped off a large oak tree. The bad outcome of that event was that it crushed his spine and damaged his kidneys. The good outcome was that he never again had to worry about his financial security. That is because he successfully sued the homeowner on whose land the tree had lived its life and the tree doctor who had cared for the tree. No current figures are public as to how much he has received to date from the settlement that ended the lawsuit. A 2013 report in the Dallas Morning News says that a settlement of the lawsuit had, as of that date, paid him $6 million dollars and continued to provide him with a 6 figure annual income that he will receive for the rest of his life. By the time Abbott attains age 65 it is estimated he will have received more than $9 million and the payments continue and increase in amount until he dies.
As a result of his experience and the financial windfall the tree fall landed on him Abbott realized the need for tort reform in Texas so others would not have such exaggerated benefits from injuries they suffer. As governor he was the enthusiastic supporter of tort reform that, among other things, limited the amount a person could recover for pain and suffering and for economic damages. The terms of the Abbott settlement have not been disclosed so it is not possible to know how his settlement would have been affected had tort reform been in place. There is a strong likelihood it would have been considerably less.
It is not only plaintiffs in personal injury actions for whom Abbott has little sympathy today. In May he joined other states in announcing that effective June 26, 2021, Texas would no longer accept the $300 supplemental federal unemployment benefits that were to continue at least through September 6. Among the recipients of those payments were gig workers and self-employed Texans who did not qualify for state unemployment benefits. The federal payments to Texas came to an end on June 26.
From the foregoing a reader would be forgiven for assuming that Abbott is opposed to helping any citizen make money as a result of benefits provided by the legal system. That would be wrong. Contrary to his earlier efforts to make it harder for ordinary citizens get money thanks to the legal system, or more recently to obtain unemployment benefits, he has thrown his support behind a bill almost completely eliminating the ability of a woman in Texas to obtain an abortion that, in addition, provides the ordinary citizen the ability to earn good money by enforcing the new anti-abortion statute.
The new Texas law bans abortions after six weeks and imposes civil liability on those who violate its provisions. The Texas statute provides that “any person performing or inducing an abortion after six weeks” in violation of the statutory prohibition is subject to civil liability. In addition any person who “knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion” can be liable. Someone who drives a woman to an abortion clinic for an abortion, for a example could be civilly liable for having rendered that service to the pregnant woman since the transportation clearly aided the performance of the abortion.
The great news for the average Texas citizen is that the state of Texas depends on that citizen to enforce the new abortion laws. The statute specifically says that the new law may not be enforced by “this state, a political subdivision, a district or county attorney, or an executive or administrative officer or employee of this state or a political subdivision against any person. . . .” Lest the average citizen wonder how the statute can be enforced given that statutory injunction against governmental enforcement of its provisions, the following section of the statute answers that question. It provides that legal action against a person violating the statute can be brought by anyone other than “an officer or employee of a state or local governmental entity in this state.” Thus, enforcement depends on the ordinary citizen. And therein the good news for the ordinary citizen. The statute provides that if the ordinary citizen who brings such a suit is successful, the court shall, among other things, award the ordinary citizen: “statutory damages in an amount of not less than $10,000 for each abortion that the defendant performed or induced. . . and for each abortion that the defendant aided or abetted.”
In the future it is likely that abortion opponents s in Texas will, among other things, sit in front of abortion clinics writing down the license numbers of cars bringing patients to the clinic and use their photographic devices to photograph the driver. With that information it should be fairly easy for them to take steps that will permit them to collect the $10,000.000. That is, of course, only one of the opportunities afforded them by the new legislation. There are many other way a person can be culpable for having abetted someone seeking an abortion- just as there were many different claims Governor Abbott almost certainly made when he sued the home owner and the tree doctor, claims that provided him with a life time of financial security.