Higher courts in a number of states have found that caps on damages awarded by juries are unconstitutional. However, advocates of tort reform continue to spread half truths and lies about the alleged need to limit the amounts awarded to plaintiffs in personal injury and medical malpractice lawsuits. Nevertheless, there are some bright spots in the legal landscape; a recent decision by the Missouri Supreme Court shows that the tide that is tort reform can sometimes be stopped.
Naython Watts will soon be six years old, but he won’t know it. He can’t talk, feed himself effectively or walk. He suffers from frequent seizures and has the mental capacity of a two-year-old. His mother filed a personal injury claim against the Cox Medical Center in Springfield, Missouri and won a $1.45 million jury award for non-economic damages and a $3.37 million award to cover her son’s future medical expenses and care.
However, the state of Missouri had implemented tort reform. The law automatically cut the non-economic damages to $350,000 and required that half of the $3.47 million in medical damages be paid in installments over 50 years with an interest rate of .26 percent.
Fortunately, Naython’s mother appealed, and the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the “reform” statute violated the right to a trial by a jury and was, in fact, jury tampering. It said, “Once the right to a trial by jury attaches, as it does in this case, the plaintiff has the full benefit of that right free from the reach of hostile legislation,” the high court declared. “Statutory damage caps were not permissible in 1820 [when the state constitution was adopted] and … remain impermissible today.”
The jury’s damages award to Naytton and his mother was reinstated.
Part one of a two-part post on why tort reform is a lie.
Source: Huffington Post, “Exposing the Lie of Tort Reform,” by Larry Bodine, Oct. 18, 2012.