October 18, 2012
When Naython Watts turns six on Nov. 1, he won't realize that it's his birthday. He suffered disabling brain injuries because of botched medical care by not one -- but two doctors -- just before he was born. As a result his mother, who is a widow, will have to care for him during his 50-year life expectancy.
His mother, Deborah, successfully sued the Cox Medical Center Centers in Springfield, Mo., for permanently inuring her son. She won a $1.45 million jury award for non-economic damages plus a $3.37 million award to cover future medical damages. (See Watts v. Cox Medical Centers, 2012 Mo. LEXIS 155.)
Then a tort "reform" law made his situation exceptionally cruel. The state law automatically slashed the family's non-economic damages to only $350,000. It also split the medical damages award in two, making half of it payable in annual installments of 50 years with an interest rate of 0.26 percent.
Last summer the Missouri Supreme Court declared the hideous statute unconstitutional, ruling that it violated the right to a trial by jury. "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 Missouri court ruled the tort reform law was unconstitutional jury tampering. The historic role of juries in the United States is to find facts and determine damages. In fact, supreme courts in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, New Hampshire, Oregon, Texas and Washington have also declared their state damage caps unconstitutional.
Tort reform is a lie. It doesn't benefit the general public and results mainly in stripping Americans of their rights. The laws are pushed by well-funded, anti-consumer groups with friendly-sounding names like "ALEC" and the "U.S. Chamber of Commerce." Their goal is to boost insurance company profits, insulate incompetent doctors from liability and promote propaganda about a non-existent "lawsuit explosion." The result is that badly injured consumers pick up the high cost of medical mistakes in the name of cheaper malpractice insurance for doctors -- who make the mistakes.
Ironically, a study from Americans for Insurance Reform in 2009 found that under Missouri's damages cap, medical malpractice rates actually went up 1 percent, while in neighboring Iowa, which has no damage cap, malpractice premiums dropped 6 percent.
For a copy of the complete article, contact AIR.