There has been a lot of justifiable backlash over “zero tolerance” policies for weapons at schools. The tale of the cub scout proud of his pocket knife with fork and spoon has prompted many people to cry out “where is the common sense of these school officials?” My practice really isn’t geared to this type of litigation (although I know attorneys who do) but I’d like to make the connection between these zero tolerance policies and some types of tort reform.
Zero tolerance for weapons in schools sounds like a great idea. Don’t let anybody wiggle out of the rule because of their race, wealth, Mom is the principal, or anything else. In practice though it requires a third-grader to be suspended because her grandmother sent a birthday cake to school, and a knife to cut the cake for the teacher. With zero tolerance, there is no room for common sense. It is a robotic and undemocratic rule of law.
Caps on medical malpractice damages or pain and suffering damages is also a form of this zero tolerance. The jury system allows ordinary citizens to come and decide after a judge explains the law, what the facts are of a case. Part of the facts is what actual damages does this person show? Sometimes, if they find maliciousness, they can also answer, what amount would punish this person or corporation enough that they won’t do it again? (punitive damages) Then the judge, after his ruling, can apply his own common sense and order a new trial if the jury’s verdict are far out of line with what the facts are that were presented. A cap on damages is a state legislature deciding, without hearing any facts of a case, and possibly years before the case even occurs, that some amount of money is too much, even if a jury and judge who hear the actual evidence and circumstances think otherwise. A unanimous jury verdict is the purest form of democracy that any of us will experience. An inflexible cap or rule, is the opposite.-Bradley A. Coxe is a practicing attorney in Wilmington, NC who specializes in Personal Injury, Car Accidents, Medical Malpractice, Contract and Real Estate disputes, and all forms of Civil Litigation. Please contact him at (910) 772-1678.