Texas dental clinic case shows lawsuit abuse harms, dental services threatened

Estate of Denial® featured a news release earlier this week on how increasing numbers of Americans believe “lawsuit abuse hurts economic growth, job creation and U.S. competitiveness.”  While questionable probate actions are routinely abusive legal cases, the spectrum of abuse hits on a host of other fronts and impacts – directly and/or indirectly – all Americans.  The American Tort Reform Association is partnering with Sick of Lawsuits, a nonpartisan, grassroots campaign of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, to highlight how Americans understand the connection between frivolous, unwarranted lawsuits and their pocketbooks.

“Lawsuit reform isn’t a partisan issue, it’s an economic issue,” observed ATRA president Tiger Joyce. “When 89 percent of Americans say lawsuit abuse is a problem, candidates and elected officials should pay attention. Whether it’s large companies facing preposterous consumer class actions or small businesses threatened by slip-and-fall racketeers, lawsuit abuse erodes the nation’s economic prospects and drives American jobs overseas.”

“America’s primary focus should be on creating jobs, not lawsuits,” added Tom Scott, a California-based spokesman for Sick of Lawsuits. “We hear from small business owners every day about their fear of costly lawsuits and the negative impact that expanding liability has on their bottom line and capacity to hire additional employees. People understand that, and they want their elected officials to do something about it.”

And creating lawsuits is exactly what happens.  Estate of Denial® focuses on probate abuse – many of which are contrived, but we’re regularly reminded that legal abuse runs rampant in many different arenas and geographic locales.  And our home state of Texas is no exception.

A great example comes out of the Texas dental industry.  Texas appears to have some degree of a significant problem with Medicaid fraud and abuse when it comes to dental clinics.  Were the Medicaid programs poorly designed, executed and monitored?  That seems a reasonable observation.  And did unscrupulous providers take advantage of those flaws and in doing so potentially harm patients or violate rights?  We’ll see. Seemingly deserved scrutiny is underway.

One of the questionable side issues now created by this situation is the targeting of a dental management service organization (DMSO), Kool Smiles, a company not named in any of the specific investigations of bad acts.  In fact, its operation is increasingly recognized as a model for potentially expanding affordable dental care to a broad base of clients, not just the historically under-served market currently comprising much of the company’s clientele.

But instead, the company finds itself having to fight back against a San Antonio law firm by suing them in federal court. In addition to TV ads for which even the trial bar reprimanded the lawyers, the firm created a website suggesting the potential of legal claims against Kool Smiles that “has opened over 35 clinics in Texas, including clinics in El Paso, McAllen, Weslaco, Mission, Brownsville, Eagle Pass and Laredo.” If children were “strapped down to a papoose board,” “upset, crying, terrified, or traumatized” or were diagnosed as needing “multiple stainless steel crowns” or “multiple root canals/pulpotomies,” the site says “You may have a CLAIM.” It goes on to say “many of these dental clinics have exploited our children to increase their revenue.”

That the legal industry would recognize an opportunity for exploitation is certainly no surprise.

Growing concern over legal abuse is additionally reflected as community organizations like Hispanas Unidas and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) are also warning of the dangers of a practice called barratry, the generation of profit for legal services by an attorney who stirs up a dispute and encourages lawsuits in order to file what is typically a groundless claim.  Though a crime, barratry still occurs.

The legal industry is good at identifying targets.  Barratry helps provide the needed complainant.  The American public pays the heavy price of these actions while too often politicians stay silent.

The Kool Smiles case illustrates that lawsuit abuse is an economic issue – one that could threaten the delivery system of affordable health care options to a broad base of American dental services consumers.  With plans for expansion, Kool Smiles is poised to create jobs.  But instead, defending itself against contrived lawsuits could hamper the company’s growth, new employment opportunities – even its long-term existence.

That’s what lawsuit abuse does.  Estate of Denial® is proud to be part of the chorus of voices calling attention to the harm caused and the opportunities lost by such open yet illicit practices.

Lou Ann Anderson is an advocate working to create awareness regarding the Texas probate system and its surrounding culture. She is the Online Producer at www.EstateofDenial.com, a Policy Advisor with Americans for Prosperity – Texas and a Director of Women on the Wall. Lou Ann may be contacted at info@EstateofDenial.com.

Commentary, Featured