Bruning calls Nebraska's trial bar 'fairly reasonable'

Chris Rizo Aug. 21, 2008, 1:14pm

Jon Bruning (R)

LINCOLN CITY, Neb. (Legal Newsline)-Nebraska's legal climate has not become "polluted" because of the absence of traditional punitive damages awards and caps on medical malpractice claims, state Attorney General Jon Bruning told Legal Newsline Thursday.

The Republican attorney general said as a result, the trial bar in the Cornhusker State is "fairly reasonable," noting that the state's plaintiffs' attorneys are not "looking for the next deep pocket" because there are no punitive damages available in the way other states award them.

"Without punitive damages it doesn't get polluted ... so it's a fairly reasonable process," Bruning said. "It's more about divvying up fault and the economic resource to generally get the person the hospital care they need. There is not a big windfall that anybody is going to get because they were in an accident."

In Nebraska, punitive damages awards go to the state's schools. "So, there is no incentive for lawyers to ask for them," Bruning said with a chuckle.

"There is really no non-monetary damages that are ever awarded, so the kind of ridiculous results you see where a lawyer convinces a jury to make the company 'feel it' by taking 10 percent of their market cap is not going to happen in Nebraska," Bruning said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranked Nebraska No. 2, just behind Delaware, in its annual national survey of judicial fairness. Legal Newsline is owned by the U.S. Chamber.

Bruning said Nebraska's stellar rating is partly attributable to its appointed judges. He said the state has done well to create a judiciary that is beholden to no one.

In Nebraska, judges are appointed by the governor, who receives a list of nominees from an independent panel of lawyers and laypeople.

"In many states, elected judges can be beholden to the trial bar," Bruning said in a lengthy telephone interview.

He added that Nebraska has been able to keep good health care providers because the state has a cap also on medical malpractice claims that prevents doctors from being driven out of the state by astronomical medical malpractice insurance premiums.

"Everyone knows what the caps are," said Bruning, who was first elected in 2002, defeating Democrat Mike Meister with 58 percent of the vote, becoming the youngest attorney general in Nebraska's history.

Nebraskans, he added, are "pretty common sense" in their approach to the law.

"They are not particularly sympathetic to somebody who wants tens of millions of dollars for a burn from a cup of coffee," Bruning said. "If you stub your toe in Nebraska, your first response is not to sue. This is a take-care-of-yourself kind of state."

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at

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