Insurance companies and some of the country’s most powerful corporations have been engaging in a war against our constitutionally guaranteed right to a trial by jury for almost thirty years. So called “tort reform” has been an issue that you may have heard of in the media. In case you are not sure what “tort reform” means, I want you to know the underlying efforts behind this movement and potential ramifications of its enactment.
A “tort” is a civil wrong, an injury. Many states–Georgia included–have tried to limit your rights to bring a civil lawsuit against someone who harms you, whether it involves a car wreck or other injury. In 2005, Georgia’s General Assembly passed Senate Bill 3, which attempted to restrict many of your rights to bring a lawsuit against a wrongdoer. Some of the provisions of Senate Bill 3 have been upheld, but some other provisions have been ruled unconstitutional by our Georgia Supreme Court. One of the most drastic measures instituted by Senate Bill 3 was a cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, capping damages for pain and suffering at $350,000. While $350,000 certainly seems like a large figure, what this meant was that a person who did not make a lot of money (whose damages would also include “economic damages) would be limited in recovery to $350,000 for all non-economic damages or pain and suffering for the rest of their life. If a child, for instance, or a retired person suffered a horrible injury from a botched medical procedure (such as the amputation of the wrong limb or the severance of an artery that caused permanent brain injury) that person would be restricted by law from recovering more than $350,000 from the doctor or hospital’s insurance company for pain and suffering. Thankfully our Georgia Supreme Court ruled this provision unconstitutional in 2010 and Georgia citizens are not subject to that limitation like citizens from some other states such as Texas, thanks to Rick Perry. Be careful when you hear politicians touting “tort reform.” It’s dangerous.
One of the more frustrating aspects of the tort reform battle is that the insurance company executives and corporate advocates seem to feel like people who suffer legitimate injuries as the result of the negligence of others are not worthy of their day in court. One need only look at the Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees the right to a trial by jury. There is nothing more important in our freedom and way of American life than having the right to hold accountable the most powerful corporations and the insurance industry from killing, maiming, and injuring our citizens. That’s what we do at Cash Krugler & Fredericks and I hope that when the 2012 presidential election and other state-wide elections arise, you’ll know what the right response is to limiting your freedom and rights through tort reform.