In honor of Memorial Day, here are a few patriotic factoids. The American colonists fought the Revolutionary War in significant part over England's repeated attempts to restrict jury trials. The U.S. Constitution was nearly defeated over its failure to guarantee the right to civil jury trial. (The Seventh Amendment eventually resolved the problem.) The right to jury trial has been secured not only by the U.S. Constitution, but by every state as well. What has happened to our nation's respect for civil juries?
We’ve covered the tragic case of former student Ashley Zauflik, who was the victim of an out-of-control school bus, which mowed down about 20 kids. Ashely lost her leg, and a jury awarded her $14 million. But because the bus was owned by the school district and not a private company, an outrageous and frankly cruel law was triggered, which caps total compensation to her at $500,000. Yesterday, the judge in the case was forced to cap her award at this amount, even though the school district has an $11 million insurance policy. The judged practically begged the state Supreme Court to do something, saying,
“There is no dispute that the circumstances of this case create an unfair and unjust result” Bucks County Judge Robert J. Mellon said while upholding the liability limit on school districts and municipalities. A “reevaluation of the constitutionality of the statutory cap on damages … is necessary.”
Pennsylvania, step in line.
Florida’s high court is now considering that state’s non-economic damages cap in medical malpractice cases. The case, “McCall v. U.S., concerns 20-year-old Michelle McCall, who bled to death while giving her birth to her son” due to the negligence of the medical staff. Among the damages awarded in that case was $2 million in non-economic damages, including compensation for her son’s pain and suffering. The cap reduced this to $1 million.
“The Florida judiciary has already determined in the past that damages caps violate the state constitution because they don’t provide access as everyone has understood it,” says Robert Peck, the lawyer representing McCall’s estate in the case. “Access means full redress for the injury received. So a person who receives $1 million when full compensation should have been $2 million did not have that access.”
[T]he Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments on whether that state's 2005 cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases violates the state constitution. In 2011, a jury decided that physicians failed to act when an unborn child showed signs of distress in the womb. The child was born with cerebral palsy and will not progress beyond the mental capacity of a three-year-old. The jury awarded $4,821,000 in total damages. Of that amount, $1.45M was non-economic and was reduced to $350,000 pursuant to the cap.
And in Mississippi, a local judge ruled in April that Mississippi's cap was unconstitutional, noting, "The issue is not whether the limits imposed under the statute are reasonable. Rather, the issue is whether the Legislature has the authority to impose any limits, reasonable or not." He said the framers of the constitution created the civil justice system and put the courts in charge of it. Meanwhile, the state Supreme Court is already considering the constitutionality of the cap, after the question was certified to it by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in a case against Sears. In that case,
Lisa Learmonth sued Sears, Roebuck and Co. after she was in a collision with one of the company's vans near Philadelphia, Miss., in 2005.
A federal jury in 2008 determined Sears was liable for Learmonth's injuries and awarded $4 million in damages. The parties agreed $2.2 million was for non-economic damages, and the federal judge reduced that part of the damages to $1 million.
Hey, if you want an excuse to escape the relatives this Memorial Day weekend, just tell them that you want to bone up on a very patriotic topic, and then go here. Much healthier than eating hot dogs. Happy reading!