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February 09, 2003

Deficit of "g," not caps

So doctors are going on strike to protest soaring malpractice awards and sky-high insurance premiums. The problem? Juries simply are awarding too much and entertaining frivilous claims. The solution? Cap awards. Well, that's addressing the sympton, not the root cause. Law, and life in general, is too complicated for the average idiot in a jury pool. Some evidence? When you click on Texas in the interactive flash graphic, this is what it says:

Texas: The governor has declared malpractice insurance an emergency issue and is pushing a cap of $250,000 on pain-and-suffering damages in malpractice trials ... Some regions, such as the Mexican border area, are known for high jury awards and have doctor shortages.

So the poorest & least educated area gives out the highest jury awards. In the hands of an educated rational citizenry the jury system is a marvel. But as what is defined as "educated" keeps shifting upward and onward along with the complexity of life-the citizenry is not keeping up.

Posted by razib at 07:39 AM

And that is primarily the fault of the public education system and, especially, of those who work in it.

Posted by: at February 9, 2003 09:04 AM

Several years ago I was on a jury to affix damages for an accident where an elderly woman had suffered a head blow. The fault had already been established by a previous trial.

The questions were, did her present symptoms come from the accident or from being old, and if the former, how much should she get? My fellow jurors were a cross section, with one woman from the black community. I am a white male and was then in my 50's.

There were of course dueling doctors about the injury, but I think my compeers saw clearly that the defendents were relying on small technicalities that didn't establish any fact in themselves, but seemed to take away from the plaintiffs case. We found for the plaintiff. Then we had to establish the damages.

There were about a dozen categories where we had to give a number. There was a lot of controversy (to me, pointless) about how much money to put in each bucket. But I was interested to see that the black woman was for a lower award for lifetime care. She said, come on down to her community and they'd get it done for a lot less than the plaintiffs wanted!

My bottom line experience was to become rather scornful of the argument that ordinary people are too stupid or too ignorant to sit on these juries. I don't think a bunch of PhDs would have done any better.

Posted by: Dick Thompson at February 9, 2003 10:20 AM

Dick Thompson:
"My bottom line experience was to become rather scornful of the argument that ordinary people are too stupid or too ignorant to sit on these juries. I don't think a bunch of PhDs would have done any better."

Well, your experience on a jury trial certainly gives you some credibility in commenting on this issue. However, it is plauible to me that this experience is not always indicative of how some juries perform- especially in this day and age of multimillion (or -billion) dollar verdicts. The levels of malpractice insurance premium hikes that the article talks about underscores the fact that many juries are out there awarding outrageous sums for 'pain and suffering'.

The more basic issue could be that the American civil justice system needs an overhaul before our compensation laws too restrict our economy. Who's really more at fault when a pharmacist decides to dilute chemotherapy drugs? In America, since the pharmacist can't pay but the drug companies can, the lawyers will nab the drug companies:


How many more stupid lawsuits like this can this country take before we suffer massive tort induced economic slowdown?

Posted by: -R at February 9, 2003 12:03 PM

dick, i don't doubt your story, but yours is the first of its kind i've heard in a long time. most of the other cases where people i've known have been on juries they complain about the idiocy of the other people.

Posted by: razib at February 9, 2003 12:19 PM

Razib, that may say something about the complainers. Some people (and an awful lot of bloggers) think that if you disagree with them you are an idiot (or an "idiotarian").

Posted by: Dick Thompson at February 9, 2003 04:43 PM

I wonder if the all Mexican juries in South Texas are being bought off? Everything else is for sale down south, whether it's drugs, women, or fake IDs, so it wouldn't surprise me if there were some sort of kickbacks going on. Those South Texas counties have long histories of corruption, almost the equal of Louisiana or Chicago.

Posted by: Roger Chaillet at February 9, 2003 04:49 PM

Juries are full of idiots because a lot of lawyers specifically choose manipulatable idiots during jury selection.

Posted by: Jon Wilkins at February 10, 2003 03:33 PM

jon is right from what i've read. some of the things to watch out for, "someone who thinks for themselves," "someone with a scientific or analytic background," etc. etc.

Posted by: razib at February 10, 2003 08:17 PM

A Mother. In deepest sorrow, in heartbreaking grief. In horror and ghastly shock, buries her only precious son . A senseless death which is so horrific to the family it takes seven years to recover a semblance of life. The final shock being the scars of a grisly and unnecessary autopsy. I see those scars today. Scars, reaching around his head, down around his neck. He is not the son remembered in my heart. Unconvinced and unbelievable shock gripped me when the drs told me my son was brain dead. I asked for an EEG to show there would be no activity in the brain, but was told there was no EEG in the hospital. A large, teaching university hospital in a large city has no EEG? The beautiful boy I wished for from God...he is taken apart; heart, lung, kidneys, eyes, liver and all viable organs like a prize for the hungry surgeons knives. The organs unmercifully robbed without my permission. Without my consent . Someone made the choice to disregard a motherís and sonís wishes. For those organs were sure to be given to a much lesser person. One who probably used drugs and alcohol their whole life, ravishing their own body and mind, yet determined to get whatever they want at any cost. My son was a police officer, he knew the options of organ donation, he made a choice not to be a donor. It was his choice, not the drs, not the hospital nor the insurance companies. One more lasting impression; autopsy report states his testicles were removed and then found placed inside his abdomen. Where is the compassion? Family does not initiate a law suit.

A daughter. Holding her mother tight as she convulses into a seizure. Her last breath, and her departed soul was lifted away in my arms. All with the assurance 10 days earlier from her dr that a 57 year old woman should and would have another 10 years of a reasonably good life. Her death resulted in part from the open heart bypass surgery. Consequently, we learn later medication interactions due to mismanagement of her health issues was a contributor. Family does not initiate a law suit.

An independent woman. Waking up after a minor surgery she finds herself in remarkable pain. Dr informs patient that she was inadvertently burned with 100% acid, (not the 3% solution usually prescribed) on her genitals. Upon release from the hospital the next day, it was found her entire buttock area had sat in a pool of 100% acid for 2 days. Dr states, it will peel off in a couple days, just like a sunburn!! He shows no compassion or empathy and gives no other treatment until well into the following week. 2nd and 3rd degree burns, so painful and debilitating she cannot sit for three months. She now has an upcoming surgery to repair some of the damages and is terrified of another catastrophe in the operating room. Patient initiates lawsuit.

Attorney. He is confident malpractice reform will pass. As a result, he is reluctant to press this case or put much effort into making a strong argument for the negligence and malpractice of the dr and hospital. He already has a defeatist attitude and I have no where to go from here. It has been almost three years since this began , this lawyer will not let the plaintiff find another attorney who is more compassionate or zealous. Can anyone help, please?

Posted by: anon at April 3, 2003 09:21 PM