Tort Reform – Do We Need It? Pt. 1
- January 9, 2015
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In 2006, 18-year-old Wisconsin Natasha Weigel and her friend, Amy Rademaker, were killed when Weigel’s car swerved off the road, and crashed into some trees. However, a fault with the ignition meant it had momentarily switched off, thus leaving the vehicle with no power for the deployment of airbags which could have saved the lives of the two teenagers.
To add to the tragedy, the girls’ families were refused legal recourse by a Milwaukee car accident attorney. In 2007, after the Weigel family had shared the accident inquiry report with him, Daniel A. Rottier, from Habush, Habush & Rottier, wrote to them, explaining why his firm would not be taking their case;
“Because of the $350,000 maximum recovery for loss of society in Wisconsin, and the extreme expense of litigating the case against General Motors, our office is unwilling to become involved in this matter.”
Rottier said that his firm would need to recover at least a million dollars, due to the fact that the cost of taking GM to court would be between $300,000 and just over $400,000. In a later interview, the car accident lawyer remarked that the decision over the Weigel case was not out of the ordinary, saying;
“I’ve told many people, that the value of your dead child doesn’t warrant a case. It is a terrible thing to have to do.”
Rademaker’s family were told by other law firms that unless they were able to finance the case themselves, no civil action would be taken against GM, although they were also told that in similar cases, GM had previously settled out of court. Unfortunately, these payouts have been conditional upon families and car accident attorneys keeping silent on the matter. What these secret negotiations effectively mean, is that opportunities to raise public awareness via the legal system have been lost, putting consumers’ lives in danger because of defective vehicles.
Speaking of his frustration, Weigel’s stepfather, Ken Rimer, said,
“If we had gone to litigation, this would have gone to the forefront. We could have saved lives.”
During the past 10 years, more than 40 people have lost their lives in automobile accidents involving GM vehicles where the ignition has failed, leaving the cars with no power to deploy the airbags. If tort caps mean that car accident lawyers deem it not financially worth their while to seek justice for victims’ families, and if GM’s out-of-court settlements always have non-disclosure agreements attached to them, then it’s unlikely that things will ever change.
From the point of view of the consumer, cases like this are bad enough but tort reformists would further impede the likelihood of victims and their families receiving fair compensation. For several decades now, businesses, insurers, and medical practitioners have been speaking out against so-called ‘jackpot justice’ cases, and in some instances, they are right to do so; however, placing a cap on the amount of damages that can be awarded, often results, as we have seen with the Weigel case, in a lack of litigation, which in turn means a lack of public scrutiny. You don’t need to be a legal expert to understand that what this effectively means is that there is therefore no incentive for companies and medics to ensure they give the public the best possible service.
If you have been injured in a car accident in New York City, you may wish to speak to New York City car accident attorneys as soon as possible. Our expert car accident lawyers at Antin, Ehrlich, and Epstein LLP will determine the best course of action in order to get you the settlement you are entitled to. Contact us today on 212-221-5999 to schedule a free, no obligation, consultation.