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A Philadelphia family was awarded $2.9 million in a wrongful death of their 14-year-old daughter killed in a 2004 hit-and-run accident by a drunk driver. The 21-year-driver was also driving on a suspended license. The family was awarded nearly $700,000 in wrongful death compensation from the driver and the owner of the vehicle, $1.5 million in survival action damages, $600,000 in punitive damages against the driver, and $150,000 in punitive damages against the vehicle owner. Unfortunately, this family may never recover compensation; neither the driver nor the owner of the vehicle had insurance. The family’s only attempt at collecting will be from the future earnings of both defendants; full compensation will, most likely, never be received.

Tort reformers argue that our justice system is out of control; plaintiffs are given enormous sums of money because juries are too generous. Try suggesting this to these parents. Even if they eventually collect what the jury determined to be “fair” compensation, is it worth the loss of their daughter? This accident never should have happened; the driver never should have been behind the wheel, drunk or not. The owner of the vehicle never should have let him drive.

“Jackpot justice” is a catchy term invented by greedy insurance companies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and large businesses that would have the public believe that sizable verdicts are not earned by serious, devastating losses. They want you to believe that injured victims who receive large verdicts are not real people who have suffered serious, even catastrophic, injuries or death.

There is no "jackpot justice"; there is only a measured attempt at reasonable compensation for catastrophic injury. So, the proper question to ask when discussing the civil justice system is not whether there is “jackpot justice”, but rather does our system provide real justice for its victims? Tort reform seeks to restrict the access to even “measured” justice. Corporate interest groups use catchy buzzwords like "frivolous", "lawsuit abuse", and "jackpot justice" to trivialize serious or fatal injuries, thus limiting court access to victims. This only “punishes” victims – over and over again.

Now for the kicker: Even if these men had insurance, chances of the family collecting the $2.9 million is still highly unlikely. Why? Look at your automobile insurance policy. What are your limits? The average person has liability policy limits between $10,000 and $100,000. These are the limits of financial recovery in an automobile accident that is due to the negligence of someone else. So even if these defendants had insurance, it would not be enough for this family to come close to collecting the full award. Unless the at-fault driver is of significant means, insurance policy limits already limit the “justice’ available to an accident victim.

I continue to question why tort reformers want to further punish the innocent. Unfortunately, the answer is always the same – corporate greed! Any of us are just one incident, one moment, one second from being a statistic, a catastrophically injured, under-compensated accident victim who must rely on some type of government assistance to get by. Don’t sacrifice your rights to justice on the altar of corporate greed. Act before you become an accident victim. Contact your local, state and federal elected representatives and ask them where they stand on tort reform. If they stand with tort reformers, vote for the “other guy”. Each and every citizen has rights. If we all exercise those rights, together we can put an end to the deceptive corporate takeover of our precious civil justice system.

Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life funding is needed during litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.

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