Today the Florida Supreme Court declared that non-economic damage caps in medical malpractice cases violate the Florida Constitution. This is an historic moment. Damage caps in tort cases, and medical malpractice cases in particular, were the cornerstone of the “tort reform” agenda. Tort reform was, and is, the insidious political tool Republicans, under the tutelage of Karl Rove and George and Jeb Bush, used to advance their agenda and win elections. Rove and the Bush brothers used tort reform to scare voters into believing that lawsuits, trial lawyers, and jury verdicts were the chief threat to our economy, to jobs, to reasonable prices, and to access to health care. By creating the bogeyman of “greedy trial lawyers” and runaway juries, Rove and the Bush brothers persuaded legislatures, like the Florida legislature, to eviscerate the jury system altogether. Ignoring the facts that jury verdicts are the product of weeks of intense and careful analysis of evidence, that juries are historically eloquent at determining the fairness and righteousness of a cause, and most importantly, that jury verdicts make us all safer by creating assurances and incentives that curb anti-social and dangerous behavior, Rove and the Bush brothers pulled the wool over our eyes and scared us into ideas that would destroy our judicial branch.
The Florida Supreme Court put on the brakes and said no to all that. Our judicial branch is the most independent, most democratic part of our government. Juries are not bought and paid for. They do not host fundraisers. They do not have political action committees. They are pure democracy. Juries are the greatest threat to those entities with money or power or both as juries will hold such entities accountable irrespective of the entity’s money or their power. Tort reform, with its dishonest scare tactics, was never designed to protect Florida’s families. Instead, it had two purposes: (1) protect those with money or power or both from the blind scales of justice as administered by Florida’s most democratic entity: a jury of 6 unbiased citizens; and (2) stifle the ability of lawyers, historically major contributors to the Democrats, to earn a living so that trial lawyers would be less effective in their support for and influence of Democratic candidates in state and national elections.
The decision in McCall v. United States of America will have profound implications for our justice system going forward. The Court restored the role of the judicial branch, and jury trials in particular, as the watchdog of our democracy. The independent American jury will remain a powerful force, capable of levelling the playing field and preventing the march toward oligarchy that corporate American and powerful government is want to engage. Today, score a major victory for our Founding Fathers and their vision for what the jury trial means for our democracy. And score a victory for high quality health care in Florida, for all Floridians, and for the independence and integrity of the Florida Supreme Court.