2010 Essay Contest Winners

2010 Essay Question: Discuss how verdicts compensating injured individuals in civil trials in the American judicial system protect the community and public from needless danger.

2010 Essay Contest Winners

W. Michael Wooley - Kings High School

Let's be honest, personal injury suits and the lawyers who represent them are not always the most well liked or appreciated members of society. Of course, this is usually a conclusion reached after a cursory examination of some of the more outrageous suits and infamous lawyers. However, personal injury law, when practiced responsibly, is an important part of our social contract as citizens because of the recourse of action it provides in situations that are otherwise impossible to resolve.

It is not always possible (nor desirable) to legislate for every situation. Into this void enters the judicial system and personal injury law. Consider an example: A man decides to go rock climbing for the first time with no prior knowledge of climbing or what constitutes safe practice. Because of this lack of knowledge, the man hires a business that will provide equipment and instruction on how to climb. However, the business fails to provide the man with a carabiner which will support his weight, and this carabiner consequently breaks and the man falls, breaking his arm. There are no laws on the books regulating rock climbing but this business has failed to provide safe equipment for the man who hired the business because of their advertised expertise in the subject. As a society, we need a way to rectify these situations so that the man with the broken arm is not only compensated, but also so that the business is more or less forced through economic means to operate in a safe manner. This is where personal injury law becomes invaluable.

Few of us will ever actually take someone to court in a case like this but we all benefit from the outcomes and mere existence of the system in place. When a business or person has the knowledge that malevolent or unsafe behavior towards others can be costly, they alter their actions accordingly. This is a sort of soft nudge towards good stewardship which helps to create a self-regulating environment. The sad truth is that we cannot always rely on the goodwill of others for our own safety. We can, however, look to the power of the purse as a means of coercion, which is persuasive to most all no matter their ethical depravity.

The most important point to keep in mind with personal injury law for both the plaintiff and defendant is responsibility. It is common to think of the defendant as the only one who must be responsible in these cases, but it is just important for the plaintiff to exercise similar responsibility in filing a suit. There are undoubtedly those cases which are frivolous, and this only goes to cheapen the plight of the genuine cases in which a personal injury suit is a valid and necessary action. However, the fact remains that personal injury law is responsible for much of the safety we take for granted today and for that reason it must be preserved.

Amanda Merritt - Lebanon High School

Throughout history, people have been harmed as a result of hazardous conditions, products, and environments. Consider how devastating it would be to lose a loved one, or find you are permanently disabled due to a senseless condition or event that could have easily been avoided. Situations like these happen every hour of every day. Only by private individuals bringing these circumstances to the attention of the American judicial system has public safety improved. For those impacted, although financial compensation is deserved, their lives may never be the same. However, more importantly, their personal injury verdicts create the conditions for change that help to prevent needless, future tragedies.

Large monetary awards act as a deterrent to individuals, communities, and corporations to avoid negligent behavior that creates personal injuries. As a result, citizens take simple actions, such as shoveling their sidewalks and keeping pets under control. Communities and schools emphasize safety precautions that prevent tragic accidents. Corporations strive to hire responsible employees and create quality products that are safe for consumers. In addition, service providers, from independent contractors to highly skilled surgeons, are keenly aware of potential liabilities and act in ways designed to minimize risks. In these ways, personal injury cases have infiltrated daily behaviors in a society determined to prevent unnecessary accidents.

Furthermore, personal injury cases influence the actions of regulatory agencies with public safety as their primary mission. Government agencies, such as the FDA, CPSC, and NTSB exist to protect consumers from unsafe drugs, products, transportation, and more. These agencies continually evaluate safety issues and create new requirements and oversight that raise the bar for the protection of society.

Publicity from personal injury cases can lead to laws intended to protect the public. Ten deaths every day, many being small children, are due to drowning. Some of these become highly publicized and as a result, new laws requiring lifeguards and fencing around pools have been created to prevent such tragedies. In our own community, the determination of family members and legal professionals following a tragedy led to "Jarod's Law." Although now disbanded, this law did much to establish new standards for school safety and inspections. Verdicts such as these are direct outcomes from personal injury cases and save countless lives every year.

Decades ago, attitudes regarding safety were much different than today. Life expectancy was lower by over 30 years; accidents, caused by negligence, being a significant contributor to this early demise. Chronic diseases caused by environmental conditions, such as asbestos, and other preventable conditions, like smoking, were an accepted part of society. Risks were a normal aspect of life. Personal injury law, starting in the 1950s with the Federal Tort Claims Act, has changed that paradigm. Because of this, we live in a much safer world today. Accidents and neglect will never be eliminated, but it is evident that preventable danger is greatly reduced in the modern world as a result of pressure brought to bear from personal injury cases.

