A Philosophical Look at Monetary Damages
Money is a funny thing. It makes people do things they would never consider doing without the incentive. It also acts as a bandage to heal emotional wounds, both inside and outside the courtroom.
The world of damages to a lawyer sometimes resembles a kid in a candy store. Hmm, what else can we possibly tack on to our request? Just reviewing the largest jury awards can make a person’s mouth water, or at least his jaw drop. For example, back in 2002, Plaintiff and smoker of 50 years Betty Bullock was awarded a whopping $28billion for her lung cancer claim against Philip Morris. This was the punitive award, which was later reduced to $28m, and a “measly” $850,000 was awarded for compensatory damages to the 64-year-old.
But no matter how high the award may be, a victim is never restored to his pre-injury state. So why do societies accept that compensatory and punitive damages are sufficient to offer closure where there is still pain? Why does it make the victim’s family feel better to hit the defendants where it hurts, in the pockets? Do monetary damages really deter future negligent behavior? Last year, Philip Morris still raked in nearly $7billion net income. And with the unbelievable medical malpractice case history, there are still very negligent doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel out there, depriving newborns of oxygen and leaving all sorts of objects inside peoples’ bodies after surgery.
Does the concept of monetary damages help people sleep at night or is it simply making the best out of a horrible situation?
Do you think law schools should teach empathy?
In a recent article, lawyer and author Jeena Cho writes
"Nowhere are we taught that the act of sitting with someone who is suffering — someone who has been unjustly treated, physically, emotionally, psychologically or financially harmed, or lost dignity, limbs, or loved ones — is really deeply painful and hard work. Instead, we are regularly told nonsense like, we’re lawyers, we shouldn’t have emotions."
I agree with her that it can be emotionally draining to sit with a client who has been harmed, especially if physical or emotional abuse is involved. However, clients are not coming to us for a shoulder on which to cry. Clients want justice. While it is certainly appropriate to sympathize with our pained clients, our role as lawyers is to advocate for their legal rights and deliver the protections and compensation they deserve.
What do you think, counselor?
Lawyer and legal writer, Julie worked primarily in real estate law before focusing her career on the social media and marketing aspects of the legal industry.