Thursday, April 19, 2018

It is a common misconception that Americans are sue-happy individuals

By Kristin Moller

It is a common misconception that Americans are sue-happy individuals. As Engel writes, “we are not who we thought we were. America isn’t a nation of trigger-happy litigators after all. We are a nation of lumpers” (Engel 37). Americans are generally seen as suing for any inconvenience, but as Engel explains, that is not the case. In fact, he suggests that America is a nation of “lumpers.” “Lumpers” are defined in the book as “to put up with; resign oneself to; accept or endure” (Engel 20). This idea of accepting or enduring the pain instead of seeking monetary compensation is a different concept that what Americans are commonly known for. Engel states that “approximately nine out of ten injured Americans chose to lump rather than to claim” (Engel 22). This statistic does not support the idea that Americans are just looking to sue.

Engel also suggests through his writings that injured people do not make rational decisions, which is a reason they chose to lump. The idea that an injured individual lies in bed and rationally analyses his or her best options is not realistic. Engel states that “this idealized image of the injured victim as intrepid decision maker was utterly false and highly misleading” (Engel 38). He goes on to say that “when people suffer serious injuries, or even less serious injuries that cause pain and disruption, they don’t behave at all like travelers journeying along a branching pathway. Few…engage in anything like a series of deliberate calculations and considered choices” (Engel 39). This idea was very interesting because it views people as individuals instead of the original, though that they would all make calculated decisions in a time where their lives could very well be in array and distress.

Engel goes on to quote Lous Heshusius, who speaks upon the aftermath of injury and how it can exile the victim. He states that “when intense pain takes over, nothing else exists. There is only a spot, a sharped point of nothingness. And yet it is the only spot where one can still be. Where there is still life. Life without thoughts. Without emotions.” (Engel 40). This was a powerful quote, because when generally thinking of victims of injury we envision them just wanting monetary compensation. We don’t generally think of how these individuals may live 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in excruciating pain. This type of pain can change their lives forever, daily tasks become something they no longer do. Simple tasks can no longer be accomplished. They no longer are living the lives they once knew.

Engel states that “perhaps the most immediate sensations of the injured person is the shocked realization of existential change” (Engel 41). Pain changes the way individuals live and conduct their daily activities. As Engel goes on to write that “people in pain form a new sense of their bodies and their very identities” (Engel 41). The way people feel from and injury can change the way they see themselves. People can then feel their bodies are strangers to them: “the painful boy emerges as ‘thing-like’; it ‘betrays’ us and we may feel alienated and estranged from it as a consequence” (Engel 41). These types of injuries affect both the body and the mind and can have life changing consequences. People who suffer injuries this severe do not just have a simple broken leg but are suffering from injuries so severe they cannot function in the same way that they did before they were injured. Engel also notes that, “for some people, years may pass after a severely disabling injury before it becomes possible to regain a stable and positive personality” (Engel 41). These injuries are not fixed with simple medical treatment but instead can ruin these people’s lives. Social isolation is also a large issue when these types of injuries occur. “One of the most common consequences of serious injury is the loss of friends and acquaintances” (Engel 43). This can leave victims with serious mental injury as their support systems are no longer present leaving them feeling alone and helpless.

One of the issues individuals failing to state a claim come across, as the book explains, is being able to verbally voice what they are experiencing. “In order to voice a claim, it’s essential to communicate one’s suffering to others” (Engel 45). It becomes very hard for the victims to be able to do this. A victim of extreme pain writes, “whatever pain achieves, it achieves through in part through its unsharability, and it ensures this unsharability through its resistance to language” (Engel 45).  The pain for these people is so server it cannot be explained to others. People also self-blame when injured even when it was not their fault (Engel 47). This could be another reason that individuals are not taking their claims to court.

The new information I learned after reading this book influenced the way I viewed civil dispute resolution system in the United States. I though more Americans were willing to bring all of their claims to court seeking a large amount in damages, but this is not the case. I also never thought about the individual victim and their mental state after suffering an injury. It was eye opening to learn how many of the injury victims experience so much pain they cannot describe the extent of it. I also found it heartbreaking that victims who suffer serious injury lose friends and even blame themselves for what happened to them. My previous conception was that there were people who suffered minor injuries and wanted to sue others for a large sum of money. My view was very different from reality, which is people whose lives have changed for the worse and don’t even seek damages because they are consumed with other areas of their lives falling apart.
If I could reform the torts system in the United States, I would make it more user friendly and accessible for average Americans.  I would try to bring more support for people who have suffered serious injuries to help them through the process and seek justice. One of the biggest issues that I saw for people who have been though a serious injury was that their lives were changed so greatly that the last thing they should worry about is suing the party that caused this injury. These people have so much more to worry about like taking care of themselves, their families, and their own well-being that they don’t have much spare time. I think it would be beneficial to give support to people who have suffered serious injuries to help them through the litigation process without large cost in order to help them seek justice. 

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