To be a good lawyer, you have to be a good person first, Randy Sorrels said. His newest partner embodies that belief.
Judy Kostura is a statewide leading expert on personal injury subrogation and lien law and, Sorrels said, is a really good person.
“She’s recognized by pretty much anybody she’s associated with as a helper,” Sorrels said.
In fact, the idea of Kostura joining his firm emerged during a phone call in which Sorrels sought her expert advice.
Among the many awards Kostura has received over her 40-plus-year career are the Gene Cavin Award for Excellence in Continuing Legal Education, the Texas Trial Lawyers Association’s John Howie Spirit of Mentorship Award and the Texas Watch Champion of Justice Award. She will receive the Texas Trial Lawyers Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award in November. The organization honored Kostura in 2013 for her work to pass significant insurance law reform.
The law blocks insurance companies from collecting all the money a person recovers from a lawsuit. Kostura has since served on teams that review and opine on insurance-related bills.
“The impetus is to ensure that clients can be taken care of,” Kostura said.
Kostura previously co-owned Kostura & Putman for nearly 20 years. Her former law partner, Stan Putman Jr., is moving to Just Well Law, a 2-year-old firm in Austin. Putman will lead Just Well’s civil litigation department, firm founder Kristina Baehr said.
“We’re thrilled to have Stan on board because he represents all that is good about civil litigation in Texas,” Baehr said. “He’s warm and smart and exactly the person I want to be in my foxhole.”
Putman is also a past recipient of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association’s John Howie Spirit of Mentorship Award. Baehr said Putman mentored her as she opened her own firm.
Kostura said she is thrilled to join Sorrels Law, where she said her clients will benefit from the talent, resources and experience.
“His firm has an unparalleled record of success. He has a diverse practice. He’s attracted some of the most highly accomplished and experienced attorneys around the state in a variety of practice areas, and the opportunity to open an Austin branch was just exciting to me,” Kostura said.
Read more from Kostura:
What are some of the most memorable cases that you’ve handled thus far in your career?
The ones that come to mind are representing families who have lost a child in a motor vehicle collision. People that I have represented that have lost a child are going through an unspeakable tragedy. They want to improve the system so that other people don’t have to go through the same heartbreak they went through. Another significant highlight for me has been working with the state legislature to pass an insurance reform bill in 2013 that put into law the notion that if the state can regulate health insurance, then the state will not allow the health insurance to essentially jump to the front of the line when the case is resolved and gobble up all the settlement money of the injured person. There are many health insurance contracts that say, “If you get injured and we pay your bill, then at the end of the case we want all of our money back even if that means you get none of your money.” And in 2007 the Texas Supreme Court essentially said, “If that’s what the contract says then the state has to pass a law if they want something different.” So I worked with some other wonderful attorneys around the state on both sides of the plaintiff and defense docket, worked very closely with State Representative Four Price from Amarillo and passed what is now Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Chapter 140. That law says that if health insurance wants to be paid back out of the settlement, then it has to share in the expense of recovering that money. And it can’t take it all. That’s a bit of an oversimplification but that’s the premise of it.
Did other states follow suit?
This is a topic nationwide. There are different states that have different laws on the extent to which health plans can compete with their insureds to keep some of the settlement money. Some of these health plans are subject to state regulation. But you also have veterans health insurance, you have Medicare, you have ERISA, a federal law, that says employers can create certain types of health plans that are not funded by insurance. Big corporations such as Walmart will have a health plan and everybody calls it health insurance. But it’s not insurance. It’s a plan owned by the employer. Different laws will regulate different types of plans. The average person and even the average lawyer has a difficult time with how all of these different laws interact with one another.
Do you have your sights on helping create any other legislation?
I would love for the Texas Legislature to increase the amount of liability coverage that’s required when people drive. There’s up to $30,000 of coverage available as the minimum amount in Texas on a per-person basis. That minimum coverage is $60,000 for all the people that might get hurt in a wreck. And there are a lot of collisions that cause a lot more damage than that. So I would love to see higher insurance limits. There are other laws that can be enacted to make insurance companies live up to some of the advertising that they do in terms of treating people fairly and having some deadlines to treat people fairly and to pay claims and having some penalties if those claims are not paid promptly, and the state does have some good laws that, in my opinion, need to be strengthened. That doesn’t mean we don’t have some good laws.
What are some of the good ones?
Well, the fact that auto liability coverage is mandatory is a good law — that Texas requires auto insurers to at least offer uninsured motorist coverage to people, because estimates are that 19 to 25 percent of all drivers do not have any liability coverage. And so it becomes pretty important that people buy uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage to protect themselves if they are hit by somebody that either has no coverage or not enough. People can opt out of buying that coverage. I wish that coverage was mandatory because only after you get in a wreck caused by somebody without adequate coverage do you realize the importance of having that coverage and so sometimes people will say, “Why do I need that coverage? Everybody’s supposed to have liability insurance.” Well, everybody’s supposed to but that doesn’t mean everybody does. The Sorrels firm also has very good lawyers handling medical malpractice cases. The Legislature has made it more expensive and onerous to pursue medical negligence cases. There are different schools of thought on whether those laws need to be strengthened for the benefit of consumers and patients, but I would like to see it be less expensive and onerous.
What are some of the laws you think need strengthening?
The Legislature has passed some reforms that it believes were necessary for the protection of medical providers to avoid frivolous lawsuits. I think those protections erred on the side of over protecting doctors by making it very difficult and expensive for individuals who’ve been hurt to pursue claims. I’d like a better balance there. It really depends upon your perspective. If you’re a medical care provider who believes there are too many of these lawsuits, you’re going to have one perspective. If you are a loved one who has been hurt by medical negligence, you’re going to have another perspective. I am a plaintiff’s lawyer through and through. I tend to empathize more with the individual injured person.