411: Personal Injury Lawsuits – legitimate or illegitimate?
Lawyers as a class are the recipients of a disproportionate amount of unfavorable commentary. We are the subjects of countless jokes and derogatory phrases and we are constantly being referred to as people who try to make a buck off someone else’s misery. Our type of law in particular, personal injury, always seems to be in the hot seat, whether we’re the butt of a joke or being disparagingly referenced in a proposed piece of legislation. Personal injury lawyers—often degradingly and misleadingly referred to as “ambulance chasers”—fight hard to protect the rights of those who have been wronged by helping to ensure that victims get what they deserve.
At the crux of our practice of law is the question of whether somebody has sustained damages because of the negligence of another (individual, corporation, organization, etc.). The answer to this question tells us whether or not a lawsuit is viable. There is certainly a difference between legitimate and illegitimate lawsuits; in other words, not every lawsuit filed in a U.S. court is legitimate, and, furthermore, just because flawed lawsuits are filed does not mean that personal injury lawyers in general are responsible for that type of frivolousness. In this blog, we’re going to give an example of an illegitimate lawsuit as well as some examples of legitimate lawsuits in order to help explain the difference and highlight the separation between the legitimate practice of personal injury law and the illegitimate.
Let’s start with an illegitimate lawsuit. As you may or may not know, the star player on the Chicago Bulls, Derrick Rose, was hurt and out of commission for a year with an ACL injury. After roughly 12 months without Rose in uniform, a Bulls fan filed a lawsuit against Rose for displaying negligent behavior by not getting back onto the basketball court. Let alone the fact that it might have been medically negligent to get back on the court, what are the damages the man filing the lawsuit claims? The 25-year-old man who filed the lawsuit said that Rose’s “negligent” absence has caused the lawsuit-filer mental and emotional distress, culminating in multiple mental breakdowns and leading to incredible weight gain. This lawsuit is a clear example of an illegitimate lawsuit. Aside from the fact that it should take no legal expert to tell you that this case is ridiculous, it is entirely illegitimate in that it ties a man’s emotional, mental and physical damages to the (purported) negligence of someone who is so far removed from the purported victim that to infer a cause-and-effect relationship due to active negligence would be preposterous.
Now, let’s look at a couple examples of incidents that would lead to a legitimate lawsuit. First, let’s say you’re driving down the highway and you see the cars in front of you slowing down. An attentive driver, you place your foot on the brake to try to slow down, but the brake doesn’t work! Your car keeps flying forward, paying no mind to the fact that you’re trying to slow down. Suddenly, realizing that you are about to slam into the cars in front of you, you swerve out of the way and hit a tree. Who is at fault here and thus responsible for the damage to you, your car, and the property you hit? You, for not getting your car to stop? Your car for not stopping? Well, it can’t be you because you tried to stop the car and weren’t acting negligently. It also can’t be your car because a car itself can’t be sued in court. Let’s say, after the accident, you take your car to the shop and the mechanic determines that the brakes were faulty. Chances are, the auto-manufacturer is liable for the damage the car crash caused, because they sold you a faulty product—a car with brakes that don’t work! Now, you filing a lawsuit against a major auto corporation, in this instance, is not frivolous because a) you suffered damage and b) the damage you suffered was a direct result of the faulty product negligently assembled and sold to you by the auto manufacturer.
One more example of an incident that could yield a legitimate lawsuit: you’re in the grocery store, minding your own business, in the vegetable aisle, when you take a step forward, slip on a puddle of water, fall down and injure yourself. Who is at fault? You, for being a sloppy walker? The carrots, for dripping water onto the ground causing your slip? Well, assuming you walk like a normal human being, you weren’t being negligent or dangerous, so you can’t be at fault. And, just as a car can’t be sued in court, neither can a carrot. So, it might very well be that the owner of the grocery store—whose duty it was to ensure that the floor was free from slippery substances or that a warning sign had been in place—can be held liable. Thus, suing the owner of the grocery store to recover damages based on the slip and fall for which the owner was responsible would be entirely legitimate.
Not all aspects of the law are as clear as the above examples. If you have any questions about any situation you think might constitute a personal injury case, please reach out to us at the Law Offices of Aronberg and Aronberg for a free consultation by calling 561-266-9191 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.