A Message from CEO Eric Lucas

rea·son·a·ble (re-zə-nə-bəl) adj.

1. Capable of reasoning; rational: a reasonable person.

2. Governed by or being in accordance with reason or sound thinking: a reasonable solution to the problem.

3. Being within the bounds of common sense: arrive home at a reasonable hour.

4. Not excessive or extreme; fair: reasonable prices.

Definitions: American Heritage Dictionary, 5th Edition. 

When you see and hear of jury verdicts and case settlements in California recently, you wonder whether this adjective even comes into the discussion; be it between the parties involved during settlement talks or during a trial by a jury while deliberating a potential verdict.

What is driving these recent results is the number for noneconomic losses, or general damages, sought by a plaintiff.  As we know, these are the damages sought for pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium or companionship, and other intangible injuries.  This damage category involves no direct economic loss and is without any precise value.  The task of a jury is a difficult one as they are called upon to assign a dollar value to these losses and are given minimal guidance from the court.  As a result, these awards tend to be erratic and, because of the highly charged environment of personal injury trials, excessive.

The broad and basically unguided discretion given juries in awarding damages for noneconomic loss is the single greatest contributor to the inequities and inefficiencies of the tort liability system.  It is a difficult issue to address objectively because of the emotions involved in cases of serious injury and because of the financial interests of plaintiffs’ lawyers. 

What is a solution to this problem?   How about what 33 other states have done to ensure reasonable results – institute state tort caps.  Since 1975, California has had a tort cap in place for noneconomic damages in the medical malpractice world.  Among other things, the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) places a $250,000 cap on pain and suffering damage awards.   This law has withstood state and federal constitutional challenges in its four decade plus life as well.

You may ask what tort reform will possibly bring to California.  As I began this column, I will also end it with another word from the American Heritage Dictionary, 5th Edition:

san·i·ty (săn-ĭ-tē) n.

1. The quality or condition of being sane; soundness of mind.

2. Soundness of judgment or reason.    

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