I Trust Juries-And Americans like You: Taking Away Our Legal Rights Isn't Reform. in Cases like Mine, the Civil-Justice System Is Our Only Hope

Article excerpt

Byline: Linda McDougal

Like most people, I never expected to be involved in a lawsuit. But then, in May 2002, two doctors switched the pathology slides of my breast biopsy with another woman's. Following my double mastectomy, the surgeon told me I didn't have cancer. What a relief! The operation had been a success.

"You don't understand," the surgeon explained. "You never had cancer."

And so I became involved in a lawsuit against the hospital and the people who wouldn't even own up to their error.

According to "Lawsuit Hell," NEWSWEEK's cover story on our civil-justice system last week, I guess that makes me just another freeloader looking to hit the jackpot. I'd take offense--being maimed by someone else's negligence isn't winning the lottery--except that I'm used to these articles. They all use the same words to discredit the system and people who get some justice from it.

Don't get mad, get even, someone once said. I'm a wife, the mother of three sons and an accountant for a small company in Wisconsin, so I'm busy. But I've also made appearances around the country over the past year, reminding people that our jury system is the only hope an ordinary citizen like me has when she's been wronged. The system isn't perfect--what is? I assume some lawsuits really are "frivolous," but our system has a lot of safeguards against abuse.

Just as I don't judge the medical profession on the basis of the people whose errors changed my life forever, I don't judge the justice system on the basis of a few bad cases. I judge it on the thousands of people throughout American history who have gotten some measure of justice from a judge or a jury that they would never have gotten from an insurance company, an HMO or some vast conglomerate.

I've read the experts who say we need all kinds of limitations on injured people and juries because insurance companies and corporations need "predictability" about their potential liability. They want predictability? What about me? What happened to me was unpredictable. I'm tough, I have a wonderful family, so don't feel sorry for me--but don't ask me to feel sorry for those companies, either.

"Sometimes, the malpractice is egregious," NEWSWEEK admits. But who's in the best position to determine if a case is egregious or frivolous? The choices seem to be a panel of experts of some sort, or a panel of ordinary citizens--a jury. …