The Illinois civil justice system is designed to allow our community to hold its members accountable for the wrongs members commit if those members refuse to take responsibility for their wrongs. Boiled down to its simplest terms, the civil justice system in Illinois allows a plaintiff to ask a jury whether the defendant did something wrong, and how much damage, if any, that wrong caused. The decision of the jury is intended to hold the negligent party responsible for his actions, and this decision is given the force of law. This very simple idea has enormous ramifications on society. It provides a foundation of safety within a community, without necessitating complex criminal laws to prevent acts that might not otherwise justify a criminal sentence.
In order for a community to function, the members of that community must consider the well-being of community members other than themselves. A key component of this understanding is achieved when each community member acts with the safety of others in mind. This does not mean that each community member must walk on eggshells. This simply means that each community member must act in a reasonably safe manner to make sure that his actions do not cause harm to another. All members of a community must exercise due care for the safety of others.
For instance, if a member of a community fails to act reasonably and creates a dangerous condition, and that dangerous condition causes an injury to another, the community member that created the dangerous condition should responsibly admit what he has done, and make right the damage he has caused. The civil justice system is in place to allow a community to hold its members responsible if those community members refuse to admit responsibility or refuse to make right their wrongs.
Generally speaking, you will not face a jury trial simply because someone was injured on your property. This is a myth propagated by insurance companies. The insurance companies want you to believe that everyone is suing everyone else for every little thing, because this belief makes lawsuits seem out of control, petty, and wasteful. This belief makes lawsuits appear to be insignificant nuisances without any real value to anyone. The intent of insurance companies is to devalue personal injury claims. The idea that everyone is suing everyone else for every little thing is a myth.
In order to be sued, you must do something wrong. There are many checks and balances within our court system that ensure that an individual who has done nothing wrong will not face a jury. First, there is a mechanism in place that allows for a baseless claim to be dismissed before the lawsuit is allowed to proceed at all. This mechanism is called a motion to dismiss and might be filed at the beginning of a lawsuit if the lawsuit is without merit. The second mechanism is called summary judgment. The courts will dismiss a lawsuit before it is heard by a jury unless there is some fact that a jury might consider supporting that the party being sued has done something wrong and that the wrong caused injury to the plaintiff. When a jury hears a case, it is usually hearing a case that the courts have refused to dismiss, because there are facts that support that the defendant did something wrong and that the wrong caused injury to the plaintiff. It is for the jury to determine whether those facts support that the defendant failed to act in a reasonably safe manner and whether he should be held responsible for any injury that was caused by his actions.
The insurance companies propagate these myths because it is the insurance companies that generally pay for personal injury claims. It is a highly unusual circumstance that an individual will pay a claim personally. After all, that is why we have insurance. However, please keep in mind that insurance companies are not your friends and are not on your side. Insurance companies propagate myths about lawsuits in order to protect the only thing that a company cares about, its bottom line. Insurance companies increase profit when they pay less on personal injury claims and when they pay fewer claims overall. If these companies successfully put in the mind of jurors that personal injury claims have no merit, are frivolous, or are “out of control” they minimize the amount that juries are willing to consider to be reasonable and just compensation. If they minimize jury awards, they save money. They save money, because they pay less on claims, regardless of whether the claim has merit and regardless of what constitutes fair and just compensation.
Insurance companies have been highly successful in propagating myths about personal injury lawsuits. Please keep in mind, that personal injury lawsuits and the Illinois civil justice system exist for a very important reason. In order to function as a society, members of a community must act with more than their own self-interest in mind. A member of a community must keep in mind that his actions affect other community members. If his actions cause harm to another community member, he should admit responsibility and make right the wrong. If he refuses to admit responsibility or refuses to make right the harm he has caused, the civil justice system permits the injured community member (plaintiff) to ask other members of the community (jury) to hold that individual responsible (defendant), and the community’s decision (jury’s verdict) is given the effect of law (judge’s order entered on the verdict). Do not allow corporate greed to take away this foundational right, simply for the sake of profit.