Taking Responsibility. In this day and age, we hear a lot about personal responsibility. Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps is considered a virtue in today’s society. But when it comes to people or businesses who have committed a wrong against another, thoughts of personal responsibility and accountability seem to get thrown out the window.
In a recent New York Post article [http://nypost.com/2016/07/23/the-parents-who-didnt-sue-disney-taught-america-a-powerful-lesson/], a columnist extols the virtues of not suing one of the largest corporations in the world which knew its property had alligators that could injure or kill patrons, and failed to provide any warning signs or block access to those dangerous areas resulting in the death of a small child. In fact, this company fired an employee who tweeted about a sign posted by management telling employees to lie to patrons that they were unaware of alligator presence on the property [http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-disney-gators-20160716-snap-story.html]. Once the tweet went viral, Disney rehired the teen, most likely to avoid media backlash. To Disney’s credit, they stated that they were supporting the family after their child’s death [http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/20/us/disney-alligator-attack/]. Given Disney’s support, it’s extremely disingenuous for the New York Post to say that the family is teaching America a powerful lesson for not suing a company who is already paying the grief-ridden family.
So what does taking responsibility mean in the context of personal injury lawsuits? If we look at the Disney case, we see that Disney actually took responsibility for their actions by making changes to the park and supporting the family of the child who died. But why would they take these steps? For one, it was a public relations nightmare. But more importantly, it shows that lawsuits or the potential for a lawsuit has the power to change people’s and corporations’ behaviors for the better.
This is an important lesson that I think people miss. When we as attorneys represent our clients against drunk drivers, sexual predators, other lawyers and doctors who commit malpractice, or any other person or corporation who intentionally or negligently caused harm to someone, we are hoping that the conduct of those people changes and that they serve as an example to others that there are real consequences to our actions. We also hope that once those persons are held responsible for their conduct, the injured clients have an opportunity to be made whole. In fact, this is one reason for insurance coverage. People buy insurance coverage so they have the ability to take responsibility for their actions when they hurt others. This notion that filing lawsuits or making insurance claims is morally wrong or flies in the face of personal responsibility and accountability is damaging to our social fabric and is only advanced for the benefit of insurance companies. If insurance companies can persuade the public that it is immoral to file lawsuits, they can continue to get away with not paying full value to those who are hurt the worst by those with no regard for the law or the rules upon which our society places value.