A bad idea and why: laws that limit plaintiffs’ damages

It’s always seemed obvious to me: legally imposed caps on monetary damages plaintiffs can receive are bad.

I’ve written about this frequently — here, for one — and have expressed the opinion that when laws limit damages, they restrict us plaintiffs’ right to effect change on the corporate entities that caused us damage and/or on the government agencies mandated to prevent or investigate those damages but which failed to protect us.

There are two excellent letters in the New York Times, both of which illuminate that sharp point in response to the story, “Falling Through the Legal Cracks,” about which I also commented. Here in its entirety is the first:

To the Editor:

Re “Falling Through the Legal Cracks” (Business Day, Dec. 30):

The failure of General Motors to take appropriate actions when it learned that a defective ignition switch in vehicles it sold caused the injuries and deaths of innocent people speaks volumes about corporate morality and accountability. That is why plaintiffs must be able to sue without caps.

The history of corporations’ failure to protect the public is replete with such stories, from flammable pajamas to the lack of safety guards on dangerous machinery. Without the threat of recovery from lawsuits brought by plaintiffs and the potential for punitive damages, corporations have shown that they will not do what is morally required, but merely weigh the costs against the risks and take steps to discourage those who have suffered personal injuries and/or deaths of loved ones from suing.

So-called tort reform and capping compensatory and/or punitive damages are wrongheaded and cause additional suffering for the innocent who become victims of a known dangerous product.

New York, Dec. 30, 2014

The writer is a plaintiffs’ attorney.

Another good letter follows the one above, at How Damage Caps Harm Public Safety and Justice – NYTimes.com.

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