Soon-to-Be-Bride Left Quadriplegic
In January 1998, a 27-year-old woman had bright plans for her future; she was to be married that summer. Planning to shop for her wedding veil, the young woman was driving to the home of her maid-of-honor when tragedy struck. She was involved in a two-car collision. With her dreams shattered and her wedding cancelled, she was left a quadriplegic and doctors claimed she would never walk again. She faced a lifetime of unending pain, medical treatments and bills.
30-Year Request Reluctantly Granted
The intersection, where the catastrophic crash occurred, had been a source of major concern for local officials. For almost 30 years, they pleaded with PennDot for a traffic control device at this dangerous intersection. PennDot refused. Two months after the accident, PennDot finally relented, but it took an additional four years to actually install the traffic light.
A lawsuit was filed against PennDot and the negligent driver who unfortunately had minimal car insurance. The jury awarded $38 million in damages, the largest of its kind in our county. The jury determined the amount was justified to cover future medical costs, lost wages, emotional distress, disfigurement, and in addition, loss of enjoyment of life and pain and suffering.
Unbeknownst to the jury is Pennsylvania’s “sovereign immunity” law that caps
damages awarded against state agencies. Consequently, the young woman with
disabilities–and her parents who need to tend to her every need–will ONLY receive $250,000 from PennDot.
While that may seem like a large sum of money, in this case, it isn’t. The capped amount, minus legal costs and other fees, won’t even cover ONE month of her medical expenses, not a lifetime worth of expenses as she and her family certainly deserve.
Think about this: When it comes to the negligent actions of states and state agencies, injured citizens have only limited hope of fair compensation. Do we extend that freedom from liability to the medical profession as well?
The Other Side of Tort Reform: Caps are NOT the Answer
In the heat of the tort reform debate, the argument is often made that the government should impose caps on the amount of damages juries can award in cases of negligence. That position seems fine … until it collides with reality–literally and figuratively–as in this case.
- Cost of penalty for saying a “four-letter word” on the radio under FCC regs. $275,000.
- Cost of being paralyzed by doctor’s negligence, if caps pass in Pennsylvania: $250,000.
- Cost of injustice caused by tort reform: immeasurable!