Some tort reform advocates not so keen on arbitrarily limiting damages for victims are proposing another idea to significantly alter our country’s medical malpractice system – health courts. What is a health court? Basically, it would be a court specifically designed for medical malpractice and surgical error cases with a judge who has specialized medical knowledge along with a panel of experts to help decide the case.
On the surface, this sounds like a reasonable proposal. Who can argue with having a judge with legitimate medical experience making legal decisions about medical malpractice cases? One big problem: Most health court proposals include a provision that deny a victim the right to trial by jury. This means all decisions will be made by the specialized judge and panel of experts.
This type of proposal is misguided. Reforming our medical malpractice system is an issue worthy of debate, but having the right to trial by jury is an essential aspect of our democracy. As Alexis de Tocqueville said, “The jury…serves to communicate the spirit of the judges to the minds of all the citizens; and this spirit, with the habits which attend it, is the soundest preparation for free institutions.”
Unfortunately, the White House has decided to explore this misguided proposal and the 2011 budget allots a total of $250 million in Department of Justice grants to "provide incentives for state medical malpractice reforms," $100 million for 2012 and $50 million for each of the next three years.
There is likely to be further debate about health courts and tort reform in general, but there should never be any serious contemplation about arbitrarily restricting a citizen’s right to trial by jury.
About the Editors: Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm (VA-NC law offices ) edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard, and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services for consumers.