Almost every country in the Western world promotes the concept of equality under the law, where a poor man wearing rags receives the same treatment as a billionaire in an Armani suit. We like to think that our courts operate under the tenet that beneath our physical attributes, the clothes on our backs and the assets in our bank accounts, we are all the same.
But is this always the case?
An Ontario jury recently awarded the plaintiff in a motor vehicle claim the sum of $23,500. The plaintiff had been involved in a rear-ending collision, as a result of which she had sustained serious injuries that will affect her for the rest of her life. Not only did she suffer permanent physical harm, she lost her livelihood. It is not only likely but probable that she will never be able to return to her sales clerk position. With serious physical limitations affecting her day-to-day life, she may not have the capability to train for a different line of work.
For a jury to find that such serious long-term effects were only worth $23,500 is a little mystifying, especially when you consider the $140 million that Hulk Hogan was awarded for the Gawker sex tape incident.
While Hogan undeniably suffered an invasion of privacy and a sizeable dent in his dignity, he was not injured and his livelihood was not taken away from him. His ordeal is most certainly worth something, but is it really worth so much more than a road accident victim whose life has been quantifiably damaged?
One could be forgiven for wondering how much the jury award would have been had Hulk Hogan been the plaintiff. Is society so enamoured by celebrities that the concept of equality under the law gets hazy?
Or is this a symptom of the insurance industry and its lobbyists?
These days, online and print media are rife with stories about insurance fraud. Insurance companies hire entire teams of investigators and go to all kinds of expense in an effort to uncover claims that are exaggerated, embellished or just plain false. We hear about people being denied insurance coverage because they posted the wrong picture on Facebook, or sounded more cheerful than they should have during a telephone conversation.
Society has become conditioned to assume that anyone who is making an insurance claim must be lying. Additionally, most people only expect to see serious motor vehicle accident injuries if there was extensive damage to the vehicles involved. Jurors have a hard time with the idea that someone can get life-changing spinal injuries resulting from what looks like a simple bumper-bashing.
Could it be time to reassess the value of juries to personal injury lawsuits? Jury members are, after all, human beings with human instincts. They do not have the legal training and experience to assess and appropriately weigh evidence, and they don’t always know what the legal precedents affecting their cases are.
Judges have spent years of their lives getting a legal education, reading case law – and in some cases, making case law. Maybe, if we let the judges do the job that they have the training and experience for, we will see a return to the idea of equality under the law.