By Nicole Jacques
While reading Professor David M. Engel’s book, I was taken aback learning that lumping is the preferred response to injury in American culture. It seems however, that, this might not be how we initially react, but how we let society control us or how society shapes us to react. David Engel, Myth of the Litigious Society 137 (2016). According to Engel’s theory in chapter 8, “claiming is considered selfish and socially destructive.” Id. at 138. Although there isn’t conclusive evidence of this, according to surveys from chapter 2, this is the case in both urban and rural areas. Id. I find this quite amazing; however, when reflecting on it, it makes sense. We live in a society that we are in a way reprimanded when we decide to make a claim for an injury unless it is large and even then some might ask, why bother? Society makes it seem as though it is such an issue to make a claim and lumping is better because it might be less work or a “hassle.” Although this might not necessarily be the case (or it even could be), sometimes the “hassle” just might be worth it. There are several injuries that Engel mentions, that lumping was the ultimate decision when, perhaps, it shouldn’t have been. For instance, a mother decided lumping was a better option when her daughter was killed by a negligent driver. Id. at 137. However, sometimes a third party can get involved and persuade otherwise, like the story of Miranda, her ex-husband, and daughter, Lily. When Lily had been injured, Miranda was going to settle with the insurance company, had it not been for the persuasion of her now ex-husband. Id. at 151. Society and the people around us have a great impact on whether we decide to lump claims or not, according to Engel.
Whether someone decides to lump claims or not can also be impacted by how someone’s inner circle may react to their injury as well. This is also mentioned by Engel when he discusses the body and the mind, and how they react to one another. Id. at 45. If someone has never gone through the same physical pain as you, you cannot expect them to react the way you might want. However, this can also contribute to how you decide to handle your injury claim. If your inner circle is doubting the amount of pain you might have experienced or are currently experiencing, you will probably be less likely to make a claim and be more likely to pursue lumping. However, when someone doesn’t have support from those that they need they could end up blaming themselves which will then cause them to be even less likely to file a claim. Id. at 47. When someone begins to self-blame, they begin to think the injury was entirely their fault and decide that they could have done something to prevent it. Id. This definitely can play a large role with whether or not someone decides to file a claim or not. If someone doesn’t think what actually caused the accident, did, than they aren’t going to want to seek any outside resources to help get what they deserve.
Religion can also play a role in how we decide to file a claim. There is a phenomenon known as Catholic guilt, which I’m sure all religions have a form of. Catholic guilt just happens to be what I am the most familiar with. Professor Engel discusses that deep religious beliefs can also play a role in how we self-blame when injury occurs. Id. at 48. I definitely believe that religion can play a role in a person deciding whether to file a claim, or not, because in Catholicism it seems that when you are injured the power of God can heal you. This might make you less likely to file a claim.
Professor David M. Engel did mention several other aspects as to why people lump and don’t file claims. However, I believe these reasons play a very large role because it demonstrates how much outside influence has on individuals in regards to injuries they receive. It shouldn’t be the norm; however, it seems to be because, although somewhat surprised by Professor Engel’s writing, it all in a way makes sense. It doesn’t seem too shocking, and I think we all have experienced it ourselves or with a close friend or relative.
U.S tort reform should be handled in such a way that it makes filing injury claims more accessible and more “for the client.” It was mentioned in the Miranda story that even after her ex-husband convinced her to file a claim for her injured daughter, she felt that the lawyers didn’t do what they could have done to get her what she deserved. Id. at 151. If this is what everyone experiences, then it isn’t shocking that people see filing a claim for an injury to be such a hassle. When all other odds seem to be against the client, as referenced earlier, it would be best to have the person that they finally decided to hire, going against the odds, to be utterly, and completely on their side with full their attention.
I agree with Professor David M. Engel that the conversation should be started about injury and that the public should gain a better understanding about how to handle an injury claim instead of the “bizarre and demeaning fantasies” that society currently has. Id. at 196. Perhaps if the conversation is started, and society becomes more informed, there wouldn’t be such an ill thought about making a claim. There needs to be a better understanding that people’s injuries are valid and not just a “hassle” to them.