“Would anyone in the world ever ask for this?” This is a question I ask my clients all the time as they sit across from me and explain to me how someone else's carelessness (negligence) caused them injury. Another thing I tell them is, no matter what amount of money we might ultimately recover in any sort of personal injury or wrongful death action, it's never going to be worth living with significant physical and mental health symptoms for the rest of their lives nor bring back their loved one. But still, potential clients and clients of our firm often voice concern that they might somehow be greedy or, at least, be perceived as greedy simply for pursuing their bodily injury or wrongful death claims.
The aim of personal injury or wrongful death recoveries is simply to compensate injured people or the beneficiaries of a deceased person for the damages suffered as a result of the other person's negligence. The aim is to make the injured person whole or put the affected persons back where they would have been if the negligent person had never done what they did to harm them or their loved one in the first place. In Washington, there are no punitive damages to pursue. Punitive damages are designed to punish the bad actor who caused the injury or harm. In Oregon, punitive damages could be pursued under particular circumstances. Typically, though, the damages in a given case are simply to make things right and to put the person affected back where they would have been had the incident never happened to them.
So, how can it be greedy to simply pursue an objective of making things right under the circumstances? The law aims to compensate losses resulting from harm, not to enrich harmed persons for no reason.
I'm not naïve, I understand that our society has a stigma surrounding lawsuits in general and particularly injury claims. Much of this stems from ads and media paid for by the insurance industry and its lobbyists. They know that the more they can form public opinion, generally, against these types of claims, the more they are forming prospective jurors thinking on the subject. By turning the public, generally, against the idea of these types of claims they are engaging in a long con, essentially—tainting any prospective jury pool throughout our entire country.
We see the effects of this in every jury pool we encounter each time we take a case to trial. We do everything we can to combat this notion and stigma and have a conversation with people, either prospective jurors in jury selection or when we conduct mock jury sessions. And, we've found those folks to have refreshingly open minds when it truly matters most.
But beyond affecting the way that prospective jurors might think, this conditioning of the general public's thinking about these claims by insurance companies has a much more damaging effect which is the topic of this entry. That conditioning and that way of viewing these claims has seeped into the minds of the injured persons and claimants themselves.
That, to me, is highly concerning. When people are careless or negligent they should do everything they can to make things right and even more so when they carry the insurance necessary to accomplish this on their behalf. And the people who didn't ask to be injured or affected by that person's carelessness or negligence should not even think twice about whether or not they might be greedy or otherwise in simply seeking to be put back where they were prior to the injury-causing incident occurring.
So, when potential clients or clients who come and talk to me at our firm ask me the question: “Am I greedy for hiring an attorney?” I politely but pointedly examine how they could possibly feel that way under the circumstances and, hopefully, gently nudge them to the realization that that couldn't possibly be true under those same circumstances.