One family, two generations at TMLT
This article was originally published in the Reporter, Q4 2019 in celebration of TMLT’s 40th anniversary.
Dr. Randolph "Rand" Zuber and his son, attorney Blake Zuber
Dr. Randolph “Rand” Zuber of Kerrville was named to TMLT’s first Governing Board in 1979. He worked with that original board to help establish the structure of the “Texas Medical Liability Insurance Trust,” from designing its products and services to hiring its initial executive staff.
Blake Zuber, Dr. Zuber’s son — an attorney with the San Antonio law firm of Brin & Brin — has served as a TMLT defense attorney since 1998.
Two generations of one family have been involved with TMLT since its inception. We spoke with the Zubers about their experiences with TMLT.
What is your background?
Dr. Rand Zuber: I’m a sixth generation Texan — and a Son of the Republic of Texas. Meaning, my family is related to the original settlers in Texas prior to it becoming one of the United States. I was born in Dallas and grew up all over Texas. My father was a traveling salesman, and he retired in Amarillo.
I went to The University of Texas at Galveston, where I met my wife. In school, I decided to pursue a career in medicine and become a urologist. I started practicing medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center from 1967 to 1972. I then served in the Air Force from 1972 to 1974. When I got out, I settled in Kerrville and was in private practice from 1974 to 2006. In those last three years, I also practiced medicine at the Kerrville VA Hospital.
Blake Zuber: I was raised in Kerr County, outside Kerrville, and went to The University of Texas at Austin. I graduated in 1991 with a degree in history, one of my passions. I’ve always been a big fan of historical books and movies. That may come from the fact that my great, great grandfather, William Physick Zuber, was the last survivor of the Battle of San Jacinto.
He wrote a memoir entitled “My Eighty Years in Texas,” among other works. He was a prolific writer and also contributed to the Texas Almanac. He was the first to document the legendary moment when Colonel William Travis drew a line in the sand at the Battle of the Alamo to ask the outnumbered troops to cross the line as a sign that they would stay and fight.
My Dad is a physician and my mom is a CPA. I grew up with two professionals, and that geared me to seek a professional career. I was always interested in law. Because of my family, I got to meet excellent attorneys growing up and watch fascinating Kerrville-based cases.
I went to law school at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio and passed the bar in 1994. I’ve practiced law in San Antonio ever since. But my father’s involvement with TMLT spurred my interest specifically in medical malpractice defense.
After starting out in other areas of law, I talked to my Dad about how to go about defending physicians. He pointed me in the direction of the Brin & Brin law firm in San Antonio (where I practice now), but they didn’t have any positions available at the time. I worked for other firms for many years, including with my mentors Ken Patterson and Richard Wagner at Patterson & Wagner, who also work in medical malpractice defense. After a time spent with another firm defending hospitals, in 2010 I returned to the defense of individual physicians and became a Shareholder at Brin & Brin, often working on TMLT cases.
How did you first become involved in TMLT?
Dr. Zuber: I learned about TMLT very early. My practice partner and I were very early members when TMLT formed in 1979. I was a delegate to the Texas Medical Association (TMA) from the Kerr-Bandera County Medical Society. The officers of the TMA were assigned to pick one person — a TMA member — to serve on TMLT’s Governing Board. John Smith, the President of the TMA at the time, picked a San Antonio doctor. For several reasons, that physician dropped out after the first Board meeting. Dr. Smith had to quickly pick someone as a replacement. I was recommended, so Dr. Smith invited me to join the Board.
What was it like being on the Governing Board in the early years?
Dr. Zuber: Most of the other physicians on the board were older than me. So, they thought I was green. I became the co-lead of the Claims Committee with Dr. Milton Davis, where I served throughout my time at TMLT and gave most of my input. Board members all have a three-year term, and I was elected to serve two more consecutive terms. During that first year, I was at the TMLT offices so much that I almost got an apartment in Austin! I think back on that first case; we worked so hard to make sure we didn’t lose that first case.
How long were you on the Board?
Dr. Zuber: I served for seven years. Even after I left the board, I stayed with TMLT as a consultant for the Claims Committee. I was with them for 32 years. I was honored and pleased to work with them, and so pleased that my son was chosen to be a part of TMLT’s defense counsel. So proud.
Blake, how did you first become involved with TMLT?
Blake Zuber: My dad—specifically, his involvement and interest in medical malpractice litigation and defending claims. I have vivid memories of my whole family going with my dad, beginning in 1979, to Austin for Saturday board meetings. We would stay a couple of nights in Austin and make a weekend out of it. TMLT has been in my consciousness since I was about 10 years old.
How did you come to work as a TMLT defense attorney?
Blake Zuber: I first started assisting with TMLT cases when I was with Patterson & Wagner. Then, when I came to Brin & Brin, I began receiving assignments from TMLT directly. I learn something new with every case. It’s rare if I come across a case that is exactly the same as those before it. There is always something interesting and new to learn. I’ve worked with TMLT for a long time. I’ve gotten to know all of the claims staff. I know Sue Mills [TMLT’s former Vice President, Claims] through Dad. I’ve known them all for a long time.
What do you like most about being a defense attorney?
Blake Zuber: Working through a lawsuit is a stressful time for physicians. I like helping them through that — defending them and putting them at ease. Coming from a “physician house” helps me relate to my clients. I can be a calming influence in a stressful situation. If we get a favorable result — all the better.
It’s also been so interesting to see the change in the legal climate in Texas since tort reform. When I started in 1997, before tort reform, it was like the wild west. Lawsuits were going left and right. There were no caps on damages that juries could award. Multiple physicians would get sued in almost every case. We saw many questionable or frivolous lawsuits. That environment motivated me to defend doctors even more.
But ever since tort reform, lawsuits have been cut in half. Before 2003, TMLT was one of the few carriers writing coverage in Texas. Others wouldn’t touch it. After tort reform and payment caps, more doctors started moving to Texas and patients benefited from greater access to care.
Any final thoughts about TMLT?
Blake Zuber: I do work for other carriers, as do all defense counsel. But TMLT is, in my opinion, the gold standard. They are committed to giving attorneys the necessary tools to benefit physicians in a health care liability case. They treat their policyholders the right way. It is a special company.
Dr. Zuber: I want to congratulate TMLT on 40 years of service to Texas physicians. To have been there at the beginning and observe its phenomenal growth makes me very proud. It’s a great achievement.
I love the company. I always felt like it was my company since I was there from the beginning. I was 39 years old when it started; I really grew up with TMLT.