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John Hopkins

Lawmakers and Tort Reform — Omnipotence or Arrogance?

» Written by // September 28, 2011 //


Tragically, your wife, your husband, your child suffers severe injury or death because someone else did not exercise reasonable care.

Your elderly mother dies because a for profit nursing home demonstrating millions in profit fails to provide sufficient staff to care for its residents.

A stage collapses and kills several people, injures many, many more.

How do we value a life or an injury? What value should we place on the loss of a wife or a child because someone else was careless?

What is your child worth?

These are the questions asked of jurors all across the country every year. Sadly, in many states, the law makers have taken this decision from out of the hands of a jury. Law makers, many leading blessed lives, have decided what your child is worth, what your spouse is worth, what your mother is worth. And, that is whether you like it or not – whether a jury likes it or not.

The constitution created a right for all citizens to have redress (a chance for justice) of any wrongs by taking the aggrieved party into a court and having a jury decide right from wrong and the amount of any damages that may have been caused.

In Indiana, much like Florida, the law makers decided that when they (the state) are negligent, they should never have to pay more than $5 million. Sounds like a great deal of money and, the fact is that it is a great deal of money; at least until you begin to look at the details of the losses:

  • Alina Bigjohny, 23 years old. Alina was a school teacher.
  • Christina Santiago, 29 years old. Christina managed a care project at the Howard Brown Health Center.
  • Tammy Vandham, 42 years old. Present to celebrate her birthday, she left a young daughter without a mother.
  • Glenn Goodrich, 49 years old. Glenn was a reserve police officer and left a wife and two sons.
  • Nathan Byrd, 51 years old. Loved by family, 300 people gathered to mourn him.
  • 40 people injured.

Our sympathies go out to the family members of those who lost their lives and to the injured who have suffered in this tragic event.

The question of whether someone’s negligence caused these tragedies and what damages should be recovered in the vain effort to compensate families for the loss of loved ones and the injured for their injuries should appropriately be a question for jurors after hearing all the relevant evidence.

The real question in this and similar cases is: why does the state of Indiana, like so many other groups of law makers, take out of a jury’s hands the question of how much compensation should be paid. What value to fix to the loss suffered by Tammy Vandham’s young daughter who will live without her mom or Glenn Goodrich’s wife and two sons who will live without him. How should we value the loss of a 23 year old girl who never got the chance to grow up at all?

What should we do to compensate 40 injured people, some of them critically injured?

The question is whether the evaluation of these losses should be taken out of the hands of jurors who will hear evidence and transfer those decisions to lawmakers who in an arbitrary fashion will decide what those lives are valued at before an injury occurs, before any evidence is heard?

Do law makers see themselves so omnipotent that they are empowered to look into the future and make these kinds of decisions?

What has happened is money and marketing. Special interests in our society have decided they know best and they have spent billions of dollars to convince many of the public and most law makers that very smart people who show good judgment in most every aspect of their lives, suddenly become blithering idiots when sworn is as jurors. Groups in our country, largely funded by drug companies, insurance companies and corporate interests have invested big bucks to sell the notion that jurors are incompetent to hear evidence and make good, well thought decisions.

The plain fact is that a good reason existed and continues to exist for a system involving jurors hearing evidence and making well thought decisions. Are jurors always perfect? Well, I have certainly disagreed with decisions of juries over the years, but I have always respected that agree or disagree, I believed the jury tried it’s very best to do the right thing, to reach justice. In this age of massive lobbying influences, that is a great deal more than I think we can say about many of our lawmakers.


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