Because it’s not just about money

King 5 reported today that the two African American men arrested at the Philadelphia Starbucks while waiting for their friend to arrive have settled with the company for a symbolic $1 each, and a $200,000 pledge to a program for young entrepreneurs.  I hope that this story gets as much publicity as other big settlement/verdict numbers, because it represents the truth of what the civil justice system is about, and inspired me to write this post.

It’s true that the typical civil remedy in tort cases is monetary damages.  A jury determines what amount fairly compensates the injured person for his or her harms and losses caused by someone’s negligence (or worse).  Cynics say that’s all the system is.  Cynics think all plaintiffs want is money, unless of course something awful happens to them because of someone’s misconduct, and then they know better.

Here is a list of things that my clients and I care about that do not relate to money:

  1.  Especially for the families in wrongful death cases, they first thing they want is answers.  They want to know how and why they suffered the ultimate loss.
  2.  Most victims of wrongdoing want justice and accountability way more than money.  There is such a huge gap between what the criminal justice system covers, and the range of awful conduct that endangers communities and victimizes families and people’s futures.  The civil system bridges that gap.
  3. I have never had (or accepted) a client who wants to be rich.  My clients simply want to be made whole, to have the scales leveled again.
  4. I hate confidentiality and non-disclosure settlement agreements.  They are sometimes necessary in one form or another.  But in most cases, innocent victims should be able to use their First Amendment rights (and rights as a human) to talk about what happened to them.
  5. We often add claims to our complaints that have nothing to do with money.  We ask for injunctive or equitable relief.  We ask courts to make things right in a number of different ways.  Some people think that’s weird, and we don’t care.
  6. I volunteer more than a dozen hours a month to non-profit work and legislative efforts to make our community safer and more accommodating for people to lead healthy, successful lives.

It’s not just about money.