The Settlement Alliance

Think Your Constitutional Rights are Guaranteed? Think Again.

Think Your Constitutional Rights are Guaranteed? Think Again.

Jan 27, 2015

For more than 200 years, the Seventh Amendment has given ordinary citizens the right to a jury trial, even when facing the most formidable of opponents. In the eyes of the courts, a young mother fighting for her child injured during delivery is offered equal footing with the healthcare conglomerate responsible for the injury.

Unfortunately, proponents of tort reform (i.e. large corporate interests), seeking to one-up the civil justice system, continue to chip away at the Seventh Amendment. Joanne Doroshow, Executive Director of the Center for Justice & Democracy, recently discussed this matter on The Huffington Post. As Doroshow wrote,

“A chief function of the jury system is to provide a check on official or arbitrary power. It was the colonists’ experience that the civil jury system could be vulnerable to political attacks by those in power. […]. Unfortunately, many lawmakers in recent times have allowed the civil jury system to be weakened or, in some cases, completely shattered.”

How is this constitutional right being attacked? Doroshow highlights three major ways:

  • Caps on damages: Rather than allowing juries to determine fair compensation for injured victims, many states have enacted damage caps, or limits to the amount of compensation an injured victim can receive.
  • Caps on contingency fees: The contingency fee system provides anyone (with a legitimate case) fair access to an attorney of their choice, regardless of their financial means. Some legislatures have enacted caps on these fees, making it too costly for many law firms to take on expensive personal injury cases.
  • Preventing injured people from filing civil suits: From inserting forced arbitration clauses in contracts for everything from nursing homes to cell phones to the proposed concept of “health courts,” individuals are being stripped of their right to have their lawsuits heard in front of juries.

On its website, the American Tort Reform Association claims that it “serves as the national voice of the civil justice reform movement,” seeking to protect our civil justice system from “aggressive personal injury lawyers” who “systematically recruit clients who may never have suffered a real illness or injury […].”

What this association and its allies fail to mention are all of the checks and balances already in place to prevent frivolous lawsuits—judges can dismiss cases, juries can decide in favor of the defendant—the nature of our civil justice system is to provide fair access for both sides. Dismantling the Seventh Amendment swings the balance of power sharply to one side, leaving the ordinary citizen to fight a losing battle.

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Categories: Recent Legal Rulings

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