Courting Justice: Who’s Afraid of a Little Justice?

March 7, 2013

By Robert N. Hunn

In my very first blog I made a bold statement (well, it was bold for me because those that know me have learned I’m a bit of a wuss). I said that there are groups of people in this country who are against an open and accessible civil justice system. They just won’t come out and admit it. Instead, they attack plaintiff lawyers as a group and, under the guise of sticking it to the big, bad plaintiff lawyer, they support laws that serve to limit the rights of workers and negligently injured citizens.

Let me explain what I am talking about. I’m going to follow Denzel Washington’s advice in the movie Philadelphia and explain it as if we are in kindergarten (which is a blessing because of my kindergarten-like mentality).

In business and at home, there are fixed costs and variable costs. Fixed costs are those that come up once a year or in regular intervals. They are costs that we know about in advance. Variable costs are those that suddenly spring up from time to time. We never know when and we never know the amount in advance.

Death, taxes and expenses are the only sure things in life. But, while we can live with fixed costs, we detest variable costs. With fixed costs, we can plan for them, save for them and pay for them. When we know all the costs in advance and can plan for the future.

Variable costs suck. They just pop up out of nowhere. They impede our ability to plan and grow. Let’s say I was planning a trip to Phuket Bay, Thailand and had saved enough money for all the costs. Yet right before the trip, my dog needs a hernia operation. Suddenly, I have to divert the resources that I was going to use in Thailand and pay the vet for the procedure. You guessed it. No more Phuket Bay.

That is why I personally detest variable costs. They interfere with my vacation plans.

For the large majority of us, the risk of being sued is a fixed cost because we pay for insurance to protect us from that risk. Whether home owners or business casualty insurance, we know the amount in advance and can simply pay that amount.

However, if you’re a large corporation, there is a good chance that you are self-insured. If a lawsuit suddenly pops up, it very well could be an expense that was not planned for. Out of nowhere, the company finds itself having to divert resources towards the lawsuit that they had planned to use for something else. For example, imagine a pharmaceutical company has a drug taken off the market because it has been linked to causing strokes. Suddenly, it finds itself facing thousands of lawsuits from people who believe their stroke was due to the drug.

If you’re one of those companies, you are going to want laws in place that make it harder for the average person to sue. You are going to want laws in place that limit or predetermine the amount of compensation you can receive. An accessible civil justice system is not in your company’s best financial interest. And since civil justice is a key component of a democratic society, you can’t speak out against it.

But what can you speak out against? Those God damn plaintiff trial lawyers!