When we started blogging nearly seven years ago, we did not plan to post blogs every day, for 2,500 consecutive days. We could not have fathomed that there would be 2,500 topics related to medical malpractice that would keep us busy posting, day in and day out.
In deciding what the subject should be for this auspicious day, we kept coming back to the one aspect of civil dispute resolution in the United States that deserves our unending reverence, deference, and respect: the civil jury system. The right to have a civil jury hear our differences and decide our fates is so ingrained in our collective wisdom in the United States that our forefathers ensured that jury trials would be guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and states have provided the right to a civil jury in many of their constitutions.
The right to a jury trial in federal civil matters is expressly set forth in Amendment VII of the United States Constitution: “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.”
Not only is the right to trial by jury sacrosanct in civil disputes so long as the amount in controversy meets the constitutional threshold, but each fact decided by a civil jury is not subject to second-guessing or review by a court except as provided in limited circumstances under common law.
Our jury trial system as applied in medical malpractice cases has been under serious attack by so-called tort reformers for some time now, with mixed but concerning results. An increasing number of U.S. states are enacting laws that restrict the jury’s provenance in providing full and timely justice to parties involved in medical malpractice claims: some states require that medical malpractice claims be sent to medical review panels before a jury can decide the claim; some states limit the amount of damages the victims of medical malpractice may recover (i.e., caps on noneconomic damages), despite a jury’s determination of the amount of fair and adequate compensation, which results in the most grievously injured victims of medical malpractice not receiving the full measure of justice as determined by a jury; and, some states require medical malpractice victims to preliminarily obtain and provide affidavits from medical experts, at great additional expense to the victims of medical malpractice, to support their medical malpractice claims before a jury is allowed to hear their claims, etc.
The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that pre-dispute arbitration agreements that waive jury trials are almost always enforceable against vulnerable nursing home residents who are harmed by nursing home neglect, nursing home negligence, and nursing home abuse.
Civil Juries: The Imperfect Perfection
Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, “I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.” “The wisdom of our sages and the blood of our heroes have been devoted to the attainment of trial by jury. Trial by jury is part of a bright constellation which leads to peace, liberty and safety.”
Winston Churchill famously stated, “The jury system has come to stand for all we mean by English justice. The scrutiny of 12 honest jurors provides defendants and plaintiffs alike a safeguard from arbitrary perversion of the law.”
The jury decision-making process is so important to American jurisprudence that tampering with juries is punishable by severe penalties, which vary from state to state (for example, in Louisiana, tampering with a civil jury exposes the person to a maximum fine in the amount of $5,000.00 and/or a maximum prison sentence of 5 years), and in the federal court system, those found guilty of conspiracy to obstruct the due administration of justice are subject to a fine in the amount of up to $250,000 and a prison sentence of up to 5 years (obstructing the due administration of justice carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, plus a fine).
Despite a long and successful history of resolving civil disputes effectively and timely by jury trials, the right to have civil juries decide medical malpractice claims is becoming elusive in many U.S. states. Medical malpractice insurance companies, large corporate hospital systems, and self-interest health care provider associations have banded together and have spent countless thousands of dollars in lobbying state legislators throughout the United States to enact laws that financially benefit health care providers but harm the victims of medical malpractice. Many victims of medical malpractice are completely unaware that their state legislatures have bartered away their constituents’ constitutional rights to the highest bidders, by enacting laws that compromise the previously unfettered right to have a civil jury decide medical malpractice claims.
The most vocal advocates for the disparate patients who have been harmed by medical negligence are the medical malpractice lawyers who represent them in claims against negligent health care providers. Medical malpractice lawyers work tirelessly to obtain justice for their clients and, at the same time, to advocate for safe medical practices. Oftentimes it is only after a medical malpractice claim is pursued that state boards of medicine and health care providers’ employers, such as hospitals, become aware that certain medical providers provide incompetent care, or worse, and that innocent and vulnerable patients are suffering serious harm as a result.
It is our intention at MedicalMalpracticeLawyers.com to continue to provide informative and relevant blog posts that help people understand the ever-changing legal terrain of medical malpractice in the United States, and to help medical malpractice victims in the United States find local medical malpractice lawyers in their state who may assist them.
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