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Statutory cap limits your right to a trial by jury

posted by Christian Ashin & Brown on: 11/15/11 in category: Personal Injury | tags:

One of the most satisfying things to do as a lawyer is to try a case in front of a jury. It is also one of the best ways to get a good result for your client. To have a jury of your peers decide the right amount of compensation for an injured victim is, after all, a constitutional right.

This constitutional right is spelled out in the 7th Amendment, which states:

“In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.”

Now that was written in 1791, so obviously $20 was worth far more back then, but the concept still remains, though the amount has been raised over the years.

When insurance companies attempt to give low ball offers to people who have sustained personal injuries as a result of someone else’s negligence, sometimes the only recourse is to have your matter heard in front of a jury of your peers. This is especially true in certain jurisdictions where the bench typically gives poor results.

In this regard, we find it particularly troubling when law makers enact statutory caps on damages. This is a direct response to lobbying done on the behalf of insurance companies. The only concern of these companies is minimizing risk, and thereby maximizing their profits.

As of 2011, the statutory cap in Maryland for non-economic damages (pain, suffering, etc.) was $755,000, with a built in yearly increase of $15,000 for inflation. Approximately half of the states have enacted similar legislation, while the other half have not. The District of Columbia does not have a statutory cap on non-economic damages.

The problem I have with this sort of legislation is that some people get injured in an auto accident, for instance, and are never the same. Some never walk again, or lose a limb, thereby affecting their personal life in a way no one would wish upon another. For those victims, the legislature has in essence taken away their right to a trial by jury.

The legislature has already decided the maximum value to compensate them for their injuries, despite the fact that the constitution makes it clear that they are entitled to a trial by jury.

Why is it that a jury can determine whether a crime should be punished by death, but cannot determine what a fair amount would be to compensate an injured victim, wronged by another individual or company? Why do we as a nation feel comfortable letting a jury decide the ultimate fate of another human being, but when it comes to an insurance company paying out an award to an injured victim we suddenly need to arbitrarily regulate the maximum amount a jury can award?

These are tough questions to answer. I would imagine there are numerous lobbyists who work for insurance companies who could fill us in on the logic, but somehow I just don’t think I want to hear it.

If you have been injured and think that you may have a claim, please call for a free consultation with an experienced attorney 301-277-9171.

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