I constantly hear from insurance companies and several misguided public members that the system of compensation for auto accidents overcompensates people for their injuries, or the wrongful death of family members. Of course, if you have never suffered an injury or death in a family, related to the negligence of another, you might hold such an opinion. For the family members of a recent case in our office, the concept that people are overcompensated is just outright nonsense.
In a recent accident, a wonderful, simply lovely, 14 year girl was killed by a driver who ran a red light.
There can be no compensation big enough to fill the void in this mother’s heart. To suggest that money would compensate her for her loss misses the mark by a mile. But don’t stop reading now. Watch her get victimized again.
Any lawyer who practices personal injury law will tell you that the emotions of a family member, after the loss of a child, are not of greed, money or compensation. Those concepts are remote and not even worth consideration in the early stages after the accident. The family suffers and grieves wildly. They question the cause of the accident, their role, if any, no matter how bizarre, and may even question their religious beliefs. Some become physically unable to handle the emotions and loss. They have all told me the same thing, in my 23 years of practice, we want justice. Justice that is rarely given.
Our system of “‘justice”, has two separate processes, the criminal system and the civil system. If the accident is so grievous that it deserves criminal prosecution, the state attorney brings a criminal action seeking a fine or jail time. By everyone’s account in that system, the purpose of prosecution is not to compensate the victims, but to ‘rehabilitate’ the party causing the harm. Eventually, even if successful in prosecuting someone, the victims, and family are left with the devastation of bills, loss of their livelihood, or loss of their loved one.
The victims and their families are left to pick up the pieces. Imagine for a moment the loss of someone so dear to you, because another was simply not interested in you or your rights. If you consider it in this view, then you understand the mindset of a victim and their family at the early stages of a loss or violent accident.
Reality eventually sets in. Most of the time, collision accidents are not criminal cases even if someone is killed. The victim and family feel cheated of justice.
Many years ago, if nothing was done criminally, justice was sought through vigilantes, retaliation against the wrong doer or physical actions on others related to the person causing the harm. We see this system at work in Iraq, retaliation for asserted wrongs, and in most instances, anarchy.
We are allegedly more civilized, and as a compromise, a system was developed that proclaimed that if you were physically wronged by another person, you deserved to be compensated financially, in exchange for the archaic rights of the old testament, an eye for an eye, or retaliation. Even on a recent Sopranos episode, the main character Tony Soprano required compensation be paid to the widow for a mistaken death. While it was not perfect, this compromise provided a sense of fairness.
But payment cannot just be for out of pocket costs. How can we feel justice is done if the other party only pays for the medical bills to stabilize life, leaving the victim with the burden of living the rest of their life with pain, or simply pay the cost of burial of your loved one. No, the system of trade off was to compensate for pain and suffering, and for loss of that loved one as well.
When we became civilized, the word later became civil, as in civil action, and a system was created to turn over our rights to jurors, neutral people, who would fairly resolve the dispute between two people. A fundamental change occurred don’t you think? No one feels money is adequate to compensate for injuries or death, and have never thought so. But something had to be given to the victims to calm their anger and call for vengeance, to let the victims feel some sense of justice.
For years that system worked adequately. We outlawed vigilantism and self help and made someone pay personally for their mistakes. But then careless people (you know the ones in an accident because they simply cannot be off their cell phone) woke up to the ability to have insurance. They simply by a policy and go on their merry way after they cause great harm. At least the victims had some measure of recovery.
Unfortunately, in recent years and after lots of pressure and misinformation from insurance companies, jurors are no longer “neutral”. Public opinion has now evolved into the concept that pain and suffering, payment for loss of life and other non measurable payments are costing us too much money. Therefore we do not want to allow it, or want to limit it severely.
The result inflicts more pain on the victim and neutralises and trivializes the life lost. Seeking justice, we deny the ability to take out physical rage on the person causing injury, we insist that the victim seeks justice peacefully, but when they come to court, we do not honor our promise of justice. We leave them with nothing but compensation for their medical and burial bills, simply leaving them feeling no justice is possible.
A society without justice will fail, as we are seeing the middle east and throughout the world. It is inevitable that people will take matters into their own hands if they feel wronged. It has been true for ages and we are presumptuous to think that cannot happen here.
But let’s see into this woman’s heart who we represent. What happened to her?
The driver was drunk, a second offense and our client has no right to insist on a lifetime jail sentence. The district attorney is thinking 7 years. The defendant driver has no insurance. Therefore, there will be no compensation for even the basic of medical bills and economic losses.
Who will pay for the prosecution of a civil action against the driver, a meaningless judgement since she has no assets? More importantly, if the issue of Drunk Driving is not allowed to be mentioned in the the jury trial, would you be so callous as to deny payment for anything but the bills of this girls death? If you would have said said yes before this article, I hope I gave you pause.
Our office will civilly prosecute this case because it is the right thing to do, and because it will at least give this mother some minuscule sense of justice. There will be no fee, and costs will be paid by us.
But the next time someone tells me that lawyers are greedy and the system overcompensates them, I would prefer to punch them in the face for gratification, than to sue them in front of jurors that have lost sight of their purpose, to neutrally make sure all victims are given a sense of justice.
James Ballidis is the senior litigation attorney for Allen, Flatt, Ballidis and Leslie. Feel free to visit our web site for auto accidents and wrongful death claims. We represent victims of accidents and would be happy to initially consult with you without charge.