Personal Injury Case Truths and Myths
By Chris Kramer
The civil justice system in the United States was created to ensure citizens a mechanism for enforcing legal rights. Without it, the most powerful people and businesses would be able to do whatever they want.
Among the powerful businesses are several major insurance companies. Those companies have been very successful in creating myths about personal injury law in the United States, myths that not only impact voters and legislators, but that may discourage people who have suffered personal injuries and have legitimate costs and losses from pursuing compensation.
That's good news for the corporations and the insurance companies - it means that they're less likely to have to pay. It's bad news, though, for victims who only want a reasonable personal injury settlement to pay medical bills and compensate for lost work time, and who may be discouraged from seeking what they're owed.
It's bad news for society, too, because as personal injury claims are limited, capped, and discouraged, big corporations and insurance companies have greater freedom to put people at risk without consequences.
If you're uncertain about pursuing a personal injury case or speaking with a personal injury attorney, consider the truth behind some of the most popular personal injury myths:
Personal Injury Myth #1
Personal Injury Lawyers Get Rich Filing Frivolous Lawsuits
One of the most popular ideas advanced by the insurance lobby is that personal injury lawyers are getting rich on your dime - that frivolous lawsuits are costing the average citizen thousands of dollars a year in insurance premiums, taxes to support the judicial system, and other expenses.
A personal injury case that is without merit can be dismissed by the judge, with or without a motion from opposing counsel. There are court rules that give sanctions to personal injury lawyers who file frivolous claims.
Personal injury lawyers who file unwarranted claims trying to squeeze cash out of a corporation or insurance company that their clients do not deserve may be subject to fines or other sanctions imposed by the court, and may be required to pay his opponent's reasonable attorney fees.
Of course, no personal injury lawyer gets rich by paying fines and attorney fees - and no personal injury lawyer wants to be sanctioned by the court where he works. So it is in everyone's best interest to only file valid and worthwhile claims.
In those few cases where a personal injury attorney doesn't honor those boundaries or makes a bad decision, the justice system quickly weeds the case out and moves on to the valid claims of legitimate personal injury victims.
Personal Injury Myth #2
Punitive damages Make it Too Expensive for Companies to do Business and Cost Consumers Money
In a sense, this one is true. Punitive damages do make it more expensive for companies to do business - but for different reasons than you might think. The reason punitive damages make it more expensive for companies to do business is because they make it dangerous for a corporation to disregard consumer safety.
Corporations make business decisions based primarily on profitability, and major corporations have repeatedly proven themselves willing to take risks with the lives of a few customers here and there if it means increased profit. They're less willing to take risks with their own money, and because of punitive damages, companies tend to make decisions more in line with the public interest. Some decisions might cost these corporations money, but that money is spent making safer products.
A dramatic example of this kind of corporate thinking came in the early 1970s when Ford Motor Company discovered that the Ford Pinto was designed in such a way that the fuel tank was susceptible to leakage and catching fire in low-speed, low-impact collisions. Evidence emerged that Ford had conducted a cost-benefit analysis in which it determined that it would be cheaper to pay damages for the projected burn deaths the design defect would cause than it would be to recall and repair the cars.
So Ford decided not to correct the problem, and people burned to death in relatively minor Pinto collisions-or were horribly burned and did not die. Without the intervention of personal injury attorneys who represented early victims of these accidents, Ford might have waited much longer to recall the cars, or never have recalled them, and many more deaths and injuries might have occurred.
Punitive damages in litigation against Ford at that time were intended to make certain that it was not profitable for Ford to have engaged in that kind of thinking, and to discourage Ford and other companies from expecting to profit from that kind of decision-making in the future.
Punitive damage limitations have largely removed the possibility, in many states, of punitive damage awards significantly impacting a company's cost of doing business. Unfortunately, that change has resulted in a new ability on the part of those companies to comfortably disregard consumer safety.
Personal Injury Myth #3
Punitive Damages Give Personal Injury Plaintiffs an Undeserved Windfall
Another common objection to punitive damage awards is that the plaintiff in the personal injury case doesn't "deserve" all that money. The purpose of punitive damages is to discourage the wrongdoer - not to provide the personal injury plaintiff with a windfall.
If the occasional personal injury victim did get more than he deserved in the effort to discourage corporations from playing fast and loose with consumer safety, it would probably be a small price to pay - but such windfalls are rare.
Many states have enacted provisions whereby a portion of any punitive damage award is paid over to the state or to some kind of victim's fund. Additionally, many states have capped punitive damage awards either at a fixed dollar amount or in some sort of proportion to actual damages.
Personal Injury Myth #4
Only People Who Want More than Their Fair Share File Personal Injury Cases
In a perfect world where every business and insurance company honored its commitments and obligations, this myth might hold true - but that's rarely the case. The vast majority of personal injury cases involve insurance companies, and insurance companies make their money by collecting premiums and then not paying out claims.
Insurance company representatives are trained to encourage personal injury victims to accept less than they're entitled to. Some insurance companies even interfere with medical treatment by refusing to authorize procedures or delaying payment.
Hiring a personal injury lawyer is often the only way a personal injury victim can get his legitimate expenses covered by the person or company responsible for his injuries. Insurance companies are well aware of this, and so train their representatives to make every effort to discourage injury victims from retaining personal injury lawyers.
Personal injury victims who work with personal injury lawyers may be more likely to receive larger personal injury settlements. It's not because those personal injury lawyers are "holding up" the insurance companies; it's because victims who aren't represented by personal injury lawyers often get cheated.
Don't Let These Myths Keep You From Getting the Help You Need
If you've been the victim of a personal injury and you believe someone else was responsible, find out more about your rights and options today, and what a local injury lawyer can do for you, before you talk to the insurance company representatives and put your claim at risk.
Call toll free at 877-288-7564 or fill out our free case evaluation form to arrange a free consultation and case evaluation from a personal injury attorney in your area.