Tag Archives: Texas

Affluenza and Why Being Rich May Get You Out of Jail Time After a DWI

Sixteen-year-old Ethan Couch, drove a pickup truck pickup at up to 70 mph drunk. He caused a crash that killed four pedestrians who were standing at the roadside.

In a case that has made national headlines, a judge sentenced him to 10 years’ probation. The reason? He came from a rich family.


That’s not a totally accurate summary but it’s the way the case has played out in the media. The judge sentenced Couch after hearing a psychologist called by the defense, arguing he suffers from “affluenza,” a condition in which children from rich families behave irresponsibly due to a sense of entitlement.

Before the sentencing the psychologist, Dick G. Miller, testified that the teen’s life could be salvaged with a couple of years of treatment and no contact with his parents.

Miller explained Couch’s parents gave him “freedoms no young person should have.” He called the teen a product of “affluenza,” a condition whereby his family felt that wealth bought privilege and there was no rational link between his behavior and its consequences.

According to the Star Telegram, Miller testified that the teen was never disciplined, and enjoyed freedoms “no young person should have,” including the freedom to drive since the age of 13.

“The teen never learned to say that you’re sorry if you hurt someone. If you hurt someone, you sent him money.”

Local station KHOU reported that Miller told the hearing Couch’s family “felt that wealth bought privilege and there was no rational link between behavior and consequences.” The defense argued that Couch’s parents were as much to for the crime as their son, and that Couch’s life could be turned around if he cut off all contact with them for a one- to two-year period of intense psychological treatment.

The story has led to much discussion about so-called “affluenza.” In a subsequent story Associated Press quoted experts who said “affluenza,” should not be a criminal defense. The term was first used in the late 1990s by Jessie O’Neill when she wrote the book “The Golden Ghetto: The Psychology of Affluence.”

Dr. Gary Buffone, a Jacksonville, Fla., psychologist it has since been used to describe a condition in which children — usually from richer families — feel a sense of entitlement, are irresponsible, make excuses fort their bad behavior, and occasionally “dabble in drugs and alcohol.” He said the term was never intended to be used as a defense in a criminal trial or to justify such behavior.

The case has led to something of a perception that although you may not be able to get away with murder if you are rich, you can get away with intoxication manslaughter – the charge in this case.

Eric Boyles, who lost a wife and daughter in the crash, said told CNN: “There are absolutely no consequences for what occurred that day. The primary message has to absolutely be that money and privilege can’t buy justice in this country.”

However “affluenza”, is less about being rich than about the consequences of a dissolute lifestyle that money may have contributed to. Couch appears to have grown up in an argument dominated household where parenting was poor.  The judge likely factored in factors such as rehabilitation and restitution, when sentencing Couch. The sentence may be as much about not punishing a teen for the inadequacies of his parents as it is about wealth.


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Study Questions Claims Texas Malpractice Cap Brought in More Doctors

Caps on what a medical malpractice victim can claim remain controversial because they can mean it’s not worth lawyers taking on som cases in states that have a cap, even when a patient has suffered considerable harm.

Texas imposed one of the most severe caps on what a victim of medical malpractice can claim in the country in 2003, following claims lawsuits were leading doctors to quit the profession in the state.

And while supporters of the reform have pointed to an influx of doctors into the state since, a major new study suggests this may not be the case.

 Before Texas adopted tort reform in 2003, proponents claimed that physicians were deserting Texas in droves,” the April, 2012 paper by academics David A. Hyman from University of Illinois College of Law, Charles Silver of the University of Austin School of Law and Bernard S. Black from Northwestern University’s School of Law, says 

Then after tort reform was enacted, supporters pointed to a massive influx of physicians into Texas due to the improved liability situation.

 “We find no evidence to support either claim,” the study concludes.

Texas has one of the most stringent caps in the nation. Under the Texas reforms a cap on non-economic damages against physicians and other licensed health care providers  is limited to $250,000 and total non-economic damages are capped at $500,000.

The cap can be as high as $750,000 if there is more than one individual held liable for medical malpractice.

