Justinian C. Lane, Esq.
Let Justice Be Done, Though the Heavens May Fall

Justinian Lane's Blog

Justinian's Blog

You know it must be bad...

When Insurance Journal posts an article critical of the effects of tort reform.

The article tells the story of a 68-year-old former librarian who was severely injured through no fault of her own by a negligent police officer.  Because of tort reform passed in 1977, the city is liable for a maximum of $100,000 - less than half of her medical bills.  Why such a small amount?

"The little known act, Alabama Code Section 11-93-2, caps dollar awards in lawsuits against local governments at $100,000 per plaintiff and $300,000 per incident, while preventing suits against individual employees.

When it was adopted in 1977, the cap was worth almost four times more than today. But because it was not indexed to the cost of living or inflation, its value has stagnated, falling among the lowest such caps in the country.

In three-quarters of U.S. states and half of the Southeast, Roy would be able to seek greater damages."

There are two lessons to be learned from this story:

  1. When tort reformers say they don't want to cap economic damages, they're lying.  This law has been on the book for nearly thirty years, and many tort reformers cite Alabama as an example of tort reform's success. 
  2. Another nasty little tort reform trick is to try and pass a law with a damage cap that sounds high, like $500k or $750k... and not allow it to be indexed to inflation.  I would imagine that in 1977, when this law was passed, the $100k cap sounded pretty high, too.

I'm not unsympathetic to the fact that since the city is liable in this case, it's really the taxpayers who foot the bill.  But isn't it sad that if this woman had been shot during the commission of a crime, the taxpayers would have to pay 100% of her medical bills as opposed to only half?  And isn't it also sad that in all likelihood the doctors who treat(ed) this woman will have to eat $50,000 or more in bills?  When I say "eat" I of course mean they'll be forced to pass the costs on to other patients in the form of higher prices... which will no doubt be blamed at least partially on the tort system.  For once, the blame will be well-placed.  Any tort system that allows a wrongdoer to not even pay the medical bills of the injured party is tragically broken and desperately in need of reform.