The right to a trial by jury is guaranteed to us by the Constitution of the United States, and no one would look down on a person who is defending themselves in a court of law. However, when people are the victims of negligence or abuse and they seek for justice by initiating a lawsuit, there can be a stigma that they are trying to “con” the system. It hasn’t helped that every outlandish civil suit makes the news or that TV and movies have pushed the stereotypes of overly litigious con artists and unscrupulous lawyers.
The stigma of high-profile frivolous lawsuits has a psychological effect. It makes people who have legitimate claims feel a little bit guilty about investigating their rights. We may feel that the parties that harmed us were “doing their best” or that the injuries or abuses we experienced were not intentional. The reality is that as citizens, we all do our best, yet when we make mistakes, we have consequences all the time. We pay fees, fines, tickets, and can even serve jail time, whether or not our actions were intentional. So why do we feel guilty about seeking justice when we are harmed? It’s based largely on popular myths.
The Washington Post recently laid out and debunked common legal myths in this recent article—here’s how the topics they covered apply to the work we do.
1. Americans Aren’t Abusing the Legal System
Those who have never taken a civil claim to court tend to believe Americans are “sue happy,” filing complaints whenever they think it could inconvenience someone else or personally enrich them. In fact, that’s not what civil courts deal with at all. When 26 state courts compiled case statistics in 2016, they found:
- Contract disputes made up 47% of filings (this category includes both debt collection and landlord-tenant disputes);
- Small claims (less than $1,000) were responsible for 18%;
- Probate court, which deals with wills and estates, handled 11%; and
- Tort claims were only 7%, and most of these were for auto accident injuries.
Additionally, civil claims have been on a downward trend for the last decade. So, when you hear about a civil case being filed, it’s probably not a foolish attempt at a money-grab by a person who wasn’t actually injured that badly. Most of these cases are centered around issues that require judicial intervention of some sort.
2. The Legal Field Isn’t Overcrowded
This point goes hand-in-hand with the first: People sometimes assume lawyers are out trying to push frivolous lawsuits because there isn’t enough legal need to support the number of attorneys in this country.
This isn’t true. Going to law school isn’t easy by any means, and a very small percentage of Americans receive a J.D. The issue is, rather, sometimes those who need our services most don’t have access to them. As civil trial attorneys, we work on a contingency basis, meaning no one pays us anything upfront. However, many lower-income individuals aren’t aware they can speak to an attorney for free.
3. Settlements Aren’t Higher Than What Is Fair
Every once in a while, a big jury award will make the news, whether it’s for McDonald’s coffee, selling unsafe products like Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder, or for the pain and suffering of an elder who faces nursing home abuse. Multi-million dollar decisions are not representative of the personal injury field; they just garner media attention because of their size. The median jury award between 2011 and 2017 was $81,496. When you consider how quickly bills can add up with America’s outrageous healthcare prices, this is a very reasonable amount.
If a case goes to trial rather than settling, it’s a jury that decides how much the guilty party must pay, meaning everyday citizens have a hand in deciding the “worth” of a certain injury. Furthermore, they only come to their decision after hearing days’ worth of evidence and receiving an accounting of the expenses a plaintiff is requesting compensation for. Should a judge find a jury award too high, they can decrease the final amount.
4. Not All Accidents Can be Met with Lawsuits
Personal injury claims bring negligent people or corporations to justice by requiring them to pay for injuries they caused someone else. However, over the years, the law has granted many protections to certain parties, essentially disallowing lawsuits against them. People or institutions that have limits on whether or how they can be sued include:
- Police departments
- Government agencies
- Gun manufacturers
Additionally, many organizations or companies ask consumers to sign liability waivers that guard them against lawsuits even if there is an accident. You’ve likely signed one yourself at some point in your life. Though in some cases we can help clients challenge the validity of such a waiver, many injury victims find themselves without recourse because they signed their right to it away.
Although the occasional frivolous lawsuit will make it to courts or as a publicity stunt, the vast majority of claims are legitimate, and they serve an important public purpose. The threat of an expensive financial verdict or settlement through the court system is often the only incentive for powerful institutions and individuals to conduct themselves in a fair and safe manner. Given that most of these cases are taken on a contingency basis (where the law firm is only compensated if they win), it only makes sense that firms choose to invest their time in situations where the plaintiff has a clear cause for action.
We’re Here to Answer Your Personal Injury Questions
Our attorneys have over 75 years of combined experience and have litigated over 100 personal injury trials. We’ve guided clients through complex claims involving medical malpractice, product liability, and more. If you think you might have a case, or if you just have questions about your legal rights after an accident, we invite you to reach out.
Brown & Barron, LLC cares about our community, which is why we give each client personal attention and a custom plan for justice. We know trying to move forward after an injury isn’t easy. Whatever we can do to help ease our clients’ legal worries, we gladly will.
Call us any time at (410) 698-1717 to schedule a free consultation with our team. We’re here for you if you need help.