ATRA Mixes It up with Plaintiffs’ Lawyers Over ‘Constitutionality’ of Statutory Liability Limits
In a recent story about court challenges to state statutes that reasonably limit awards for pain and suffering in certain types of lawsuits, the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal quoted an ATRA spokesman who said, “[l]imiting awards for subjective, noneconomic damages is one means to reduce incentives for bringing meritless lawsuits.”
The ATRA spokesman, director of communications Darren McKinney, considers the ABA Journal story to be “largely accurate and fair,” but adds that “it’s slightly weighted toward the view of plaintiffs’ lawyers and could lead a general reader to incorrect assumptions. Not included in the story is the fact that a sizeable majority of state high courts that have considered the contitutionality of statutory limits on noneconomic damages have upheld them, rejecting arguments, among others, that limits deny plainitffs their right to a jury trial. Only a minority of outlier states have struck down such limits.”
Disappointed by the story’s omission, McKinney went online to comment on the story, prompting reactions from two personal injury lawyers. A back-and-forth ensued, in which McKinney argued that statutory limits on certain civil damage awards no more deny a plaintiff’s right to a jury trial than statutory limits or mandates for sentences deny a criminal defendant a right to a jury trial. Since no one argues that a mandatory minimum sentence, for example, denies a criminal defendant his right to a jury trial, how can anyone with a straight face argue that a limit on civil damages denies a civil plaintiff her right to a jury trial?
John Vail of Washington, D.C. and Mark Ledbetter of Tennessee tangled with McKinney, defending the illogic of plaintiff-friendly state high courts in the minority for defending statutory award limits. But non-lawyer McKinney held his own before an ABA Journal editor appropriately threw a bucket of cold water on the sparring match: