We’ve all heard of ‘urban legends’ – those oft-repeated tales handed down over the years that sound interesting and exciting (even scary), but that have no basis in fact. Alligators in the New York City sewer system, for example. While we’re taught to take urban legends with a grain of salt, there is a plethora of information regarding personal injury lawsuits that is equally untrue. Unfortunately, these untruths often get accepted as fact.
Fact Vs. Myth
Here are some of the common myths regarding injury lawsuits, and the actual facts:
#1. Health care costs are spiraling out of control because of malpractice suits against physicians.
Everyone knows that healthcare costs in the United States are out of control. Insurance companies and big drug corporations have long tried to pin this situation on lawsuits. What they don’t tell you is that malpractice lawsuits account for less than 1% of health care spending.
Medical malpractice litigation is not responsible for rising health care costs. Contrary to popular belief medical malpractice lawsuits are not easy to file, and not all personal injury lawyers will take them on. Generally speaking, grievous error on the part of the healthcare provider must be proven.
#2. The number of lawsuits filed annually is soaring.
This is a very pervasive story, but there is no evidence to support it. The fact is the number of personal injury cases in the United States has been declining over the past decade. Tort cases accounted for just 4.4% of all civil cases filed in 2008, according to the National Center for State Courts. Between 1999 and 2008 they fell 25%. Tort filings in state courts dropped by 6% between 2007 and 2008.
The chart below illustrates the number of personal injury lawsuits filed in the United States from 2001 to 2010.
#3. People sue for dumb reasons, like the woman who sued McDonald’s after spilling hot coffee
Just about anyone who tries to discredit injury lawsuits brings this case up. “Of course coffee is hot, it says so on the label”, “She shouldn’t have been driving and drinking coffee at the same time”, the criticisms go on. But the fact is, most people who bring this case up have no idea what actually happened. Here are the facts:
The elderly woman who spilled the coffee was 1. a passenger in the vehicle, and 2. suffered third-degree burns which required skin grafts. We won’t post pictures here because of how graphic they are, but if you Google them you will see how serious her injuries were. Evidence presented at the trial showed that McDonald’s operation manual requires coffee to be held at 180-190 degrees Fahrenheit – hot enough to cause third-degree burns within three seconds if spilled.
The company received over 700 complaints about serious burns due to spilled coffee, and did not change their protocol. When the woman confronted McDonald’s and asked for $20,000 to help cover her medical bills, they offered her $800. When the case went to trial, the 2.9 million dollars awarded in damages by the jury was punitive – in other words McDonald’s was forced to pay over and above because they refused to do the decent thing and cover her medical expenses. It should also be noted that given her age the woman’s quality of life was diminished severely after the incident, and much of the money she received went to her care.
#4. Trial attorneys charge huge hourly rates and the client gets nothing if the case is won or settled.
Some people mistakenly believe that lawyers in personal injury cases rack up expenses that have to be paid by the client in the event they lose the case. This is simply untrue. Personal injury lawyers and attorneys in civil justice cases do not charge hourly rates. Personal injury attorneys, in general, take 30% of the settlement if the case is settled out of court and 40% if it goes to trial. They have every reason to fight for their client. If there is no settlement, the lawyer gets nothing and must eat whatever litigation costs they’ve incurred.
#5. My skyrocketing insurance rates are due to lawsuits.
Lawsuits are not causing rising insurance rate premiums. Insurance companies do not require an excuse to raise rates. This argument has been offered up for one reason: to strip injured people of their right to seek compensation if they are hurt by someone else’s negligence. This is good for big insurance companies and bad for average Americans. The fact is, insurance companies do not make millions of dollars by being nice to people.
Often times, when an injured person approaches an insurance company asking to be compensated for their injuries the insurance company will offer them an insultingly low amount of money (much like in the McDonald’s case above). They do this because they know the injured person will likely not know what to ask for or what is really fair. A good personal injury attorney gets between the insurance company and their client and negotiates a fair deal on their behalf.
#6. Charities are losing volunteers because of fear of lawsuits.
Very few situations allow for a volunteer to be sued. In general, federal law protect volunteers doing charity work under the VPA (Volunteer Protection Act). Under this act you cannot be held personally responsible for any harm you cause if:
- You are “properly licensed, certified, or authorized by the appropriate authorities” to act in such manner “if appropriate or required”
- You are acting within the scope of your responsibilities as a volunteer
- You did not fall below the minimum standard of conduct described above
- You were not operating “a motor vehicle, vessel, aircraft or other vehicle” for which the state requires an operators license or insurance.
In other words, if you were doing your job as a volunteer, did not intend to harm another person, and were not driving a vehicle it is very unlikely that you will be sued.
#7. Lawsuits are killing small businesses.
Multiple surveys show that very few small business owners are concerned about lawsuits. The National Association of Manufacturers found “lawsuit abuse” ranks at the bottom of concerns for manufacturers. A similar study by the National Federation of Independent Business suggests “costs and frequency of lawsuits / threatened suits” ranking 65th on a list of small business owners’ worries.
The only people who have anything to gain from measures like tort reform are large corporations who want to make sure they can’t be held accountable for negligence or misconduct. They hide behind small business owners in order to deflect attention from their own intentions.
#8. Schools have stopped having recess because they’re afraid of being sued.
Schools cancel recess because the time is necessary for mandated testing and teaching, not because of fears of potential lawsuits. Dozens of schools in Florida got rid of recess earlier this year in order to comply with mandates attached to Common Core.
Educators are concerned that not allowing children to decompress during the day could have a negative impact on their ability to retain information. Not to mention the implications this has for the rise in childhood obesity.
#9. Trial attorneys would like to put large corporations out of business.
Companies that have caused people serious injury must be held accountable. That’s part and parcel of a strong and fair civil justice system. In a perfect world, a company that has hurt its consumers would do whatever they could to make it right. But we do not live in a perfect world. Trial attorneys also save the economy money overall if needless deaths and injuries no longer occur because of resulting safer practices and products.
#10. Taxpayers pay hundreds of dollars a year more for products and services because of lawsuits.
Credible estimates for most of the indirect costs of the tort system do not exist—which is not surprising given that many of those costs are difficult to observe. The Towers Perrin Report, on which this myth is based, has been widely refuted. Americans for Insurance Reform – a coalition of approximately 100 public interest and consumer organizations – states, “Towers Perrin has no excuse for its misleading and shoddy work.” AIF gave the report a grade of “F.”
The Goldwater Law Firm – Nationwide Personal Injury Lawyers
If you’ve been injured because of negligence, medical malpractice, unsafe products or similar situations, the Goldwater Law Firm can help. Our attorneys will make sure you understand your rights and options before moving forward with a lawsuit. Contact the Goldwater Law Firm today for a free and confidential consultation about your case.