Court Rules Damage Caps Are Unconstitutional Infringement on Right to Jury Trial

supreme court.jpgIn Texas, a medical malpractice case has limits on the amount of non economic damages that can be recovered, usually $250,000.00. So no matter how severe and devastating the damage, the limit on non economic damage may be $250,000.00. Even if a drunken or drug addicted doctor inflicts brain damage on a child, that is often the cap. That baby, and his or her family, faced with life long consequences can only recover $250,000.00 in most instances for his or her non economic damage.

Even if a jury awards more than that, the judge is required by law to reduce the amount of damages recovered. In other words, a victim’s right to a jury trial is essentially taken away.

The right to a jury trial is a constitutional guarantee. The right to a jury trial is found in both the United States Constitution (Seventh Amendment [“the right of trial by jury shall be preserved.”]) and the Texas Constitution (Article I, Section 15 [“The right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate.”]).

Almost every single day, juries are deciding whether to impose the death penalty in criminal cases, and we, as a free and civilized society, trust juries to make those most important decisions. Why then should juries not be allowed to determine the amount of damage that has been done in medical malpractice cases? Putting the question another way, why shouldn’t juries (which decide if people live or die) get to decide how much insurance companies should have to pay when somebody is wrongfully injured?
The answer – as found in our state and national Constitution – is that juries absolutely should be allowed to make these decisions.

In states other than Texas, the Courts are beginning to bravely defend the constitutional right to a jury trial. These Courts are striking down “tort reform” or laws that limit the amount of non economic damages.

Just weeks ago, the Missouri Supreme Court defended the right to trial by jury, declaring that the Missouri statute that limited recoverable damages was unconstitutional. In Watts v. Lester Cox Medical Center, Naython Watts suffered catastrophic brain damage when doctors failed to timely deliver him as a baby. During the delay in delivery, Naython suffered horrific brain damage because of a lack of oxygen. In Missouri, a law limited the amount of non economic damages to $350,000.00. The Missouri Supreme Court upheld the constitution and declared the cap on damages unconstitutional. The Court wrote: “The individual right to trial by jury cannot ‘remain inviolate’ when an injured party is deprived of the jury’s constitutionally assigned role of determining damages according to the particular facts of the case.”

Our founding fathers thought the right to a jury trial was so important that it was written into the Constitution. Legislatures which, often at the behest of insurance companies, write laws that limit the role of juries are ignoring constitutional liberties and guarantees. In Texas, we need brave, conservative judges and legislators who will defend the constitution against the interests of big business and the insurance industry.

At Borchardt Law Firm, we hope that the work we do on behalf of injured victims will protect future generations of Texans. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact our firm, 817-332-9300 or toll free at 866-832-9300.