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By: Carol J. Gibbons, J.D.

A lot of things have happened in the last sixty some odd years, not the least of which was the joining together of nine plaintiff’s lawyers dedicated to making certain injured people would have their day in court regardless of status or financial means. They stood up for the everyday person and fought giants! Because we live in America, it can sometimes be easy to take our justice system and our courts for granted, but protecting victims’ rights to a jury trial is a vital part of advocacy and those rights are threatened every day.

Thankfully, back in 1946, those nine lawyers took their pledge to protect victims’ rights seriously! Because of their dogged determination, those nine lawyers, the group once called the National Association of Claimants’ Compensation Attorneys, has grown to a membership of 56,000 members worldwide. Today the group is known, fittingly, as The American Association for Justice, and its numbers include not only dedicated attorneys but law professors, paralegals and law students all with a single focus-to educate and advocate. At the center of their purpose is to promote fairness and justice for injured people and to safeguard victim’s rights – especially the right to a jury trial as envisioned by the Seventh Amendment!

It should be obvious to all that a person who is a victim, who is injured, may not in the best position to fight for their rights. For this reason it is imperative that the courthouse doors remain open to legal advocates who have the knowledge and skill to fight for those who have been injured. But, in some circles there has been discussion about the use of ‘judicial resources’ and ‘caps’ on awards, and whether or not it is necessary to provide every victim an opportunity to be heard by a jury and compensated. And, what about those large awards that are said to continue to drive up the cost of malpractice insurance? Say what? Maybe mandatory, binding arbitration would be the way to preserve the courts resources for more serious matters-like maybe strictly business vs. business litigation? I THINK NOT!

According to the National Association of Consumer Advocates, when Congress enacted the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), its goal was to allow an alternative forum for parties on equal footing to resolve their disputes. Yet a series of court decisions moved the law away from its original intent and opened the door for arbitration to be used to deprive ordinary citizens in employment, consumer, and franchise disputes of their constitutional right to use the civil justice system.

Thank you American Association for Justice for helping to keep the courthouse doors open and for your dedication to victims everywhere! Mandatory arbitration is fraught with inequities, but only for the little guy!

And, for all those doctors who say that court awards are driving up their malpractice insurance, I have a great idea……..First, do no harm! Second, check with your brethren in states that have caps on malpractice awards and see how much their malpractice insurance has increased, even with the caps. Then consider the truly catastrophically injured at the hands of a doctor that you would agree committed malpractice, who was restricted to an unrealistically low recover cap that really only benefits insurance carriers and ask yourself, is this fair?

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