“Tort Reform,” Bush and the Enron Connection

Saturday, January 26, 2002

For Immediate Release:
January 26, 2002

Contact: Joanne Doroshow

“Tort Reform,” Bush and the Enron Connection

Over his two terms as Governor, George W. Bush signed a series of brutal bills that severely restricted injured Texans’ rights to sue, greatly reducing liability risks for Texas corporations.

Bush may advocate imposing similar laws on the entire nation. Such federal legislation would be unprecedented in its direct interference with states’ traditional authority over local judges and juries, and similar in scope only to measures proposed by Newt Gingrich in 1994. These proposals reportedly could restrict liability for malpracticing doctors, asbestos manufacturers and some companies that produce defective products, as well as make it more difficult for consumers to win class action lawsuits against corporations that commit fraud and other violations of consumer health, safety and environmental laws.

Comparable measures were either signed into law or proposed in Texas while Bush was governor.


According to the consumer group Texans for Public Justice, as of the 2000 election cycle, Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR), one of two principal “tort reform” lobbying groups in Texas that succeeded under Bush, “received 80 percent of its money from the families of just 24 tycoons.” Kenneth Lay, former Enron chair, was one. A December 2001 report from Texans for Public Justice indicates that Enron contributed $103,250 to TLR. Texans for Public Justice, “Enron’s Blackout Cuts Power Behind Numerous Thrones,” Lobby Watch (December 4, 2001); Texans for Public Justice, Texans for Lawsuit Reform: How the Texas Tort Tycoons Spent Millions in the 2000 Elections (November 2001).

Political action committees, businesses and individuals affiliated with Texans for Lawsuit Reform and the Texas Civil Justice League, the state’s other major “tort reform” lobby group, contributed $4.1 million to Bush’s two gubernatorial campaigns, outspending every other special-interest donor except for those in the “energy and natural resource” category. Texans for Public Justice, The Governor’s Gusher: The Sources of George W. Bush’s $41 Million Texas War Chest (January 2000).

“Tort reform” interests contributed heavily towards his presidential bid, as well. At least 75 percent of the members of the Texas Civil Justice League contributed to Bush’s presidential campaign. Miller, “Texas Corporate Interests Financed Bulk of Bush Races,” Los Angeles Times, July 7, 1999. As has been widely reported, Enron was the single largest patron of Bush’s political career, according to the Center for Public Integrity.


While Governor, Bush signed a series of laws that insulate Texas corporations like Enron and others from lawsuits for their reckless behavior and strip the rights of injured Texans who would be entitled to compensation. These “tort reform” measures include: capping punitive damages – the money that big corporations must pay when they deliberately or recklessly injure or kill someone; diluting the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, which is meant to penalize businesses that engage in deceitful business practices; making it more difficult for the sick and injured to sue malpracticing doctors; immunizing teachers from liability for hitting children (Bush recently signed into law a similar federal bill); and prohibiting Texas cities from suing gun makers and sellers.

Tort restrictions advocated by Bush and Lay do not limit the rights of corporations to sue business competitors for commercial losses. They only prevent injured consumers from suing.

The Texas legislature failed to enact some measures advocated by Bush, Lay and their cohorts. One would curtail class action lawsuits. Another would shield accountants who attest to the validity of bogus financial institutions. Texans for Public Justice, Texans for Lawsuit Reform: How the Texas Tort Tycoons Spent Millions in the 2000 Elections (November 2001).


One would be hard pressed to find worse hypocrites than George W. Bush and Ken Lay. They push for laws to immunize corporations from liability for harming consumers. But when they think they, their families or their businesses have been wronged, they run right to court.

George W. Bush. In 1999, Bush sued Enterprise Rent-A-Car over a minor fender-bender involving one of his daughters in which no one was hurt. Although his insurance would have covered the repair costs making a lawsuit unnecessary, Bush sought additional money from Enterprise, which had rented a car to someone with a suspended license. In this case, Bush seemed to understand one of the most important functions of civil lawsuits — to deter further wrongdoing. The case settled for $2,000 to $2,500. Burger, Timothy, “Bush sued Enterprise Rent-A-Car over daughter’s fender bender,” Daily News, August 26, 2000; “Bush sued rental agency over fender bender,” Houston Chronicle, August 26, 2000.

Ken Lay and Enron. According to Texans for Public Justice, in 1986 Lay sued a driver who rear-ended his daughter’s car, seeking $10,000 in damages including money for “pain and suffering” and “mental anguish.” His daughter did not seek medical care until a week after the accident. In addition, Enron is now suing Dynegy, which pulled out of a merger deal to “rescue” the company. Texans for Public Justice, Enron’s Blackout Cuts Power Behind Numerous Thrones,” Lobby Watch (December 4, 2001).

Join Our Fight!

The Center for Justice & Democracy is the only national consumer organization in the country exclusively dedicated to protecting our civil justice system. If you'd like more information, please contact us.

Connect with us