The right to jury trial was so fundamental and precious to our founding fathers that the right was guaranteed to all U.S. citizens by the Sixth and Seventh Amendments of the United States Constitution in criminal and civil cases:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
What better defines American society than our commitment to democracy, equality, and the right to have disputes resolved by juries chosen from among our peers living in our own communities. Our early history of being oppressed by a far-off monarchy determined to govern over us without local and meaningful representation formed the basis of our democratic ideals. We have fought wars over two basic concepts — that each individual, no matter who he is, how much he earns, or what he owns is equal in the eyes of the law and that we have the unalienable right to have disputes among us resolved by an unbiased jury of our peers. By empowering jurors who represent the sensibilities of the community with the right and duty to decide cases brought in our courts, we attempted to guarantee that our local, state, and federal governments would not be able to trample the rights of our citizens. The doctrine of separation of powers, which is supposed to insure that no one arm of government has superior power or sway over the other branches of government to the detriment of its people, was designed to insure that our constitutional rights would be inviolate.
So What Has Happened In Medical Malpractice Cases?
Most state legislatures have imposed limits on the amount of non-economic damages that their citizens can recover in medical malpractice cases. Most of these states require that their juries not be told about the limits and that the limits (reductions) be imposed only after the juries have already awarded monetary damages. Most of the highest courts in those same states have given their blessing to the lawfulness of the limits, thereby deferring their obligations to review and overturn unconstitutional laws to the whim of the legislative (and often the executive) branch of their government.
Instead of unbiased jurors from the community listening to all of the testimony during trials in medical malpractice cases, considering the demeanor of the witnesses, and evaluating the evidence before them before rendering a fair, considered, and thoughtful verdict, our state legislatures, who know nothing about us, the negligent medical provider, or how our injuries have affected us or our families, and who are under the influence of paid lobbyists promoting the narrow financial interests of their special interest groups, have dictated and imposed their will upon us all, to our collective and individual detriment. The sanctity of the jury’s verdict is meaningless when the amount they have awarded for compensatory damages is reduced (eliminated to the extent of the reduction) without any reason specific to the facts of the case that they just decided (juries are usually not told about the applicable cap on the amount of non-economic damages that they may consider and award). Jurors often leave their civic duty as jurors thinking that they have rendered a just and deserving verdict without ever knowing that their hard work will be abolished by a random, unfair, and unjustified reduction in what the innocent victims of medical malpractice will receive.
The way that caps are imposed on jury verdicts for non-economic damages awarded in medical malpractice cases is an end-run at eroding the constitutional right to trial by jury. The constitutional right to a jury trial is the constitutional right that the jury’s decision be honored and enforced in full — if the amount awarded by the jury in a medical malpractice case is reduced by the trial judge pursuant to a state law that places limits on the amount that can be recovered, then the jury has not decided the case, the state has.
Once the right to a jury trial is eroded in certain classes of cases, such as medical malpractice cases, then all of our various and important constitutional rights are in jeopardy of being violated by our government.
If you or a family member have become the victim of medical malpractice, it is in your best interest to promptly seek competent legal advice regarding your rights to compensation in your particular state. Visit our website to be connected with medical malpractice lawyers in your state who may be able to assist you with your medical malpractice claim. Call us toll free at 800-295-3959, if you prefer. Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.