106 Iowa L. Rev. 813 (2021)
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The Iowa legislature in 2020 attempted to pass a bill that would cap non-economic damages in medical-malpractice cases regardless of the severity of the injury. This bill was ultimately not passed, but it appears to remain a top priority for future legislative sessions. However, the movement toward damage caps in Iowa would likely not withstand a determination that damage caps are unconstitutional under the Iowa Constitution. Of all the different inevitable constitutional challenges to damage caps, there is one that stands out: the right to a jury trial. Since the late 1980s, federal and state courts have produced a divisive split on whether damage caps violate the Seventh Amendment or independent state constitutional jury-trial protections, especially in states that protect the right to a jury trial as “inviolate,” article I, section 9 of the Iowa Constitution also protects the right to a jury trial as “inviolate.” However, Iowa courts have not had the opportunity to interpret the Iowa Constitution’s article I, section 9 to determine what side of this split on which they should land. This Note examines the history of jury-trial provisions, reasoning from federal and state case law, and then reconciles this history and reasonings with textual and historical analyses of the Iowa Constitution and subsequent Iowa case law interpreting article I, section 9. This analysis shows that Iowa’s right to a jury trial is uniquely designed to protect the proceedings according to common law, or in the alternative, the essential function of a jury’s determination of non-economic damages in common-law causes of action. Based on this analysis, future Iowa legislation enacting a hard cap on non-economic damages in medical-malpractice actions should be struck down as unconstitutional, in violation of Iowa’s constitutional right to a jury trial.

Friday, January 15, 2021