The law firm I work for doesn’t handle medical malpractice cases but I feel the need to write to express my concern for legislation being considered in Utah. I am attaching for your review a recent NY Times article that should help explain some of the facts regarding the ever popular tort reform issue. The article deals with the number and value of cases that are handled each year by our justice system and I sincerely request that you take a couple minutes to read it as the statistics often presented by insurance companies are wildly off-base. Since the article doesn’t deal with Utah, I’ll just mention that in Utah, only 0.8% of all cases tried in this state relate to medical malpractice or personal injury cases. The vast majority of what ties up our court system is debt, criminal, and business related court work.
(Link to original article: http://prescriptions.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/31/would-tort-reform-lower-health-care-costs/)
Few things have been so distorted as the famous McDonald’s coffee case. This case wasn’t about a big award the jury pulled out of thin air. It was decided by a jury who knew the full facts and determined to punish McDonald’s negligence with one days’ coffee sales revenue as a punitive measure and help ensure that thousands of people would no longer be burned as they had been. This little known fact (and several others in the case) never made the press and knowing what happened changes the entire understanding of the story.
To put an artificially set cap on damage awards is not only unconstitutional, but borders on immoral. Consider this recent case in Kansas where a woman went in to have her right ovary removed and the doctor removed her left ovary. Due to an award cap, the judge struck down the jury decision of $759,680 for current and future medical bills, pain and suffering, inability to perform services as a spouse, and other non-economic losses, and awarded the state cap of $250,000. A jury of peers examined all the proper evidence and determined a fair amount, and this law now usurps their role in calculating proper damages on a case by case basis.
I know many of you are concerned about the recent Pay Czar’s determination to cut executives salaries by as much as 50%. I share in this concern as we all know that once we go down this road with one class of people (those who took stimulus money), it is all too easy to open the door to the next group. I have come to conclude, however, that this action is no different in its sphere, than that of legislators seeking to cap jury awards to plaintiffs and their lawyers to ensure “they don’t make too much money” on a case.