“I’m not one of those people who sues other people.”
I hear potential clients say that from time to time when I’m meeting with someone who believes he or she has been injured because of someone’s else’s carelessness, and it always takes me by surprise. Apparently, some people believe that there is something improper or undignified about asserting your rights. Or maybe there is a general sense that lawsuits are abused by some folks. In most instances, these comments are followed by something like: “But my case is different.”
After spending my professional career representing people in lawsuits, I am convinced that our civil justice system is what it was designed to be – a fair process for holding people and businesses accountable for their carelessness or wrongdoing. Lawsuits are the great equalizer. The process allows ordinary folks to take on the most powerful interests – insurance companies, corporations, the government – on an equal footing. And most importantly, the dispute is ultimately decided by your fellow citizens who are selected because of their impartiality. Ordinary people who live in your community will wield the power.
So why are many people reluctant to sue? Or, more specifically, to be labeled as “one of those people who sues.”
I believe that this attitude stems from a campaign undertaken by certain business groups to tarnish the image of the entire civil justice system. These groups have made it their mission to create the impression that lawsuits are “abusive” and cause harm to our economic well-being. They search news reports for information about cases that seem “frivolous” to them and leave the impression that the court system only benefits those who want to get “something for nothing” or “win the lottery.”
This portrayal of the justice system is grossly inaccurate. While not every person who files a lawsuit recovers money, nearly all lawsuits filed are worthy of careful consideration by a judge or a jury. They present legitimate disputes that should be decided in a fair and orderly way.
But what is more troubling is that these groups suggest that the entire system is corrupt and should be replaced or dismantled because occasionally a claim that seems frivolous to some people gets filed. Think carefully about that proposition. Who do they think is better able to decide whether a claim has merit? It sounds to me like these groups would prefer that some super committee made up of business interests screen claims based on incomplete information to decide who “deserves” to go to court.
There is a reason why the US Constitution says that the right to jury trial “shall be preserved” and our State Constitution says that jury trials are “one of the best securities of the rights of the people and shall remain sacred and inviolable.” By taking your case to court, you are not only exercising a fundamental right, but you are insuring that the power stays where it belongs – with the people. There is no shame in participating in this time-honored process.
If you have been injured by another person’s carelessness– whether that person is a doctor, health care provider, lawyer, stockbroker, or government official, you should have no hesitation in seeking advice from an experienced lawyer. Your situation will be carefully investigated and analyzed, and if your claim has merit, your rights will be vindicated.