Idaho, like many places, faced hard-fought battles in the early 2000’s over so-called “tort reform.” These were efforts to take away the rights of injured people to recover full compensation for their losses. Unsurprisingly Big insurance and Big Business funded and promoted these efforts supported by George Bush and other right-wing (NOT conservative) political figures of the day.
A conservative would support the 7th Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Idaho Constitution both of which recognize that a jury trial is what protects ordinary people from the abuses of government and the powerful in society. So, back in the day House Bill 92 passed in the Idaho Legislature and was signed into law by Governor Kempthorne. Big insurance praised the bill with its regular drivel about frivolous lawsuits. Of course, not a single such lawsuit in Idaho was ever identified by the advocates. They just parroted the poll-tested words in an effort increase insurance profits and reduce the rights of ordinary Idahoans. In reality, actual research showed no problem with frivolous claims existed in Idaho courtrooms. But the politics of the moneyed not thsoe who wish to adhere to the Constitution nor the reality of the Idaho courtroom that carried the political day in these battles.
Come Below the Fold to Learn the Story of Damond Watkins.
Now Comes the Story of Damond Watkins.
Damond Watkins is a very high achiever in life. He was student body president at the University of Utah, a White House intern; the Bonneville County Idaho Republican chairman, a member of the Republican National Committee and a corporate executive VP with Melaleuca, the eastern Idaho financial and political powerhouse. His dad is a former State Senator. His boss, Frank VanderSloot is probably the single most politically powerful businessman in Idaho.
In 2013, Mr. Watkins was a passenger in a plane crash and he incurred a broken back.
The investigation determined the plane crashed after running out of fuel. And now Mr. Watkins, seeking to be fairly compensated for the substantial losses in his life including his lifetime of pain, has filed suit.(story behind paywall).
The plane that went down with Mr. Watkins aboard was coming from a meeting in Boise. Mr. Watkins had been part of an Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry (IACI) gathering. IACI is the representative of big business in Idaho. And it was IACI working with other lobbyists that were the prime movers behind House Bill 92 back in 2003. Those lobbyists –calling themselves the Idaho Liability Reform Commission led by consummate insider Ken McClure (the son a late senator Jim McClure). Of course, all such “reform” is cheered on by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an organization on whose board Mr. Vandersloot sits.
A centerpiece of the bill was a limit of $250,000 cap on quality of life or non-economic damages. These are the things like loss of enjoyment of life, loss of relationships, pain, suffering loss of ability to perform normal activities. .
As a recent Idaho Falls Newpaper editorial entitled “An Ironic Twist” explained:
Watkins ‘ injuries have changed his life, from how he ties his shoes in the morning to how he does the job that provides for his family. He requires pain medication, suffers from PTSD and struggles mightily to do the thing that, prior to the plane crash, gave him great joy: competitive cycling.
There is nothing frivolous about Mr. Watkins’ changed life. He has proven himself a remarkable man. He continues to try to live his life as best he can. But it is a substantially changed life. To put an arbitrary figure on a person’s actual losses without knowing anything about them is what a damages cap does. It substitutes a politicians uninformed assessment ofr a jury and a judges informed assessment.
It is a damn shame that Mr. Watkins’ has had to face these new challenges caused by the errors that led to the crash. But perhaps, as an insider, he can teach those around him the foolishness of this damages cap.
As the Idaho Falls Post Register Editorial writers said:
Watkins ‘ story isn’t over. He’ll continue to feel physical and emotional pain and struggle to accomplish everyday tasks the rest of us take for granted.
But what a happy ending we could write if that terrible plane crash – and Watkins ‘ fight for just compensation – inspired the rarest of all victories in Boise: that of common sense and decency over political might and economic influence.