Scott Trammell - Franklin High School

Our nation's judicial system is one of the cornerstones of American liberty. The Preamble to the Constitution states that it is the responsibility of government to "promote the general welfare" of its citizens. To secure the freedom of American citizens, the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to a jury trial in civil cases. When individuals are compensated in civil cases for any type of wrongdoing on behalf of the defendant, the verdict serves to protect the community and the public from needless danger by setting an example of what can happen to others who may cause similar incidents in the future.

Rewarding injured individuals with compensatory and/or punitive damages strengthens freedom for everyone because individuals are held responsible for their actions. When people are not held responsible for their mistakes, there will be no lesson learned, and all too often government action is required to ensure that citizens conduct themselves in a manner in which they already should. We lose freedom when government becomes more involved in our lives. Thus, when they do not feel the need to pass more laws regarding the conduct of citizens, we will have more freedom.

Society as a whole will progress when an example is set by holding defendants accountable in civil trials. For example, when someone causes a traffic accident because they were distracted by texting, that person will most likely be held responsible by the jury and forced to pay damages. Others will take notice of the jury's decision and precedent, and they will realize not only what can happen to others as a result of their behavior, but the heavy price they can pay themselves. The person held responsible will also know to be more careful in the future. With fewer people being distracted by texting, travel will become safer for everyone.

Court-ordered compensation of injured persons for damages and losses maintains justice in two ways. First, the guilty party is held responsible for his or her mistakes and is required to pay for them. It is through this the injured party receives justice as well, since they are compensated for suffering through circumstances beyond their control.

The ability of citizens in the United States to bring their grievances before a jury of their peers in civil lawsuits is a great fixture in American democracy. In criminal cases, the law tends to focus more on punishing the aggressor and less on helping the victim. Civil cases allow for both. They allow lessons to be learned from the actions of others that make society safer for all of us.

Amanda La Rue - Mason High School

Jenny shoots ... she scores! 52-50, Hamilton wins, and Jenny is carried off the basketball court on the shoulders of adoring fans.

But her triumph is temporary. The crowd loses control, and Jenny falls, slamming her head into the cement outside the gym.

Flashing lights ... ambulance sirens ... the waiting room ...

An hour later, a doctor approaches. Jenny needs surgery immediately. They've called in Dr. Grey, and he should be here in a few minutes.

You sigh, resigning yourself to completing a tower of paperwork, and take a seat.

Four hours later, the doctor comes back. Jenny is dead.

What should have been a routine surgery had evolved into a hellish nightmare. Dr. Grey had arrived under the influence, but had insisted he was only buzzed and was alert enough for surgery. They allowed him to perform the operation — and now Jenny is dead.

Some of the doctors are telling you she would have died anyway, and nothing Dr. Grey did or didn't do could have saved her. They express their deep condolences, sighing that, "These things happen sometimes; it was a very bad fall after all, and there's nothing that could have been done." But two other doctors are murmuring that you need to call a lawyer immediately, that Dr. Grey unintentionally killed your daughter because he was not sober.

Verdicts compensating injured individuals in civil trials in the American judicial system protect the community and public from preventable danger. In this scenario and in countless others, citizens can be misrepresented and hurt by "the system." In this situation, Jenny's parents should file suit against the hospital for allowing Dr. Grey to perform the surgery while under the influence. If Jenny's parents win the case and successfully sue the hospital for a large settlement, then this particular hospital will assuredly alter its regulations. The hospital will want to ensure that this never happens again-not only from a standpoint of the loss of innocent life, but from an economic necessity, as well.

This, in turn, will protect the entire community from future occurrences of such a preventable danger. So the next time they call in a doctor who is buzzed, the hospital won't even consider allowing him to operate on a patient. This may even initiate other procedures to ensure the surgeon is mentally aware before performing surgery, or inspire other area hospitals to tighten their regulations.

Jenny's death was completely preventable — a needless tragedy caused by a drunk surgeon and a hospital's negligence. Verdicts compensating injured individuals protect the public by deterring big businesses from ignoring the needs and rights of the individuals they serve. With these kinds of verdicts, the courts are upholding the civil liberties and protections outlined in the Constitution, as well as making the community safer for everyone.