Our Thoughts About Your Constitutional Right to Jury Trial and the American Civil Justice System
We’re sure you’re familiar with the adage “Nobody likes an attorney until they need one.” It always provokes a few laughs and usually signals the invitation to tell a few more lawyer jokes.
The trouble is that our right to trial by jury is under siege. There are forces that would like to see the civil justice system completely dismantled. If that happens then the little guy – like all of us – will be forced to play on an un-level playing field.
As kids, our parents taught us right from wrong – and that’s how we’re raising our kids – to accept responsibility and to do what’s right.
That’s what the civil justice system provides, too. If someone has done something wrong and won’t accept responsibility the civil justice system is there – as a safety net – to differentiate wrong from right.
Trial lawyers or consumer attorneys – however you hear the phrase — are just a tool providing access for those who need to use the civil justice and jury system. We’re here to help you navigate the system.
Here’s a recent case that we handled that will put this into perspective for you.
Just last year we represented a wonderful family who tragically lost their son during a mishandled and completely avoidable non-emergency interfacility ambulance transport. The defendant, Pacific Ambulance, and EMT employees never acknowledged fault or responsibility for the loss.
We took the ambulance company to court. After a year of litigation and two week jury trial, the jury of 12 not only found that Pacific Ambulance and one of the EMTs were both liable for the death of this young man, they also found the company grossly negligent and rendered a verdict in excess of $1,000,000. Here’s a link to the case.
After the jury was dismissed, the trial judge who was following a
very old California law called MICRA, reduced the verdict to $250,000.
When we talked to jurors after the case, they were offended that this happened. They did not know their verdict could be reduced. As lawyers, we were not allowed to tell them during the trial. They were literally left speechless.
Looking back over the past three decades, we’ve handled hundreds of cases where people came to our firm because of being mistreated by corporations or insurance companies. This is an all too common problem. Most people just don’t “get it” or appreciate the extent of the issue until it happens to them.
Today we are hearing the buzz words “ownership society,” well we’re all for that. Own your actions. Own your decisions. Own your future.
If Ford makes vehicles they know are liable to roll over and kill or injure those inside – they should “own” up to that and make the vehicles safer.
If PG&E knows it is polluting drinking water – they should own up to it, stop the contamination, and begin remediation.
If Enron officials know they raided the pension funds of their employees and cheated their shareholders – they should admit guilt and reimburse those wronged.
That’s what an “ownership society” means to us. And we would guess that’s what it means to you, too. Trial lawyers simple make sure the honest businesses and honest people have the same rights and remedies as everyone else.
Let us tell you – there are bad guys out there. People and companies willing to harm people for the sake of making a buck. By protecting the jury system and civil justice system we protect the honest business person, consumer, and families all over America.
The role of the civil justice system is to:
- Guarantee justice
- Protect the public
- And, to protect market integrity
We all believe in those basic protections – it’s just common sense. We should all be committed to the public good. With that, the justice system should be available for the public when someone or some company refuses to play by the rules.
Another popular phrase today is “frivolous lawsuit.” Let us be clear, trial lawyers are against “frivolous lawsuits” too. We believe that all cases should have merit if they are to use the resources of our civil justice system.
And, quite frankly if a case is “frivolous” the attorney does not stand a chance to win or to recoup his or her expenses.
The way most trial lawyers set up their practices is to work on a contingency fee system. This means the lawyer’s client does not have to pay for the attorney services until a settlement or verdict is reached. For most people it is the ONLY way they will have access to an attorney who will take the case.
Think about it – say a friend or a neighbor is in an auto accident. They are seriously injured and can’t work for a number of weeks or months. If they were forced to pay the costs of a lawsuit up front – attorney time, copies of records, expert witness testimony on top of their monthly household bills and expenses – how could they swing that?
Consumer attorneys understand that – they know that if you have to choose between making your mortgage payment and getting the expert to say the intersection where the accident occurred is dangerous – the mortgage payment is going to win.
That’s why if an attorney takes your case, he or she is willing to put the resources in to assure the best case moves forward. The attorney is taking the up-front risk that the jury system will see the case on its merit and make the appropriate decision.
Contingency fees ensure access to the courthouse for everyone, not just deep-pocketed big business. That’s something that needs to be remembered.
That’s why the civil justice and jury system are so important. Juries are the way the public protects itself. If justice is left up to the politicians and lobbyists – what will be just about the system? How will the public be protected?
Sure, we’re making a living – which is what we all strive to do – isn’t it? We all want to do the best we can. But if a particular case doesn’t win – the attorney doesn’t have anything to show except for lost time and debt. It is an honest living.
Without the civil justice system, responsible citizens wouldn’t be able to hold the corporate elite responsible. The civil justice system stops bad behavior.
So the next time you hear the catch phrase “tort reform,” we’re asking you to remember what we’ve shared with you today. Remember the civil justice system is there for us all when we need it the most.
If you’d like more FACTS about our civil justice system, the right to jury trial, and the “tort reform” issue, please review the resources at this site and blog.
Thank you for your time and please reach out with any questions or comments.