Utah AG calls for punitive damages caps

Chris Rizo Apr. 28, 2008, 5:44pm

Mark Shurtleff

SALT LAKE CITY (Legal Newsline)- Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said Monday that he is open to caps on punitive damage awards to help preserve the state's favorable legal climate.

Shurtleff, a popular Republican, said juries in Utah have a reputation for being fair, and that has helped to discourage many plaintiffs' attorneys from filing huge class action suits in the state.

"Were not known as a place where you'd want to bring your class action lawsuits and multi-state litigation because there's not a climate here to get huge punitive damages awards," Shurtleff said in an interview with Legal Newsline.

"Utah juries are known to be pretty reasonable, so Utah is not necessarily a target state," he said. "But there are those awards where you might want to say we need to do some tort reform, and there are legislators that talk about it all the time."

According to a study last week by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Utah ranks fifth among all fifty states in the fairness of its legal environment.

A year earlier, the Beehive State ranked ninth in the Chamber's study. Legal Newsline is owned by an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

To help improve the state's legal climate, Shurtleff said caps on punitive damage awards would, among other things, help prevent physicians from being driven from Utah by skyrocketing medical malpractice premiums, as has happened in Nevada.

"A lot of times those punitive damages awards are outrageous, and the cumulative effect, particularly when it comes to medical malpractice litigation, can create a situation like they have in Nevada," Shurtleff said.

Doctors are just leaving the Silver State because they can't afford their insurance premiums anymore, "and a big part of that is because of these horrific damage awards that are being awarded in some of these cases," he said.

Shurtleff added that he is "openly sympathetic" to tort reform measures.

"People should have the right to seek recompense for their damages, and they ought to be paid when there is an accident or a tort," Shurtleff said. "But the outlandish awards that are being given out does have an effect on the cost of services."

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo by e-mail at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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