Alaska “Tort Reform” Damage Limits Become More Restrictive With Each Passing Year

The “tort reform” statute passed by the Alaska Legislature in 1997 continues to whittle away, automatically, year after year, at the real damages available to Alaska families who have lost a loved one due to a defendant’s negligent or reckless conduct. The 1997 legislation limited the amount of “non-economic damages” that can be recovered in a wrongful death action to $400,000, or $8,000 times the person’s life expectancy, whichever is greater. AS 09.17.010 These amounts have not changed since 1997. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics states that someone would need $520,712 in today’s dollars to equal the purchasing power of $400,000 in 1997. Even when “tort reform” was passed in 1997, $400,000 was a modest amount for the death of a loved one. In real terms, the available damages decrease every year with the march of inflation. The $400,000 limit is also particularly harsh when the deceased did not have substantial economic earnings, such as a homemaker. Even assuming $400,000 was an appropriate limit when it was adopted in 1997, that amount should in fairness be updated by the current legislature to account for inflation and then indexed to the rate of future inflation. This limit also remains ripe for a constitutional challenge in court.