Damages: What's the Remedy? Harms & Losses.
“Givem the medical bills.” Not an uncommon reaction when I describe my client’s injuries— injuries that were caused by someone else needlessly endangering their safety. “Givem the medical bills.” I sigh….
I’ve learned that it’s not that the person who responds, “givem the medical bills” is heartless or cruel; they just haven’t spent much time thinking about the harms and losses caused by a significant, debilitating injury. The “givem the medical bills” person has likely never been in my client’s situation of having something valuable taken from them—something like their health, their ability to function without pain, their ability to do the things that made their life worth living like go for a walk, a bike ride, or giving their loved one a hug.
John loved to ride his road bike—he’d been an avid bicyclist for more than 10 years. He didn’t ride competitively, but every Saturday morning he’d wake up early and go for a long bike ride—usually at least 10 miles, sometimes over 30. John worked Monday – Friday; he got up early, worked long hours, went to bed and did it over and over day after day. It’s not that he hated his job, but he sure looked forward to his Saturday bike ride.
One Saturday, a driver wasn’t looking where he was going and clipped the back tire of John’s bike: John wound up in a ditch by the road. An ambulance arrived and took John to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a fractured right ankle. John spent the next 24 Saturdays going to medical providers rather than his weekly bike ride. Unfortunately, even after the medical care and treatment, he was never able to ride his bike without some discomfort in his right ankle.
Every Saturday brought a new medical bill. Does paying the weekly medical bills bring back what was taken from John by the driver’s carelessness?
When I take on a case like John’s, I represent a human being: a human being with a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—a precious right that has been taken away. Our civil justice system is not an eye for an eye, or a life for a life. We don’t go out and break any ankles because John’s ankle was broken—that’d be a bit barbaric. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for carelessness.
Reasonable compensation for John means restoring 100% of the value of what was taken—it means providing the fair-trade value for his harms and losses. And money is the only way our civil justice system has come up with to do this. What amount of money is needed to fix what can be fixed, help what can be helped, and make up for what cannot be fixed or helped? If a man in a black suit with a briefcase full of cash had arrived at John’s doorstep before John left for his bike ride the day his ankle was broken, what amount of money would be needed in the briefcase for John to say “I’ll take the deal—that’s the fair-trade value for what I’m going to experience today and the rest of my life.”
If you’ve suffered harms and losses because of another person needlessly endangering your life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, I’ll work with you to fix what can be fixed, help what can be helped, and make up for what can’t be fixed or helped.*
*Credit to David Ball (David Ball on Damages) and Nicholas and Courtney Rowley (Running with the Bulls) for some of the ideas and language contained in this post.