Caps on damages: Denying your access to the courthouse

/ / Law Blog

As a personal injury lawyer practicing in Stuart for the past 21 years, I’ve watched trends come and go. One trend that has persisted is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s drum beat for tort reform. They call it reigning in lawsuit abuse. We call it denying you access to the courthouse when you need it.

Another way to look at the Chamber’s position is they are lobbying for the rights of wrongdoers. That’s like pushing for reduced punishment for criminals. If someone gets seriously injured, that person should be compensated for medical bills, lost wages and loss of quality of life.

The U.S. Chamber is pushing to limit YOUR right to recover damages when you are legitimately injured. The spread false information about silly lawsuits to enrage the public. That outrage hurts legitimate suits which the Chamber also wants to limit.

The fact is there are many restrictions currently in place which significantly restrict an injured person’s right to sue for damages. In Florida, right now, a lawyer and client who file a frivolous lawsuit can be ordered to pay the other side’s attorneys fees and costs.

Another example in Florida is a motor vehicle crash victim may not file a lawsuit unless he or she has medical evidence of a permanent injury. These are just two examples of reasons to avoid a questionable case.

These types of rules are not enough for the chamber that will not be satisfied until our civil justice is dismantled and civil suits are a thing of the past. If we applied their approach to professional baseball, they would want to abolish baseball because a handful of selfish and undisciplined players used illegal steroids.

Is that an appropriate remedy for what those players did? Of course not. They have been singled out and punished accordingly. The entire game did not need to be destroyed.

I recently came across a very sad story about a 14-year-old Maryland boy who was paralyzed from the neck down and sustained brain damage. He was hit by an off-duty police officer who was speeding through his neighborhood. The officer was going 56 mph in a 30 mph zone. (Read the story here.)

Because of Maryland law, the injured boy was limited to $400,000 in damages. He requires round-the-clock medical care. His case was probably worth millions of dollars, but state law limited how much he could recover.

When the money he did get runs out, he will have to go on welfare and Medicaid. Is that fair? Is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce proud that this 14-year-old boy was limited in what he could recover for the horrendous injuries and loss he suffered?

This is the dangerous and sad road the the Chamber wants to lead you down.