Injury settlements are the monies received by an injured victim of someone else’s negligence.
The most common injury settlements occur in motor vehicle accident claims, occupier’s liability claims such as slip-and-falls, medical malpractice claims, pharmaceutical claims (Vioxx, for example), and product-liability claims (think exploding Ford Pintos).
In law, when a person has been injured by the negligence of another they have a claim in tort against the negligent party, who is called the tortfeasor.
One principal of tort law is that the victim is entitled to be placed in the position he or she would have been in but for the negligent act of the tortfeasor.
This means that the injured victim is entitled to be compensated for their medical expenses, their loss of income due to their disability, their future care costs, their loss of capacity to earn income if they can no longer do their former work, or if their capacity to earn has been otherwise diminished, and what is called their non-pecuniary losses, being compensation for their pain and suffering, and other non-monetary losses.
Tort law has another principal however, one that is routinely forgotten, especially by those who claim that they wish to “reform” tort law, and remove or restrict the injured victim’s right to obtain compensation from the person whose negligence was the cause of their injuries.
This largely forgotten second principal of tort law is simply this: to discourage persons from committing tortious acts. In other words to discourage careless or reckless behavior, whether driven by personal irresponsibility, as in the case of a drunk driver, or corporate greed, as in the case of cars which are unsafe at any speed.
Those who would restrict the injured victims rights to seek redress against the person who has wronged them through his negligent act, also seek – though they conveniently fail to ever mention this – to remove the sanctions of tort law that would otherwise be brought to bear upon the tortfeasor.
They wish to give the tortfeasor a free ride.
At the expense of the injured victim, and at the expense of the rest of society.
Preserving a full tort system in which injured victims have full access to the courts to enforce their claims against the tortfeasors responsible for their injuries benefits not only injured victims, but each and every one of us, by ensuring that persons who commit negligent acts are held accountable.
Tort law not only compensates tort victims, it works to discourage tortious activity, and we are each of us safer as a result.