 The cap was a clear part of the Republican mantra in the state. Texas Governor Rick Perry justified the reform in a speech when he said.

“The threat of litigation has a domino effect . . . causing malpractice carriers to raise rates, which in turn force many doctors to leave Texas, or in some cases to leave the practice of medicine altogether. And ultimately this hurts patient access the most.”

 The new study questions assertions that themedical malpractice cap led to a major influx of doctors into Texas, citing possible other factors.

“For example, after Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana in 2005, many citizens of Louisiana relocated to Texas,” the study states.

 It also targets the way backers of the cap have seized on the number of  licenses applied for and issued. They did consider physicians leaving Texas or retiring, the study says. Statistics by the Texas Board of Medical Examiners “do not reflect net changes in Texas’ population of physicians,” the report states.

Nor did the authors find any evidence that the lack of a cap before 2003 was a disincentive to doctors moving to Texas.

“Physician supply was not stunted prior to reform, and did not measurably improve after reform,” the study sai 

“Limiting med mal lawsuits might be a good idea, or a bad one. But the core message from this study, and our related study of the impact of tort reform on health care spending – both consistent with other research – is that tort reform is a small idea, when it comes to the larger and linked questions of health care access and affordability,” the  study concludes.

 The report appears to undermine the arguments of those who have argued providing immunities to doctors would bring more of them to Texas.

 This argument, in itself, raise the question why Texas would want doctors who are anxious to have lesser liability from medical malpractice.

 A number of organizations including the Committee for Justice for All, argue the caps are depriving patients of the standard of healthcare that they need.

More than 20 states have placed a cap on non-economic damages, which limits how much money a plaintiff in a medical malpractice case can get for non-economic compensation, such as pain and suffering.

Lawyers say the main driver behind caps on damages are the lobbyists working for the medical malpractice insurance companies. It is clerly in their best interest to have legislation past that limits the amount of money they will have to pay out to injured patients


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Could ‘Fracking’ for Natural Gas be Causing Breast Cancer?

David Macaulay

Veritas Legal Mediaveritaslegalmedia@hotmail.com

Hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking” is a controversial process in which natural gas is mined from the earth by pressurized fluids being blasted into rock. The practice is widespread in Texas.
Although the process has been around since the 1940s there has been an upsurge in fracking over the last few years as the demand for natural gas has risen.

The downside of fracking is that the chemicals inserted into the ground appear to be contaminating groundwater and drinking water.
There are new studies that even provide a possible link between fracking and breast cancer in women living in areas where the practice takes place.
A recent report showed a rise in breast cancer rates in six counties in the Dallas/Fort Worth area of Texas where natural gas is extracted from the Barnett Shale.

“The six counties with the most production equipment are Denton, Hood, Johnson, Parker, Tarrant and Wise counties – the same six counties with high breast cancer rates,” reported the Denton Record-Chronicle.

Other reports have suggested chemical compounds including toluene, that have also been found in ground water contaminated by fracking, could harm pregnant women.

Further research is clearly needed in this important area. It wouldn’t be the first time the oil and gas industry in Texas has fallen foul of lawsuits. In fact the oil and natural gas industry has been guilty of numerous environmental and safety lapses in the past.

For instance a group of oil workers who were lost at sea in the Gulf of Mexico for three days on a raft 2011 and their families have recently filed a lawsuit. Only six of the 10 workers survived.
The lawsuits filed in Galveston name the Houston-based company Geokinetics, Inc., Trinity Liftboat Services, the company that operated the liftboat vessel the men were working on and Mermaid Marine Australia Ltd.

The Texas Gulf Coast has one of the highest concentrations of oil refineries and chemical plants in the United States.

The industry has a record of explosions including the Amoco plant in Texas City, 1976, the Arco plant in Channelview, 1990 and the BP Amoco plant, also in Texas City, in 2005.

 Many of the oil plants on the Gulf Coast are getting older and the possibility of further explosions cannot be discounted. Workers in the oil and gas industry face some of the most hazardous conditions of any industry in the USA, with Texas seeing the highest numbers of occupational fatalities.

 But the growing weight of evidence about fracking suggests workers in this industry may not be the only victims.

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