“The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us[…]” – Theodore Roosevelt
I have been inspired recently by the American Association for Justice's Take Justice Back initiative, which fights back against corporations that perpetuate unjust practices. As a strong proponent of our Seventh Amendment rights, it made me start thinking about the true purpose behind litigation.
The three basic prongs of the civil justice system are:
- Accountability: To hold accountable those who have committed wrongdoing
- Deterrence: To deter those who might commit future wrongdoing
- Security: Securing the futures of those who have been affected by crimes
For those who consider themselves civil justice advocates, all three factors must be recognized as the drivers of the justice system.
The core theme of accountability can be seen in the "teachable moments" of our nation. President Theodore Roosevelt perhaps put this most eloquently in his many speeches that detailed our accountability to ourselves, our neighbors, and our nation.
Americans wanted desperately to punish Wall Street in the wake of our 2008 financial meltdown. Hundreds of families affected by last week’s devastation in West, Texas will surely seek retribution. Here in Buffalo, families of Flight 3407 victims are demanding accountability from those to those responsible for the ill-fated flight.
Litigation allows us to hold responsible those who have committed wrongdoing; it requires them to face those whose lives they have affected, and to (literally or figuratively) pay a penalty.
Another key purpose of litigation is deterrence, with the ultimate goal of making our world safer. On the individual level, it encourages us to think about our actions and the implications they will have on those around us. On the corporate level, it incites corporations to not only return profits to their shareholders, but also operate in our communities without causing harm.
Drug manufacturers are forced not only take into account the FDA approval process, but the very real possibility of their business enterprise not being supported, should their product do harm (e.g. Vioxx). Banks who openly scheme to bilk billions from consumers are taught that their actions have a cost (e.g. Bank of America).
Litigation creates an environment in which those who have committed crimes serve as warnings for those who might consider it in the future, the hope of which is to protect us from those future occurrences.
When justice is achieved in a criminal case, it leads to the incarceration, sometimes for life, of the defendant. In a civil matter, however, although money is offered to replace the economic loss, the result is much less permanent. Our justice system is not equipped to measure the effect we each have on our families and communities, nor can it compensate for the loss of these contributions.
What our justice system can and must do, though, is ensure that those who have already suffered, whether through personal injury or the death of a loved one, are able to meet their long-term needs with their settlement recovery. Those who consider themselves civil justice advocates must push for the lifelong security of these individuals through the protection of their financial recovery.
My conclusion then is that the purpose of a lawsuit is not just to hold corporations or people accountable, nor is it only to prevent future wrongdoing from occurring. The purpose of litigation is to do both of these things, but also to ensure that the recovery is permanent. Litigation should come as the result of a fair justice system that protects us before, during, and long after the lawsuit.
A West Point graduate where he served as captain and military aviator, John Bair continues his commitment to our country through his efforts within the settlement planning industry. He has represented families of victims lost in the Flight 3407 crash, offered pro bono services to the families of 9/11 victims and drafted the first consumer protection bill for plaintiffs (H.R. 3699).