A state district judge has ruled that North Dakota’s law limiting damages in medical malpractice cases is unconstitutional.
Last April, a 35-year-old woman was awarded $3.5 million, $2 million in economic losses and $1.5 million for non-economic damages. The jury decision was the result of a lawsuit claiming that in 2012 the woman suffered a disabling stroke after a major artery was severed during surgery.
The hospital filed a motion to reduce the award under a North Dakota law that places a $500,000 limit on non-economic damages. It said that the law “creates certainty in the medical malpractice insurance market and keeps premiums low and affordable for doctors.” However, a judge ruled that the 1995 law “violates equal protection guaranteed by the state constitution by arbitrarily reducing damages for people who suffer the most severe injuries.”
An appeal is expected.
Our court system is supposed to be about justice, fairness, and individual rights. Jurors, after thoughtful consideration of the evidence presented to them, should have the freedom to award damages based upon actual physical and emotional harm suffered by the victim. Any attempt to take power away from a jury is an attempt to take power from citizens. Damage caps only punish those with the most serious injuries, costing the victim more than just lost earning potential or unpaid medical bills. Wouldn’t it be easier to stop the reason for the lawsuits? Wouldn’t it be easier to fix the problem rather than restricting recovery and court access to victims?
Tort reform has always been about granting blanket immunity to corporate and insurance interests. Taking away the rights of injured patients and shielding corporations from liability or damages will do nothing to improve health care or safety. Undermining our right to hold wrongdoers accountable, is a direct attack on our constitutional rights. And, when we allow these powerful corporations to avoid accountability, the cost of harm is redistributed from the wrongdoer to the taxpayers in the form of entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Why should we, the taxpayers, be forced to give up a fundamental right, and then be forced to bail out negligent wrongdoers?
Legislation manipulation our judicial system on behalf of insurance and corporate lobbyists puts all of us at a great disadvantage. It is time we stop sacrificing our rights at the throne of the big business and insurance companies. The Constitution clearly guarantees the right to a trial by jury to all citizens under the 7th Amendment. It is time to recapture the promise of America.