In Iowa, a local judge has vacated an August verdict which awarded about $1.6 million to a young woman whose ear was torn off in a rollover crash. The judge did this because she said jurors were “influenced by certain statements her attorney [Nick Rowley] made at trial that the defense [i.e. an insurance company] has argued were improper." This “prejudiced the defendant and ‘it is probable a different result would have been reached, but for that misconduct.’”
Only problem is, the jury forewoman said that was ridiculous, that these statements were not even discussed by the jury. WTF?
[Forewoman] Karen Hudecek said it was her job to make sure deliberations and decisions were based on the law and evidence presented.
“I understood that this meant we as the jury were not supposed to consider or base our decision on anything said by the lawyers, which was objected to and sustained by the judge. There was nothing said by any of the lawyers which was objected to and sustained that was discussed by the jury in deliberations. None of the statements addressed by Mr. Rowley in the new trial order of Judge Lingreen influenced our deliberations or our unanimous jury verdict,” Hudecek said. …
“In the end, we worked hard as an Iowa jury and we as the jury worked together to compromise and agree to a verdict that was based on the law we were given and the evidence the judge instructed us we were able to consider.…
Rowley said he believes the judge has bowed to the power of the defendant’s insurance company.
Now granted, this type of bad judicial behavior is atypical. Most judges have enormous respect for juries and “a high level of day-to-day confidence” in what they do. See more here.
Far more worrisome is the behavior of politicians, who continuously try to take power and authority away from jurors in the form of so-called “tort reform.” Caps on damages are probably the worst offender. Indeed, as we reported in April, the Ohio Supreme Court had a case before it, examining whether to allow a sexual assault victim to be victimized - again - by the state’s $250,000 non-economic damages cap.
Specifically, “Jessica Simpkins was raped at the age of 15 by her church pastor – a man hired by Grace Brethren Church in Sunbury despite the knowledge that he had previously sexually abused two girls. In a civil suit, a jury awarded Simpkins $3.5 million for pain and suffering, but the amount was reduced to $250,000 due to a state law that caps damages.” Indeed, a recent article in Slate explored the horrendous impact of non-economic damages caps on sexual assault victims.
[A]s more and more victims of sexual assault are taking their cases to the civil justice system, the caps are having unforeseen consequences. “If you rape a child, you get the benefit of tort reform,” says Simpkins’ lawyer John Fitch. Tort reform, he adds, “makes it financially impractical for children like this to hold those responsible accountable in the legal system.”
Well guess who just came to the aide of Jessica Simpkins’ rapist (who is apparently now out of jail), and the civil juries who try to hold rapists accountable? That’s right, the Ohio Supreme Court just upheld the state’s damages cap as specifically used against Jessica Simpkins. (Here’s the decision)
Justices Paul E. Pfeifer and William M. O'Neill wrote withering dissents castigating lawmakers for imposing limits on civil lawsuit damages, a decision they said should be up to juries.
“It turns out that ‘tort reform’ (and the justices who sanctioned it) also ensured that rapists and those who enable them will not have to pay the full measure of damages they cause -- even it they rape a child,” Pfeifer wrote. He said the damage caps were “designed to protect doctors and corporate interests.”
O’Neill wrote: “I cannot accept the proposition that a teenager who is raped by a pastor fits into a preordained formula for damages ... a cookie-cutter approach simply does not work.
“This child was raped in a church office by a minister and a duly empaneled jury established an appropriate level of compensation for loss of her childhood innocence. We have no right to interfere with that process. Shame on the General Assembly. The children are watching. And I for one do not like what they are seeing,” O’Neill concluded.
What is wrong with this country?! Rodney? Anyone?