However, what these tort reformers often fail to mention is the fact that civil suits are a powerful tool that American citizens can use to level the playing field between themselves and massive corporations. Civil suits allow individuals to seek not only justice but compensation for injuries inflicted on them by others. In fact, civil lawsuits have sometimes brought injustices to light thanks to the discovery process, injustices that weren’t caught by the police, the media, or regulators.
An Even Battlefield
In many cases, particularly large cases where hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars are on the line, personal injury lawyers work for a percentage of the settlement instead of a weekly or monthly fee. That means that we don’t get paid until you get paid, and that means you don’t have to be a millionaire to challenge a corporation that has wronged you.
The American system also allows for class action suits, which means that if a corporation has, for instance, polluted your drinking water, the entire community can demand compensation in a single massive lawsuit. In most European nations, you have to either file a private suit or rely on the government to be your advocate, and the government isn’t always a reliable advocate.
A Means For Justice
Criminal lawsuits and civil suits can both be about the same events, because they have two very different goals. The government prosecutes criminal suits with the goal of punishing the guilty for the sake of the community, but private individuals and businesses can file civil suits to gain personal compensation for damages. In other words, if someone assaults you and puts you in the hospital, you can sue that person to make them pay for the hospital bills, the income you lost because you couldn’t work, along with general pain and suffering.
Sometimes a civil lawsuit is the only way to see any justice done at all. Our justice system follows the philosophy “It is better to let ten guilty persons escape than to let one innocent suffer,” which means it’s relatively easy for a procedural error to let a guilty person go free. However, civil cases aren’t about finding guilt, they’re about finding fault, which means a person may have to pay damages even if he or she didn’t commit so much as criminal negligence.
Uncovering The Truth
The discovery process can take a long time, but it can also force corporations and other secretive organizations to publish their confidential documents for everyone to see. For instance, the GM ignition switch cover-up came to light not because of a whistleblower at GM or a regulator who uncovered the truth, but because a personal injury lawyer forced GM to hand over its internal documents during a wrongful death case.
In another instance, a personal injury lawyer managed to prove not only that asbestos insulation could cause cancer and other health problems, but that the scientific evidence that backed this up had been around for decades and the asbestos industry was fully aware of these health risks the entire time. As such, they were liable not only for selling a deadly product, but for doing so while fully aware of the danger.
Maybe America is a litigious society, but even if it’s true it’s not necessarily a bad thing. If someone or some company injures you through malice or through negligence, you deserve compensation for your loss. And while that might not be the friendliest idea, it’s a much fairer alternative to a system where “forgive and forget” are your only two options.