Civil Justice System Under Attack

As an American citizen, you have a right to a trial in front of a jury of your peers in a civil or criminal case. Corporations and insurance companies have expended significant efforts in recent years to poison the public’s opinion about lawsuits and to limit consumer’s rights to justice. The public is often unaware of this but apathy is our worst enemy. One day you might find yourself injured from the negligence of another person or corporation and you may not have any remedy left for you to seek compensation and justice.

In the 1980s, the tort reform movement began to systematically erode justice in personal injury cases. Prior to the tort reform movement, case law was changed on a case by case basis and the justice system would slowly evolve and formulate decisions based upon specific issues put forth in various lawsuits. The tort reform movement attempted to persuade the public that the civil justice system was contributing to excessive litigation, astronomically increased insurance premiums and affected the economy as a whole. Slowly over time, these ideas have invaded the consciousness of the typical juror and plaintiff’s verdicts in personal injury lawsuits have plummeted.

With statistics favoring a defense verdict, more and more insurance companies are willing to “roll the dice” and take claims to trial instead of offering to settle, even in cases where the claim was legitimate and liability was reasonably clear. Ironically, this causes there to be more litigation which was contrary to what the tort reform movement sought to achieve.

Compounding the issue, state courts became underfunded causing furloughs and court closures. Often times, plaintiffs are waiting years to half a decade to have their case heard. Sometimes this even resulted in the plaintiff passing away before they could ever see justice. As injured plaintiffs often have outstanding expenses and medical bills and some have lost the ability to ever return to work, many have become destitute in the long wait for a recovery. The insurance companies know this and are often able to force plaintiffs to accept a lower than fair value for their case. Accepting these offers brings down the value on other similar cases further affecting other plaintiffs.

Corporations have also lobbied state legislatures and Congress to protect their own interests against lawsuits. Many fine print agreements contain an “arbitration clause”. This forces the consumer to settle their dispute in arbitration and waives their right to a trial by jury of their peers. In 2011, the Supreme Court overturned California’s Ninth Circuit court’s decision in the AT&T v. Concepcion case thereby allowing corporations to uphold their arbitration clauses forcing consumers to settle their disputes at individual arbitrations and often times disallowing consumers to band together in a class action lawsuit.

Without collective power, consumers often find it difficult to receive justice and compensation for injuries they sustained at the negligence of a corporation. Dangerous products and pharmaceuticals are be sold on the open market with no regard to the potential harms these products and drugs may cause. In cost-saving measures, companies may forego standards and safety procedures putting workers and consumers are risk. If tort reform continues unchecked, Americans may wake up one day and realize that there is no remedy for the injuries and injustices done to them.

A survey of jurors today indicates that many are concerned about how the outcome of a personal injury lawsuit, such as a motor vehicle accident, will affect their insurance premiums. A lot of people incorrectly believe that lawsuits and premiums are related. It is reasonable to not want to assume additional costs but without looking at the larger picture, jurors are mistakenly choosing a more expensive option.

First, let’s look at an example involving a motor vehicle accident. If you were, for example, to receive an automatic speeding ticket every time you drove five or more miles over the speed limit, you might think twice before putting the pedal to the metal. You would be held accountable for your unsafe driving. When a jury gives a defense verdict in a motor vehicle case, the jury is ultimately expunging the defendant of the wrongdoing of driving so negligently as to cause an accident. Without social accountability, there is no reason to not continue to drive recklessly, thereby endangering the lives of others on the road. In essence they are condoning unsafe driving behaviors.

Next, while the jury erroneously believes that a verdict for the plaintiff would cause their insurance premiums to rise, by not adequately compensating the plaintiff for his or her injuries, lost wages, loss of function, loss of enjoyment of life, medical bills and other expenses, the jury is inadvertently pushing the plaintiff into the social system. Injured and unable to work and pay expenses and bills, the injured plaintiff is forced to seek social programs such as social security disability, welfare, Medicare and Medicare, and other similar programs. These programs are funded by tax dollars. The more people requiring these services the more likely it is that tax rates will rise.

Potential jurors need to realize that people pay a premium for insurance and that insurance is to “insure” the person against claims and liability and in the event of a claim, the insurance is supposed to pay out accordingly. It is a service that is already paid for. While insurance companies will defend their insured against a claim, their failing to settle reasonable claims within the limits of the insurance policy and instead opting to “roll the dice” with a jury verdict, are thereby exposing their insured to a risk of judgment in excess of the insurance coverage. Therefore, an insured’s personal property and assets are also gambled in this game of “rolling the dice.”

It is therefore good practice for an insured involved in a claim to encourage their insurance company to settle the claim within the policy limits thereby avoiding litigation and possible personal risk. In cases in litigation where the jury can find that the defendant was in fact negligent for causing an accident or injury, the jury should award the plaintiff a verdict that should adequately compensate the plaintiff for his or her expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and other damages so that the plaintiff can start to rebuild and move on with his or her life.

Every American has a right to trial by a jury of their peers. If we as Americans continue in apathy, corporations and insurance companies will slowly erode our rights and one day when we might find ourselves in need of a trial, there may be very little justice to be found. Take Justice Back, is a website run by the American Association of Justice, to help inform consumers about these exact issues which are affecting our justice system, our right to a fair trial, and our rights as American citizens. We encourage you to take a moment and peruse the site to read more about the issues and topics at hand.

If you have been injured in an accident or by the negligence of another and need legal representation to assist you with your claim, please contact our highly skilled Massachusetts and New Hampshire personal injury attorneys for a free case evaluation.

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