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Road Injury Prevention & Litigation Journal
Copyright © 1997 by TranSafety, Inc.
March 1, 1997
TranSafety, Inc.
(360) 683-6276
Fax: (360) 335-6402

Given Six Weeks' Notice, Is County Negligent for Failure to Remove Ice? It's a Question for the Jury
County Assumes No Duty by Assigning Police to State Intersections During Power Outage
Summary Judgment Granted: Montana Decision on Moose-Crossing Signs Subject to Immunity

Highway Safety Publications Catalog. Articles on Road Engineering, Road Maintenance & Management, and Injury Litigation. Information and consulting for the Automobile and Road User, as well as for law professionals in accident investigations.
TranSafety's free consumer journal for automobile and road users, three subscription journals on road maintenance, engineering, and injury litigation, and highway safety publications catalog. See our free consumer journal for automobile and road users, three subscription journals on road maintenance, engineering, and injury litigation, and a highway safety publications catalog.

Nebraska District Judge Comments on "Tort Reform"

In his opinion on Kerrilyn Symington v. State of Nebraska (Case No. 105- 191 in the District Court of Lincoln County, Nebraska, March 31, 1995), District Judge John P. Murphy commented on present attitudes in the United States toward large damage awards. Since compensation limitations often affect damage awards in legal cases involving highway and traffic safety issues, a quotation from Judge Murphy s comments is presented below. A summary of Symington entitled State Liable Where Expert Witnesses Show Curb Was a Hazardous Condition begins on the first page of this edition of the TranSafety Reporter.

Calling these statements a short digression before he specified damage awards for the Plaintiff, Judge Murphy wrote:

Triers of fact, at this time in our nation s history, make their decisions in a climate that reflects skepticism that jurors and judges can properly decide civil cases and award proper damages arising in those cases. The present climate further fosters a cynicism that arises from a general belief that ours is a civil justice system out of control, driven by greedy litigants and lawyers seeking ever larger verdicts.

In this climate, a cloud has formed. Under the darkness of this cloud, the harsh light of the media tends to focus the public s attention on a very few large and occasionally unwarranted verdicts. Whether this focus is a result of the media s desire to accentuate the unusual or is a result of the manipulation of public opinion by those corporations and individuals who stand to profit by the accentuation of aberrant verdicts is of no moment. What tends to be obscured by this focus is the fact that hundreds and thousands of cases are decided each week in the United States that do not involve large or excessive verdicts. Scant attention is paid to verdicts that are fair and reasonable, and virtually no attention is paid to those verdicts that inadequately compensate those citizens who have been negligently injured by others. The focus helps to fuel the rising storm of criticism which is injurious to the functioning of civil justice in this country regardless of whether the criticism arises innocently or is a conscious effort by some to drive down the amount of damages awarded in civil cases across the nation.

This injury to the civil justice system involves two aspects. First, virtually every juror now brings to the courtroom preconceived notions colored by the extensive critical coverage and talk show condemnation of outrageous jury awards. This criticism and condemnation is often based on horror stories that, more often than not, turn out to be apocryphal.

Second, sincere but often misinformed citizens and politicians, based on this publicity, often call for changes under the misguided term of tort reform. This tort reform, more appropriately called compensation limitation, often results in calls for caps on awards of damages. Such arbitrary caps are based on an erroneous assumption that triers of fact, jurors and judges, are incapable of awarding a proper amount of damages in individual cases despite the fact that no empirical evidence exists to support such a conclusion.

The imposition of such caps would also ignore the individual and reduce all injured people to one homogeneous mass, indistinguishable from one another, to be dealt with by a cookie cutter mentality. Such an approach debases individuality and does a great disservice to those individuals with devastating injuries * * *

One would hope that any comprehensive analysis of our civil justice system, a system that has existed since before our country began, could be delayed until we weather the present storm and a fresh breeze has had an opportunity to blow away the hyperbolic rhetoric and outright falsity that have beclouded reason and logic. (pages 15-17)

Copyright © 1997 by TranSafety, Inc.

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