Letter to the Editor: Relatively few injured individuals bring lawsuits

Maui News
Saturday, December 21, 2002

The contingency-fee system provides injured consumers who could not otherwise afford legal representation with access to the courts (Editorial, Dec. 17). Average people do not have the money to hire a lawyer or finance a lawsuit, unlike their corporate adversaries.

Lawyers who accept cases on a contingency fee take a big risk. If the case is lost, the lawyer is paid nothing. Moreover, contingency-fee attorneys must front the costs of litigation themselves. Sometimes this can amount to thousands or even millions of dollars. In other words, contingency-fee lawyers cannot afford to bring baseless or frivolous cases.

Ultimately it is innocent victims, not corporations, who incur enormous psychic and economic costs in bringing lawsuits, which may explain why the number of actual plaintiffs is few, relative to the damage caused. According to the Rand Institute for Civil Justice, only 2 percent of injured Americans file a lawsuit and only 10 percent file a claim for compensation, which includes informal demands and insurance claims.

The solution is not to limit access to the civil justice system but rather for businesses to act more responsibly and protect the public from dangerous products and practices.

Emily Gottlieb, Deputy Director,
Center for Justice & Democracy
New York, N.Y.

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