Most civil justice lawsuits filed by those suffering traumatic brain injuries are types of tort litigation. These lawsuits most often stem from negligence–the general idea that one was harmed because of the unreasonable actions of another. For example, if you suffer a TBI in a car accident that was caused by another driver failing to yield, then the subsequent lawsuit will likely be a type of tort litigation, a negligence lawsuit.
However, the rights of community members to file these suits and use the system to have a trial by jury, if necessary, has long been under attack. Leading the way are insurance companies which generally do not like to pay for claims made upon them by those harmed. Unfortunately, when pushing to curtail civil justice rights–in order to increase their own bottom lines–these companies often put forth claims that are misleading and something outright false.
For example, this week the Center for Justice & Democracy released a succinct “Briefing Book” that sheds light on some of the most commonly made claims about these issues. The full book can be downloaded here–it is a helpful primer on some of the most common facets of tort litigation in the system today.
Real Facts About Tort Lawsuits
Perhaps the most common myth perpetrated by those seeking tort reform is that there is a serious problem with “frivolous” lawsuits. Undoubtedly we have all had conversations with friends and family members about some suit that was in the news. Perhaps it was the now-infamous “hot coffee” case against McDonalds. You’ve likely heard someone claim that the entire system is a wreck because obviously the plaintiff in that case should have known the coffee was hot, and it is silly that she received such a large verdict after spilling it. Unfortunately, you are far less likely to hear one explain the truth, which is that the elderly woman harmed in that case suffered very severe pelvic burns that required extensive skin grafts. McDonalds refused to pay for any medical bills, even though their coffee was not just hot–but specifically prepared abnormally hot. The large jury verdict was intended as a punishment because of the company’s willful disregard of known risks based on hundreds of previous cases cases of customers harmed by the scalding liquid. Even then the jury award was drastically reduced in a subsequent appeal.
As with the hot coffee case, the truth about the scope and reality of tort litigation is often far different that public perceptions. For example, the CJ&D briefing book explains how, contrary to popular belief, only a tiny fraction of people injured by others actually file a lawsuit. Most reports indicate that about 2% of injured community members end up filing a suit as a result of the incident. This is far from some rampant problem.
On top of that, the vast majority of cases that are clogging up the court system are not tort suits. Recent studies show that in most places only 5%-7% of pending suits are tort-related. Instead, most lawsuits are filed by businesses, usually for things like debt collection. Contract disputes among these businesses are common. It seems that these big companies have no problem using the justice system themselves when they believed they have been wronged, but they continue fighting to take away the rights of others. This hypocrisy should not go unchallenged.
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