Here is a great blog post (since taken down) by renowned trial lawyer Paul Luvera where he talks about representing victims of an oil refinery explosion. Paul is responding to people who were critical of the victims’ families retaining counsel.
His main point is that when dealing with a large corporation, there is only one language the corporation understands- money. The only reason a corporation exists is the generation of a profit for the shareholders. All of its corporate decisions are governed by that overriding principle. Left entirely on its own, a corporation will generally do what is in its economic self-interest, whether that entails reasonable actions to promote safety or not.
When unsafe actions start to cost money (either through suits for money damages, regulatory fines, or bad publicity) is when corporate behavior changes. If you have ever seen the movie Fight Club, there is a scene where the main character describes his job as a “recall coordinator” for an automobile manufacturer. He says his job is to apply “the formula.” This is how he describes it:
A new car built by my company leaves somewhere traveling at 60 mph. The rear differential locks up. The car crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside. Now, should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don’t do one.
That is essentially the corporate decision-making process. Where a decision-making process is governed by money, the only way to change that process is with money. Here is what Paul says about it, and I agree with him:
Those who complain the lawyers and the families are only in it for the money and that no amount of money can make up for the harm are really suggesting we let the corporation go without paying what they owe. A lawsuit for damages is the only way civilized societies ensure that justice prevails in a tragedy like this one.
We have a system in this country where we allow free enterprise and promote the generation of profit, sometimes to the detriment of the little guy. We also have a system where wrongdoers may be held accountable for the consequences of their actions.
It brings me back to one of my favorite quotes about the justice system. It is one of the truest comments I have ever heard:
“The system is there to bury you. Why can’t it be there to save you?” — Ice Cube
Look, the truth is our system is both awful and the best justice system in the history of the world. But I would rather represent David than Goliath, rather be Robin Hood than Sheriff John, and rather root for Towson State than Michigan. I don’t want to be one more lawyer piling on top of someone already buried under the weight of the system. What trial lawyers do is stick up for the little guy against the big guy.