The Right To Trial By Jury Shall Be Preserved

Representing Orlando, Tampa, Miami and Nearby Areas of Florida

The civil justice system in Florida, along with most other states, has been under assault for the last quarter century by those calling for reform due to what big business and insurance industry groups have called “lawsuit abuse”, “frivolous lawsuits”, “the litigation explosion”, and “the tort tax”, among other tag lines. Just in the last few years, misguided Florida legislators and citizens have permitted passage of a series of statutes and constitutional amendments that serve only to limit the rights of individuals in Florida to seek remedies in civil courts for serious, real, and legitimate injuries.

Now, there is a complex statutory scheme of caps or limits on the damages that may be awarded to victims of medical negligence. Even if a jury decides that a victim is entitled to millions, the jury’s decision MUST be reduced under this unjust law. The jury does not decide, because the legislators have already decided, without hearing any evidence, the maximum amount that a medical negligence victim can receive. Billionaire car rental companies have been given similar protections with limits on the amount that can be awarded to a victim injured by one of the millions of rented vehicles they place on public roads every year for profit.

But what is the true motivation of those who preach at the pulpit of lawsuit reform? Should their intentions be judged by their words or by their actions? Should we consider what special interests they represent in judging whether their beliefs are in good faith?

As governor of Texas, President George W. Bush was an avid “tort reform” supporter, and the Texas civil justice system was left in shreds following his tenure. Yet, when one of his daughters was involved in an automobile accident, he raced to court to sue Enterprise whose rented vehicle had collided with a Bush family car. U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, has repeatedly supported caps on civil damages and other “tort reform” measures. Yet, when his wife was injured by the negligence of her chiropractor, Senator Santorum supported her in her malpractice lawsuit, testifying at trial that she should be compensated for her pain and suffering. Sterling Cornelius, a big nursery businessman in Texas who vocally supported lawsuit reform in Texas, including punitive damage caps, sued Dupont when their Benlate product damaged his company’s crop and nursery. He sued for $ 100 million, including over $ 70 million in punitive damages.

Florida State Representative Mark Flanagan, also a supporter of laws limiting the rights of Florida citizens in civil courts and who called Florida “the most litigious society in the world”, sued a daycare center and the manufacturer of a jungle gym when his daughter fell from the playset and broke her leg. Former Representative Tom Delay, an outspoken advocate for tort reform law to favor businesses for many years, sued a product manufacture in 1990 for the wrongful death of his father, seeking actual and punitive damages.

Frank Cornelius, an Indiana political lobbyist helped his clients pass a cap on damages in medical malpractice lawsuits and a law eliminating all pain and suffering damages in that state. Ironically, many years later, he was confined to a wheelchair after several medical disasters and sought damages in Indiana’s civil justice system. Although his medical expenses and lost earnings were in the millions, his claim was capped to $ 500,000 by the law he helped to enact. He has since said that he “rues that accomplishment.”

And, of course, there are the multitudes of million dollar lawsuits that major multinational corporations bring against one another for breach of contract, false advertising, unfair trade practices, and the like. As when the makers of Equal sued the makers of Splenda for false advertising and unfair trade practices, seeking $ 200 million in damages. The case was settled for an undisclosed sum. And when the makers of Mylanta sued the makers of Tums for false advertising. So, it’s okay for businesses to sue for unlimited sums of money. Somehow, these companies have never seen fit to spend millions of dollars lobbying legislatures to cap damages on their own civil claims. Only on yours.

There is a reason our founding fathers established our civil justice system so that our fates would be decided by a jury of our peers after hearing the evidence. It is because the people who hear evidence case by case, not legislators, lobbyists or politicians, do justice best. The right to jury trial is the bedrock of our system of government. At CGWC, we continue to fight these unjust laws and to challenge them as unconstitutional infringements on the rights of Florida citizens to a trial by jury and access to civil courts. The “jury is still out” on whether many of these laws will be upheld by Florida appeals courts. It is an uphill battle, once such a law is passed by the legislature, but we are hopeful that these unjust laws will be struck down by our judiciary. We hope the Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, enacted in 1791, will be respected in full and that “the right to trial by jury shall be preserved.”