D. Herbert

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Relative vs. Objective Truth in Trial Outcomes

Beldar's whole-hearted embrace of the lay jury trial process seems to be a kind of relatism: truth and fiction are defined by 12 men and women. Objective things don't matter.

Statistics that can't show any link between Vioxx and the heart health problem it's alleged to cause don't matter. Mathematical concepts like statistical significance are insignificant. Scientific understanding is irrelevant (Besides, said one juror afterward, the medical evidence was confusing: "We didn't know what the heck they were talking about.").

The jury system is important for maintaining a fair criminal justice system, especially given the murkiness surrounding the facts in some of those cases. It's valuable towards settling civil disputes that laypeople can understand.

But issues involving heavy mathematics or sciences (I mean issues far beyond car crash physics) should not be left up to a jury of laypeople--especially because plaintiffs lawyers deliberately weed out people of intelligence and mathematical/scientific sophistication during the voir dire process.

Congress should shield high tech industries from dangerously biased backwater state courts by using Commerce Clause power to limit all suits against them to federal court (perhaps even to a special circuit that hears science-heavy cases, staffed with people who know what they are doing, and perhaps even cut out lay juries entirely). The Supreme Court should not hesitate to step in against bad science (and because these cases will all be federal, under federal law, the Supreme Court will have the authority to step in).

For drug cases, there should be a high bar that plaintiffs must meet to show a potential connection between the drug and the malady, or the cases should be thrown out in summary judgment. Illegitimate cases should never go to trial.

These high-tech/pharmaceutical/etc. industries are amazing and wonderful and are producing some of the most awesome innovation the world has ever seen. We need to protect them from greedy lawyers. If there is actual culpability on their part, they should be held accountable. But they should not have to pay a cent if they are not at fault. Even if they are guilty of profiting from the creation of such wonders.

The truth matters. At least, it should. That's what justice is supposed to be all about.