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American Democracy is famous for the ideal of treating all men and women as equals. The Declaration of Independence adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, considered America’s birthday, is the most well known statement of human rights in world history and declared in its second sentence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” When the Constitution of the United States was being written, the Seventh Amendment was added to create a right to trial by jury in civil cases. Thomas Jefferson said, “I consider the 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.” As the Founding Fathers of America debated the formation of our democracy, Thomas Jefferson said, “By declaration of rights, I mean one which shall stipulate freedom of religion, freedom of the press, trial by juries in all cases…” More recently, a modern day jurist, Chief Justice William Rehnquist in 1979 said, “The founders of our nation considered the right of trial by jury in civil cases an important bulwark against tyranny and corruption, a safeguard too precious to be left to the whim of the sovereign.”
Notwithstanding this acknowledged importance of the right to trial by jury to the proper functioning of free society and to assure that all are indeed created equal and assured basic fairness in courts of law, a greedy few have fought for a privileged class with greater rights in courtrooms for the better part of 40 years. These special interests have fought to dismantle the right to trial by jury in civil cases for the people while assuring that right remains intact for big businesses. These hypocrites demand so called “tort reform” to “level the playing field” for businesses against human beings, suggesting that lawsuits by human beings are amuck in volume and frivolity. The fact is that lawsuits by everyday Americans and awards in lawsuits to everyday Americans are at all time lows while lawsuits brought by these hypocrites are at an all time high and the verdicts and money awards to these big businesses eclipse the meager money awards to everyday Americans when their lives are shattered through no fault of their own.
For example the three largest verdicts in 2012 were all patent lawsuits. Each award was over $ 1 billion. The largest in 2013 was Apple’s verdict against Samsung in the amount of $ 290 million. This doesn’t count settlements out of court including, for example, Pfizer’s out of court settlement of over $ 2 billion with two generic drug companies.
Companies like these are all for caps on damages of everyday Americans and limits on their own liability to everyday Americans and often decry “trial lawyers” who are “out of control”. Why don’t they want similar restrictions on their own rights in court? Why should their be a privileged class in American courtrooms reserved only for big businesses and an underclass of everyday Americans with restricted rights? If we let these big businesses continue to buy privileged access to justice and close courthouse doors to everyday Americans, the day will come when Jefferson’s ideal of American democracy will be only a memory and the declaration of rights mere words on forgotten parchment.
Enough damage has been done to the rights of working Floridians and Americans in civil cases. The American courtroom is no place for a privileged class. The courtroom is supposed to be the great leveler between the powerful and the powerless Let’s try to keep it that way.