“In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.”
– Amendment VII, United States Constitution
If you know me, you also know I am a big proponent of the Seventh Amendment. It is the pillar of our justice system and gives each of us the right to level the playing field against those who wrong us — whether it’s another person or the largest of corporations.
Still, some look at litigation as a way people make a quick buck from someone else. It’s a major reason many people who were wronged do not pursue litigation. They may argue that “that’s not me to file a lawsuit,” even if they’re suffering with injuries and paying out-of-pocket for their medical costs. The victim is then left to suffer the consequences of negligence, and those who acted carelessly go on with their lives.
But there is a better way to look at litigation, and it starts with understanding the core of civil justice. Three basic prongs of the American civil justice system are as follows:
- 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
The theme of accountability can be seen in the teachable moments of our nation. In his many speeches, President Theodore Roosevelt detailed the accountability we owe to ourselves, our neighbors, and our nation. Americans wanted desperately to hold Wall Street accountable in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown. Here in Buffalo, families of Flight 3407 demanded justice from those who were responsible for the February 2009 crash. Litigation allows us to hold responsible those who have committed wrongdoing against us. It requires them to face those whose lives they have affected and to pay a penalty.
On the individual level, deterrence encourages us to think about the implications our actions have on others. It is also meant to motivate corporations to try harder to prevent harm. As mass tort lawyers stand up to drug manufacturers and obtain billions of dollars for injured plaintiffs, it is the hope that they are also protecting more people by deterring similar behavior by these companies. Litigation creates an environment in which those who have committed wrongdoings serve as warnings for those who might commit them in the future.
Our justice system is not equipped to change the past. However, it can provide security for those who have suffered. Trial lawyers and civil justice advocates push for the lifelong security of these individuals through the protection of their financial well-being.
The purpose of a lawsuit is to hold the negligent accountable, to prevent future wrongdoing, and to provide security and recovery for victims. It is in these ways that litigation protects us as we cope with a tragedy. When those exercise their right to file a civil suit, they are exercising a right our forefathers gave us to protect our lives from harm.
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).