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Your Opinion: Don't dilute right to trial by jury

Your Opinion: Don't dilute right to trial by jury

February 20th, 2013 by Roger Johnson, member, Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys in News

Dear Editor:

"I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution." Thomas Jefferson

Our founding fathers included the right to trial by jury in the Bill of Rights as the 7th Amendment. In Missouri, our constitution provides that "the right of trial by jury ... shall remain inviolate."

Yet, despite these fundamental principles and without any legitimate reason, a recent letter to the News Tribune advised readers to voluntarily subvert these freedoms in order to grant partial immunity to negligent health care providers throughout the state.

False claims of a litigation crisis, excessive jury awards and doctors fleeing Missouri are refuted by independent analyses and the American Medical Association's own statistics:

• Caps on damages do nothing to prevent frivolous claims. A cap, by definition, can only apply after the jury has found the defendant to be negligent and after the jury has found the plaintiff to have suffered damage.

• Caps do not improve the business climate by limiting insurance costs.

• Doctors are not fleeing Missouri. In fact, Missouri doctors have steadily increased over the past four decades (in both actual numbers and relative to the population), according to the American Medical Association's annual compendium.

• "Defensive medicine" does not drive up the cost of health care. The New England Journal of Medicine has reported that caps do not lower health care costs and actually result in more negative outcomes as doctors are not held accountable for the full cost of medical errors.

I had the privilege of representing Naython Watts in Springfield in the case where the Missouri Supreme Court later struck down the cap as unconstitutional after a Greene County jury found that doctors' negligence caused Naython an entirely preventable catastrophic brain injury at birth.

Preventable medical errors kill approximately 100,000 people each year - a number that would place it as No. 6 on the CDC list of leading causes of death in the United States.

Instead of surrendering fundamental liberties in order to protect negligent conduct, putting patients first should be the priority. Imagine the cost savings and positive business environment that would create.