Misconceptions abound about the frequency of personal injury lawsuits, their overall success rate, and the average amount awarded following a verdict or settlement. The sad truth is that many community members mistakenly believe that lawsuits are filed more frequently than they are, that plaintiffs win much more often than they do, and that the average size of the award is much larger than it actually is. Disconnect between perception and reality has many troubling consequences. For one thing, it allows incredibly ill-informed policy proposals to advance that take away rights from injury victims. In addition, the ignorance of reality of these issues leads to unfair and incorrect criticisms of victims who happen to file these injury lawsuits.
This sad reality was recently exhibited in a Missoulian article where a brain injury lawyer wrote in to defend his client who had been savaged in online comments. The victim had recently reached a $100,000 settlement following a bike accident that caused him to suffer a serious traumatic brain injury. The man was riding his bike to work when he hit a patch of ice that had not been properly cleared, causing him to slam into the pavement. He lost his job after the accident, because the injury made him unable to perform his duties.
Following the settlement an interview with the head of the Park District which was named in the suit was published. Many commentators proceeded to savage the injury victim following that interview. In large part because of the continued misperceptions about the civil justice system as it relates to these cases, the man was subjected to vitriolic comments by his fellow community members. He was bombarded simply because he used the civil justice system to reach an agreement with those whose negligence has caused him severe harm.
The victim’s attorney recently explained that many of the most basic facts about the case were misrepresented in the interview with the Board president and echoed by community attackers. For example, it was suggested that the man was riding a motorized bike which contributed to the accident; a fact that was simply untrue. It is surprising that such a simple (and easy to disprove) error was made and believed. Similarly, the Park president completely contradicted the considerable investigation was done at the site and it was found that there was no other navigable part of the sidewalk that had been properly cleared. The President suggested otherwise in his interview.
Also, the attorney was disturbed that so many community members would immediately assume that the victim was not actually hurt. In truth, the man suffered significant injury, as the impact broke his bicycle helmet in two places. He has cognitive difficulties and in still in vocational rehabilitation a year after the accident. It is disappointing that, in large part because of the misperceptions about the legal system, this victim not only has to deal with the consequences of his injuries but defend them against community members who make snap judgments about the harm he actually experienced. We all need to work to educate residents about the truth of the civil justice system.
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