Like a lot of plaintiff’s attorneys, we keep a pretty watchful eye on the news. One particular method that we use is Google Alerts, which automatically sends us news that feature stories about topics that affect us and our current and future clients.
This means that we get a lot of stories about “tort reform,” which is what large corporations call the legal limiting of access to the courts of everyone except large corporations. That might sound like we are exaggerating, but we really aren’t. These new regulations that states are putting into practice are done under the guise of limiting “runaway lawsuits,” and to some extent they do, but they do so mainly by preventing almost anyone from receiving anything in a courtroom other than a symbolic victory. Symbolic victories are great when you have absolutely no financial worries in your life, but there aren’t very many of us who are in that position.
In many states, the only people who are winning lawsuits are people who are already wealthy in the first place. Thanks to “caps” on damages, anyone in these states who happens to be a low-income or even a middle-class individual simply won’t be able to afford the cost of seeing their case through the courts.
Through our Google Alert system of gathering news, we recently came across a story from KGO in San Francisco with a quote that we found particularly aggravating. The regional director of Citizens of Lawsuit Abuse spent a few column inches calling basically any lawsuit not filed by a corporation “outsized,” but then went on to say the following:
“… It doesn't take a runaway jury verdict to force a small business to close. A $10,000 verdict can be just as damaging to a small business as a multimillion-dollar verdict is to a large corporation."
We have noticed that lately there has been a tendency to mythologize anyone who owns a business as a saintly and blameless individual. The current adoring name for them is “job creators,” as if they were fragile and benevolent beings who descended from the sky. They are all like Johnny Appleseed, wandering around the country with a big bag of money and providing generous employment to everyone, and to even hint that they might be doing anything wrong is simply blasphemous.
This is the exact mindset that comes blazing out of that quote in the KGO story. How could we allow a business to suffer a verdict of even $10,000? They create jobs! This plague of lawsuits must be stopped!
It’s a ridiculous sentiment. The fact that you own a business does not give you automatic immunity if your business does something that hurts people. The fact that you are a doctor does not absolve you from responsibility for your mistakes. The fact that your corporation provides thousands of jobs does not mean that you are automatically blameless when dangerous products come rolling off of your assembly lines. But in case you haven’t picked up on it yet, tort reformers are all doing their best to make sure that immunity and absolution for the rich trump justice for those who are not.
By limiting the amount of money that plaintiffs can receive (we don’t say “win,” because that implies it’s a stroke of fortune rather than a legitimate request for restitution,) they are essentially pricing them out of the courtroom. Your average low income or middle-class person can’t afford to pay the three or four figure hourly wage for a law firm. Instead, they contact us or attorneys like us, who work on a contingency basis. What this means is that we offer to represent them and take on the costs of the trial (and there are costs, sometimes substantial ones) in exchange for a percentage of the judgment. If the case is unsuccessful we don’t get anything, which is only fair considering that our client won’t either.
If the amount that the plaintiff can receive is less than it costs to take the case to court, the only people who would represent them are charitable organizations, and as much as we would like to be one, we aren’t. We can’t afford to be. Corporations, however, can afford to keep law firms on retainer.
We encourage you to think about what it means for you when politicians and tort reform organizations give starry-eyed and reverential speeches about protecting job creators and frivolous lawsuits. None of these new regulations benefit you in the slightest. In fact, they actually harm you. Remember that when it’s time to go to the polls in November.
Greenberg and Bederman is a Maryland personal injury law firm. We are currently offering legal assistance to those who have been injured due to no fault of their own. If you or a loved one in Virginia, Maryland or Washington, D.C. has been injured in an accident, contact Greenberg & Bederman for a free consultation today.