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Tort reform has become a political battlefield in our country. Much of the cry for "reform" of our civil justice system has centered around what the tort reformers call "jackpot justice". This little catch phrase suggests that people are being handed millions of dollars by juries in what they call "frivolous cases". "Frivolous cases", by definition, are worthless. The legal system handles frivolous cases by empowering judges to dismiss them. Lawyers who bring them are often fined; some of these fines are quite large and serve as a disincentive for an attorney to file such a case in the future.

So, what has to happen to a plaintiff for so-called "jackpot justice" to occur? What injuries does a person need to experience to get a jury award of, say, $21 million? Jurors are all crazy and generous, right? They are out of control and give seven and eight figure awards out for nothing, don’t they? Tell it to this unfortunate gentleman who, at 21 years of age, was in a nightmare of an accident. This gentleman is set for life financially (or is he? We’ll discuss this later); think you’d trade places with him? Think again; he won’t have much of a life because of the negligence of another driver. This accident should never have happened; the details are shocking.

In this, one-car, automobile accident, plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle being driven by another man. For some reason, the driver began speeding out of control at speeds of 100 mph or more; finally, he launched the car into a house and veterinary clinic. The driver was convicted of gross negligence in the operation of a vehicle which resulted in serious physical harm; he served a 10-month prison sentence. The plaintiff was severely injured; he was diagnosed as a quadriplegic and he and his family sued the driver for negligence and the mother of the driver for negligent entrustment.

The enormous verdict was awarded because the plaintiff will need to be cared for 24/7/365 and he is in pain every day, pain that is inadequately controlled by prescription medications. The emotional pain of losing what you knew as "your life" and becoming totally paralyzed is not something that can be handled by taking medications; it is not something that you can be "adequately compensated" for. This young man will be confined to a wheelchair, in pain, for as long as he lives.

This is an extremely disturbing case for many reasons; the actions of the driver were so outrageous and so senseless. And this young man must, at 21 years of age, live the rest of his life in pain and in a wheelchair. Here is an exercise for you: Count the things that a person who is paralyzed from the neck down will never experience, those things that all of us take for granted, every day. Life as he knew it, as most of us know it, is gone forever. His family faces the enormous task of caring for him and paying the major expenses associated with injuries of this nature.

But, here’s the kicker: I told you I would re-visit the issue of being "set for life". Look at your automobile insurance policy. If you are a teenager, living at home and driving your parents’ car, look at your parents’ policy. The policies will, most likely, have liability policy limits of between $10,000 and $100,000. These are the limits of financial recovery that an injured person can recover if he/she is seriously or catastrophically injured in an automobile accident that is your fault. People, typically, do not cover themselves for more money than this. The average person does not have significant assets at risk in an automobile accident and the average serious injury case is settled at or below policy limits. Why? Because individuals are not usually substantially collectible beyond insurance policy limits. It is not clear how much of the $21 million in medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering this unfortunate young man was awarded will ever be collected, but I am certain it is nowhere close to what is necessary. And, in the unlikely event that he actually collected, six, seven or even eight figure awards, do you think he would trade the money for a return to good health? You bet he would, in a heartbeat! Any result in a case like this one is an inadequate result.

There is no "jackpot justice"; there is only meager compensation for catastrophic injury. Tort reform seeks to restrict the access to justice even more. These despicable corporate interest groups use catchy buzzwords like "frivolous", "lawsuit abuse", and "jackpot justice" to trivialize serious injury, thus limiting court access to serious accident victims. They system already under-compensates the victims; victims do not need additional punishment from these sham citizen groups (the U S Chamber, big insurance, big tobacco and big pharma, in ‘disguise’). They are seriously injured, uncompensated, policy limited, then tort reformed; they are victims several times over. Any of us, all of us, are just one incident, one moment, one second from being a statistic, a catastrophically injured, under-compensated accident victim who must rely on some type of government assistance to get by.

In this circumstance, shouldn’t the private sector, the person who caused the accident, his parents, their insurance company be accountable? Personal responsibility is a phrase that is often tossed about in this debate; where is the personal responsibility of those at fault here? Why should we, the taxpayer, and he, the victim, bear this burden? Ask those questions; get answers from those responsible for this young man’s and thousands like him’s conditions. Then come talk to me about "jackpot justice".

Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life funding is needed during litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.

One Comment

  1. Gravatar for William Eadie

    Mark, love the lead-in on this. It's a great way to frame the issue: how much would you accept to be a quadriplegic? To lose your arm or leg? To never be able to walk? To be blind?

    When you compare the seemingly-enormous judgments against the answers, suddenly tort deform is revealed as the heartless, corporate-profit-driven debacle that it is.

    (And this doesn't even account for the portion of juror awards that go directly to treatment and life plan costs.)

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