Legal Facts and Fiction

“TORT REFORMS” THAT HAVE BEEN FOUND UNCONSTITUTIONAL 

On August 16, 1999, the Ohio Supreme Court struck down in its entirety a series of "tort reform" laws enacted in 1996 (i.e., laws that make it more difficult or impossible for injured consumers to sue wrongdoers and be fairly compensated for their injuries.) The court called the laws "openly subversive of the separation of powers and, in particular, of the judicial system" established by the Ohio Constitution. The following specific provisions were found unconstitutional: $250,000 noneconomic damages cap; $250,000 punitive damages cap; products liability statute of repose; certificate of merit; and modification of the collateral source rule. State ex rel. Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers v. Sheward (1999), 86 Ohio St.3d 451.   

Similarly, in 1997, the Illinois Supreme Court found unconstitutional the entire package of "tort reforms" enacted there in 1995. Several specific provisions were struck down on separation of powers and/or special legislation grounds: $500,000 cap on noneconomic damages; abolition of joint and several liability; and discovery statutes which mandate the unlimited disclosure of plaintiffs' medical information and records. Best v. Taylor Machine Works (Ill. 1997), 689 N.E.2d 1057. 

Major decisions in many other states have struck down numerous other "tort reforms" over the last 14 years. The following are some examples (as listed, in part, in Appendix B of the reply brief by the Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers and Ohio AFL-CIO in the above-cited Ohio Supreme Court case): 

Ala. - Moore v. Mobile Infirmary Assoc. (Ala. 1991) 592 So.2d 156, 158 ($400,000 economic damage cap in medical malpractice cases violates jury trial and equal protection guarantees); Smith v. Schulte (Ala. 1995), 671 So.2d 1334 (per curiam) ($1 million cap in wrongful death cases against health care providers violates of both equal protection and the right to jury trial); Henderson v. Alabama Power Co. (Ala. 1993), 627 So.2d 878 ($250,000 punitive-damage cap violates right to jury trial).

Ariz. - Boswell v. Phoenix Newspapers (Ariz. 1986), 730 P.2d 186, 194-95, cert. denied (1987), 481 U.S. 1029 (retraction in lieu of damages in defamation actions violates state "open courts" provision).

Fla. - Smith v. Dep’t of Ins. (Fla. 1987), 507 So.2d 1080, 1089-89 (per curiam) ($450,000 cap on noneconomic damages recoverable in actions for personal injury violates open courts provision).

Ga. - Denton v. Con-Way Southern Express, Inc. (Ga. 1991), 402 S.E.2d 269 (statute admitting collateral source payments violates right to a remedy); McBride v. GM Corp. (M.D. Ga. 1990), 737 F. Supp. 1563 (law that allowed only one punitive award in products liability cases violates Georgia and federal equal protection constitutional guarantees).

Ill. - Best v. Taylor Machine Works (Ill. 1997), 689 N.E.2d 1057 ($500,000 cap on noneconomic damages was a legislative remittitur, in violation of the separation of powers doctrine, and constituted impermissible special legislation as did abolition of joint and several liability and discovery statutes which mandate the unlimited disclosure of plaintiffs' medical information and records); Wright v. Central Du Page Hosp. Ass’n (Ill. 1976), 347 N.E.2d 736 ($500,000 cap unconstitutional as denial of equal protection).

Kan. - Thompson v. KFB Insurance Co. (Kan. 1993), 850 P.2d 773 (allowing jury to consider collateral source benefits when prayer for relief is in excess of $150,000 violates equal protection); Mahomes-Vinson v. U.S. (D. Kan. 1990), 751 F. Supp. 913 ($1,000,000 overall damage cap and $250,000 noneconomic damage cap violated jury trial right); Kansas Malpractice Victims Coalition v. Bell (Kan. 1988), 757 P.2d 251, overruled in part by Bair v. Peck (Kan. 1991), 811 P.2d 1176 (medical malpractice damage caps violated jury trial and due process rights and constituted preestablished remittitur); Farley v. Engleken (Kan. 1987), 740 P.2d 1058 (repeal of collateral source rule violates equal protection; Wentling v. Medical Anesthesia Services, P.A. (Kan. 1985), 701 P.2d 939 (same).

Ky. - O’Bryan v. Hedgespeth (Ky. 1995), 892 S.W.2d 571 (statute admitting evidence of collateral source payments in personal injury cases violates separation of powers and exercised judicial powers to set rules of practice).

 La. - Chamberlain v. State (La. 1993), 624 So.2d 874, 988, superceded by, La. Const. Art. XII, § 10(c)($500,000 ceiling on general damages recoverable in a personal injury suit against State violates right to remedy where sovereign immunity has been waived).

Mich. - Park v. Detroit Free Press (Mich. 1888), 72 Mich. 560, 566-67 (retraction as alternative to the noneconomic damages claimed in a libel cases violates right to a remedy).

