“I am not the kind of person who sues someone.”

I have been a trial lawyer for 35 years, and over the past 5 years or so, it seems that every client says the same thing in the initial meeting: “I am not the kind of person who sues someone.” It doesn’t seem to matter whether the client suffered a back injury or lost a loved one–people don’t want to be identified as a plaintiff.

Why? People come to see me because they think they were wronged, and entitled to compensation for their loss, but why do they feel the need to distinguish themselves from the many others who have been harmed and sought redress? The answer is really quite simple: They have been overwhelmed with stories of runaway juries and ridiculous verdicts. Stories advanced in large part by big businesses and insurers. Stories intended to convince people that we need tort reform–to bring the system under control.

But why do they equate being a plaintiff as being a person trying to cash in on the lottery of a broken jury system? Because that’s what they have been taught, that’s what they are told in advertisements and on talk radio and cable networks. Few people can tell you stories of friends or acquaintances who have “cashed-in” on the jury system. Sure, they have heard stories, but if the system was so broken, so rampant with frivolous lawsuits and huge verdicts, wouldn’t you know of someone who claimed a whiplash and got millions?

Here’s a better question: If juries are so untrustworthy, why do defendants always demand one? In medical malpractice in Virginia, I would likely waive a jury in every case–but the defendant won’t. Why not? Because they know the jury is made up of people who, if injured, would tell their lawyer, “I am not the kind of person who sues someone.”

The job of a good trial lawyer is to try to find potential jurors who will discard the bias they don’t even know they have–an almost innate belief that all lawsuits are meritless. Most jurors actually believe that victims are entitled to be compensated. We, the lawyers, just have to make the jurors give us a chance to prove that our client “is not the kind of person who sues someone.”

Gary Mims
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