Be thankful that you live in Arizona. Throughout the last decade, many states throughout the USA have overturned hundreds of years of law that was built on old-fashioned common sense and trust in people. These states have taken the final determination on civil cases away from the people, handing that power over to politicians. These other states have increased insurance company profits to record levels, at the expense of a justice system that has existed in our country since the time the US Constitution was written.
What have so many states done? They have limited trial by jury, overturning laws that allow judge and jury to have final say in the fair value of injury cases. They have limited the right to fair recovery by innocent victims of the negligence of others.
Let’s start with a fact upon which I think we can all agree: When somebody else’s negligence causes serious personal injury to an innocent individual, the negligent person should be responsible for his own actions. The innocent, injury person should not have to pay our of his own pocket when his injury was caused by another. We likely all agree that there is a right to fair compensation for medical bills, lost wages, their loss of enjoyment of life, restricted activity, and more. While we may not all agree on exactly how much compensation would be fair for “pain and suffering,” we can at least agree that people who are victims of the carelessness of others should not suffer as a result. This is a very basic belief of our justice system, going all the way back to – and specifically protected by – the United States Constitution.
But our country has seen a massive campaign of disinformation talking about our “litigious” society. After all of these years, it seems that everybody “knows” that lawsuits are being filed in record numbers, right? Wrong. According to the US Department of Justice in its 2005 report, the number of personal injury cases resolved in U.S. district courts fell 79 percent between 1985 and 2003. From 1992 to 2001, the number of personal injury cases filed in state courts decreased by 31.8 percent.
And how about this “runaway jury” problem we all hear about? Guess what: The median amount of money awarded in civil cases has dropped 56.3 percent from 1992 to 2001. And in this system that everyone thinks is just “giving away money” to people who are injured, the truth is that the median award is down to just $28,000.00.
Fortunately, Arizona still follows the basic principles of fairness that our Founding Fathers embraced. We may not trust every citizen or agree with every jury, but we trust the jury to be more fair and to get it right more often than a “one size fits all” law for all personal injury cases. Perhaps what I am saying does not sound like a “big deal” to you. Well, for the family that’s lost the main wage earner because of somebody else’s carelessness, the ability to get full compensation matters. For the person who will never work again, a jury’s ability to give a full and fair award matters. And, for person who lives in debilitating pain as a result of another’s neglect, the ability to get what is fair – not limited by a pre-determined “cap” on a jury verdict – can mean the difference in access to pain management, prescription drugs, and other life-altering assistance. In other words, it matters.
We should be proud of the laws of this great State. Other states have determined that even those cases that have found their way through our justice system, where evidence has been presented before judge and jury, and where a jury has found that the defendant was negligent and caused injury should have pre-set limits on fairness. Fortunately for all of its citizens, Arizona’s juries are still allowed to make certain that the offending person is held accountable, and the insurance company pays the innocent party what the jury determines is fair and just under our laws.
I hope none of us ever has to be the person standing before a jury after having suffered a serious loss as a result of somebody else’s careless behavior. But, for my clients and for the many others who are forced into that position, the fact that the laws of Arizona do not apply some arbitrary limit to what is fair is something that we should all appreciate.