Civil Litigation

Let The Jury Decide !

C. David Durkee

Over the past several years, you have heard legislators, both at the state and Federal level talking about limiting “Non-economic damages”. Economic damages are damages that, basically, can be added up. For example, if you are injured and incur medical bills and/or lost wages – the jury or any other trier of fact can add these up and know the amount that is being sought. However, non-economic damages are sometimes referred to as the amount of compensation for things such as “pain and suffering.” Under Florida law and more other state law, there is no “exact” standard for these types of damages. The award of these damages is only limited by what is fair and just in light of the evidence presented.  Some of the people who are trying to change the existing laws feel that this type of damage is unfair or unjust.  As a result, they attempt to place some artificial limit on this type of damage or eliminate this type of damage altogether.

However, recently, Public Policy Polling (PPP) released data from phone polls conducted in late March on the topic of limiting non-economic damages.  PPP asked the same set of questions to between 500-700 registered voters in 7 red (Republican) and purple states (those that have voted both Republican & Democratic in the past several elections). Polling only red & purple states was intentional, as Republicans have traditionally leaned towards tort reform, the act of limiting medical malpractice and nursing home abuse lawsuits in favor of protecting big corporations. PPP found that in the polled states of Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Alabama and Arizona, over 60% of polled citizens in every state agreed with the proposition that non-economic damages should not be limited.

This is in accordance with the priciples that are memorialized in our Consitution.  The Founding Fathers of our great nation believed and fought for the proposition that the fairest way to resolve a dispute is with a jury trial.  A trial where you are judged by a jury of your peers. A jury should not only decide whether a party was negligent and whether that negligence caused damages – but they should also be forced to wrestle with the very difficult question of how much compensation would be fair and just under the circumstances of the case.  This is true because the jury hears the testimony of the witnesses, they judge the credibility of the witnesses, they judge how hurt a person is by hearing from the victim and by litening to all of the evidence in a case.  This may not be a perfect system, but it is certainly better than some distant legislator deciding that “non-economic” damages should somehow be limited to a certain ffigure in every case – no matter how severe the damage is or how hurt the family was.

At Roberts and Durkee, we always fight for our clients and fight for them to receive the full measure of damages under the law. Further, we stand up and fight against any state or Federal policy change that would limit our client’s right to recover for their full measure of damages. So the next time you hear “tort reform,” – undertand that what they are really saying is that some legislator somehow knows the severity of damages in a civil case – withour hearing testimony, without weighing the evidence, and without ever meeting the victim. I for one say, stick with the founding fathers and let a jury provide the true measure of JUSTICE.