N.H. - Brannigan v. Usitalo (N.H. 1991), 587 A.2d 1232, 1237 ($875,000 limitation on noneconomic damages recoverable in actions for personal injury violates equal protection); Carson v. Mauer (N.H. 1980), 424 A.2d 825, 836-38 (abrogation of collateral source rule and $250,000 noneconomic damage cap in medical malpractice cases violate equal protection).

N.M. - Richardson v. Carnegie Library Restaurant, Inc. (N.M. 1989), 763 P.2d 1153, 1164 ($50,000 damage cap in dramshop act violates equal protection).

N.D. - Arneson v. Olson, 270 N.W.2d 125, 135-36 (N.D. 1979) ($300,000 limit on damages recoverable in medical malpractice actions violates state and federal equal protection guarantees).

Ohio - State ex rel. Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers v. Sheward (Ohio 1999) 86 Ohio St.3d 451 ($250,000 noneconomic damages cap, $250,000 punitive damages cap, certificate of merit, modification of the collateral source rule violates separation of powers).

Ore. - Lakin v. Senco Products, Inc., 329 Ore. 62 (1999), ($500,000 cap on noneconomic damages in personal injury and wrongful death actions violates jury trial right); Tenold v. Weyerhaeuser Co. (Or. App. 1994), 873 P.2d 413, 419-20, review dismissed (Or. 1995), 901 P.2d 859 (same).

S.D. - Knowles v. United States (S.D. 1996), 544 N.W.2d 183 ($1 million medical malpractice compensatory damage cap violates substantive due process).

Tex. - Lucas v. United States (Tex. 1988), 757 S.W.2d 687, 690-92 ($500,000 cap for damages in medical malpractice actions violated open courts guarantee); Waggoner v. Presbyterian Medical Center (N.D. Tex. 1986), 647 F. Supp. 1102 ($500,000 cap on medical malpractice recoveries violates equal protection and open courts guarantees).

Utah - Condemarin v. University Hosp. (Utah 1989), 775 P.2d 349, 364, 366 ($100,000 medical malpractice liability limit for state hospitals violates jury trial right).

Wash. - Sofie v. Fibreboard Corp. (Wash. 1989), 771 P.2d 711 (cap on noneconomic damages for personal injury at a rate of 0.43 times average annual wage and life expectancy violates jury trial guarantee).

Wis. - Martin v. Richards, 531 N.W.2d 70, 93 (Wis. 1995) (retroactive application of $1 million cap on non-economic damages violates due process).   

STATUTES OF REPOSE — A growing number of state supreme courts have struck down statutes of repose as violative of state constitutional guarantees of due process, equal protection, access to the courts, and/or a complete and certain remedy. See, e.g., Best v. Taylor Machine Works (Ill. 1997), 689 N.E.2d 1057; Hazine v. Montgomery Elevator Co. (Ariz. 1993), 861 P.2d 625; Lee v. Gaufin (Utah 1993), 867 P.2d 572; Perkins v. Northeastern Log Homes (Ky. 1991), 808 S.W.2d 809; McCollum v. Sisters of Charity (Ky. 1990), 799 S.W.2d 15; Sun Valley Water Beds of Utah, Inc. v. Herm Hughes & Son, Inc. (Utah 1989), 782 P.2d 188; Horton v. Goldminer’s Daughter (Utah 1989), 785 P.2d 1087; Funk v. Wollin Silo & Equip., Inc. (Wis. 1989), 435 N.W.2d 244; Turner Constr. Co., Inc. v. Scales (Alaska 1988), 752 P.2d 467; Hanson v. Williams County (N.D. 1986), 389 N.W.2d 319; Tabler v. Wallace (Ky. 1985), 704 S.W.2d 179; Zacher v. Budd Co. (S.D. 1986), 396 N.W.2d 122; Berry v. Beech Aircraft Corp. (Utah 1985), 717 P.2d 670; Daugaard v. Baltic Coop. Bldg. Supply Ass’n (S.D. 1984), 349 N.W.2d 419; Nelson v. Krusen (Tex. 1984), 678 S.W.2d 918; Kennedy v. Cumberland Engineering Co., Inc. (R.I. 1984), 471 A.2d 195; Austin v. Litvak (Colo. 1984), 682 P.2d 41; Heath v. Sears, Roebuck & Co. (N.H. 1983), 464 A.2d 288; State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. v. All Electric, Inc. (Nev. 1983), 660 P.2d 995; Jackson v. Mannesmann Demag Corp. (Ala. 1983), 435 So.2d 725; Lankford v. Sullivan, Long & Hagerty (Ala. 1982), 416 So.2d 996; Diamond v. E. R. Squibb & Sons, Inc. (Fla. 1981), 397 So.2d 671; Hales v. Industrial Comm’n (Utah App. 1993), 854 P.2d 537. 

 

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