DALLAS — Texas voters Saturday passed a constitutional amendment that would allow the state Legislature to cap damages in civil lawsuits.
Proposition 12 was a battle between doctors and plaintiffs’ attorneys, with some of the campaign messages vitriolic, misleading and divisive.
The measure passed with 51 percent of the vote in what many said was the most expensive battle over an amendment in memory. By the week before the election, more than $14 million had been spent.
Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican who campaigned statewide for the amendment, applauded the outcome.
“It appears Texans agree we’ve become too litigious in our society,” the governor said. “This will be a much-needed victory for doctors, nurses or hospital employees all across the state of Texas whose futures have been jeopardized by the skyrocketing liability insurance loss.”
Opponents said Mr. Perry and others tried to convince voters that the election was about losing their doctors.
“The proponents of Proposition 12 tried to make this about medical malpractice. The scare tactics clearly affected some voters,” said Dan Lambe of Texas Watch, one of the groups that opposed the amendment.
Both sides tried to capitalize on fear. Proponents of the amendment claimed that excessive jury awards would force doctors to leave the state. Opponents said doctors and hospitals should pay dearly for malpractice and that the amendment would cause irreparable harm to many victims.
One television ad featured the Texas Constitution being shredded and a room full of elderly patients. Others showed victims of debilitating auto accidents claiming that they would not receive adequate compensation if the amendment passed.
One mailer by the advocacy group Yes on 12 showed a frowning man with a cigar, with the message, “Remember the greedy personal injury trial lawyers who sued McDonald’s and Oreo cookies for making people fat?”
Save Texas Courts, a group that was trying to portray insurance companies and health maintenance organizations as the villains, ran an ad showing a courtroom scene and a man depicted as an insurance company executive as judge, jury, bailiff and spectator.
The heavy and contentious campaigning resulted in a higher than expected turnout — about 12 percent of those registered. Seldom do more than 10 percent of the voters turn out for such constitutional voting.
Even the election date was contentious. Supporters claimed it was the earliest date available. Detractors said the unusual September election was designed to assure a low voter turnout. They suggested it should have been scheduled along with mayoral elections in November.
Proposition 12 was considered vitally important to the Republican-controlled state Legislature because it removed what many predicted would be a protracted appellate court battle over a recently passed civil justice law that caps noneconomic damages for pain and suffering in medical malpractice lawsuits.