When a jury reaches a verdict, they speak as a community setting the value of the loss of life, liberty and/or the pursuit of happiness. We are more careful in a china shop than we are in a Dollar Store because we know the value of the merchandise. Jury verdicts speak for the community and tell companies, entities and persons working and playing in our community how careful they must be to protect all of us from injury and harm.
No one is allowed to needlessly endanger a member of our community. All of our laws and standards of conduct are designed to prevent all of us from needlessly endangering others. When a company, entity or person needlessly endangers others and as a result someone is harmed, the person harmed must be compensated for all of their harms and losses. If there is not fair compensation, the value of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are devalued resulting in the devaluing of safety, putting all of us at risk.
Imagine two neighborhoods. In both neighborhoods, the houses are close together filled with families of all ages. In both neighborhoods, there are groups of young boys playing baseball. They are too close to the houses. They have been warned not to play close to the houses. Not long after their game starts, one of the boys in each of the neighborhoods hits a foul ball breaking a neighbor’s window. Now imagine in the first neighborhood, the boys run to house with the broken window apologizing and offering to do chores until they can pay for the damages. By handling their mistake in such a straightforward manner, the boys keep harmony in their neighborhood. The homeowner is inconvenienced, but appreciates the boys’ attitude. The boys having spent a few weeks doing chores are much more careful, and other children seeing them doing chores also learn to be more careful.
Now imagine in the other neighborhood, the boys run and hide behind their mothers denying it was them. The homeowner has to track down the boys and only after much arguing do the boys admit it was them and then they only offer to pay to put cardboard on the window. When the homeowner asks for full compensation, the mother of the boys suggests the window was broken by something else. If the dispute cannot be resolved, the homeowner might have to contact the homeowner’s association to get the window fixed. If the homeowner’s association helps the homeowner get the window fixed, some harmony is restored, but if there is no homeowner’s association, everything in that neighborhood starts to deteriorate. The boys, knowing they can get away with breaking the rules, continue to be careless. Others in the neighborhood are careless. The homeowner is not tolerant of any of the young children in the neighborhood. Without justice, harmony in the neighborhood is lost.
The civil tort system is our homeowner’s association. It is not designed to punish, but rather to balance the harms and restore our confidence in the safety of living in a community. Property damage, such as the value of a broken window, is usually fairly easy to determine. The harms and losses caused by an injury or death are difficult to evaluate, and so sometimes it takes a much effort and sometimes even a jury to evaluate. Using the analogy of the young boys playing baseball in the two neighborhoods, sometimes it takes a lawyer and even a jury to convince the boys to do what is right or to understand how to evaluate the harms and losses. The civil tort system provides a place where our most personal losses of health and family can be evaluated and compensated. We are at our weakest when we have lost so much, and our civil tort system provides a system and structure to protect those who are at their weakest and allow them full and fair compensation when they need it the most.