You lose a limb or suffer a brain injury. Or you lose a precious loved one to a tragic event. No one expects to become paralyzed; no one expects to lose limbs or a loved one, but when it happens, the mental and physical devastation can quickly leave an individual and his/her family drowning in despair, disability and debt.
Connie Spears had both of her legs amputated above the knees. She is confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Celeste Corcoran also lost both legs and is confined to a wheelchair. Tragedy struck and both lives have changed forever.
Although Connie and Celeste have similar cases – both double amputees with mounting medical bills, who may spend the rest of their lives in a wheelchair – their stories are different; their financial futures may be different.
Connie was the victim of medical malpractice; Celeste was injured from the bombing at the Boston Marathon in which she was a spectator. According to a CNN report that aired yesterday morning, more than $30 million has been donated to provide needed assistance to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. According to the report, it may not be nearly enough to cover the years of medical bills for those injured, even for those with health insurance.
The report states that the average hospital cost per day is $4,287; worse, those with severe injuries often encounter even higher obligations. Treatment will total hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. Those who lost limbs will live with a lifetime of prosthetics (these artificial limbs have limited lifespan) and other costs. According to the Amputee Coalition, a national nonprofit advocacy group, surgical amputation can cost as much as $40,000 with a single prosthetic limb costing $5,000 – $50,000. And, the limb must be replaced, roughly every five years. These victims will face months, even years, of income loss while recovering; some may never be able to return to work.
We have seen similar reports, similar outpourings of support, in the aftermaths of 911, Columbine, Tucson, Newton-Sandy Hook, and more. In all cases, the traumatic incidents led to outcries of support from across the country as well as financial donations to assist victims through huge fundraising campaigns. More than 50,000 people and nearly 60 corporate donors have pledged more than $23.8 million to The One Fund Boston, which was set up by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino. The country’s generosity will make a real difference to hundreds of victims. I certainly support these national campaigns in all cases of such tragedy; I don’t begrudge these contributions at all. But, here are my questions: Why are we so generous to Celeste Corcoran and so stingy with Connie Spears? Why do our local and national legislators seek to limit (through onerous tort reform legislation) the financial compensation of individual victims of negligence and accidental injury and why do we let them? Why does mass tragedy command our attention and compassion but individual tragedy is virtually ignored, its victims shunned by our society? I do not understand why public and legislative compassion and generosity stop at mass tragedies when individual tragedies have the exact same impact on their victims.
The one exception to this indifference to individual tragedy is found in the tremendous work done for these victims by the trial lawyer community and the various trial lawyer associations around the country. Trial lawyers compassionately fight, every single day, for the severely injured “little guy” and against billion dollar insurance companies and well-funded corporations, hospitals and doctors. Why? Because those who suffered substantial loss caused by the negligence or harmful acts of others deserve to seek justice and be fairly compensated for their losses and their suffering. Simple concept, no? A sense of compassion and justice is well-rooted in our national conscience. I will never understand why a politician (mostly conservative Republican) would support tort reform or any statutory prescription of under-compensation to an innocent victim of negligence. Some only realize these severe inequities when they become victims themselves (click here to read the personal experience that changed Republican L. Brooks Patterson, Oakland County Executive, MI).
Why do Congressmen and Senators who lobby for the spiritual and financial support of victims of mass devastation become so morally and financially bankrupt when it comes to the harm done to an individual in an auto accident, product failure or from medical negligence? Donations to The One Fund Boston show society’s compassion for Celeste and the other innocent victims. The same organizations that fight to enhance corporate billions at the expense of seriously injured American citizens are contributing to these national fundraising efforts. How can they be so willing to lend substantial support in the one instance and so stingy and greedy in the other? They seek virtual immunity in cases of corporate and medical negligence rather than working to fairly compensate victims or make products and medical/hospital treatments safer. Why? And why do they get legislative support for such and anti-citizen agenda? I thought our legislators were supposed to represent citizens, not special interests. I guess I’m naïve about politics. Whether victims of 911, Sandy Hook, the Boston bombings, or a doctor’s negligence, innocent victims will not only spend a lifetime dealing with injuries and post traumatic stress, but will also spend a lifetime (in many cases) paying their medical bills.
Whether a person suffers devastating injuries in a mass or individual tragedy, the consequences are the same: Despair, disability and debt. So, I put it to you, the people: Don’t all of America’s victims deserve the same level of compassion?
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series—Mark Bello is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation. He is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.