Three Ways a Lawsuit Can Save Your Life
A wife and mother electrocuted in front of her children. A toddler crushed by a dresser. A young woman paralyzed by a faulty vehicle. They all suffered horrifically due to negligence. And the resulting lawsuits made the world safer for you.
Tort reform advocates – the lobbyists, politicians, and corporate executives who want to make it harder for injured people to recover damages through lawsuits – will argue the opposite. They claim the civil justice system is overwhelmed by frivolous filings from greedy plaintiffs just out for a cash grab.
But the facts say otherwise: only 2% of injured Americans ever file a lawsuit, and the majority of lawsuit judgments in favor of plaintiffs are under $6,000.
When injured people do pursue justice, we all benefit. Their lawsuits expose dangerous business practices, and executives are forced to make changes that save lives. Hundreds of civil cases over the past 50 years have held companies accountable this way. How?
1) Lawsuits Improve Safety Oversights
In 2009 Carrie Goretzka was killed outside of her Pennsylvania home when a power line snapped and electrocuted her for 20 minutes in view of her two young children. Her family sued the utility provider, West Penn Power, on the grounds that the company’s failure to properly clean and splice its power lines caused the accident. West Penn Power also allegedly neglected to repair power lines that had previously fallen into the Goretzka’s yard.
While the Goretzka family eventually received a settlement of $105 million, their lawsuit also significantly benefitted public safety. Evidence of West Penn Power’s negligence uncovered at trial resulted in an enforcement agreement with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC). The company pledged to retrain its workers in proper power line installation and schedule regular inspections to prevent further tragedies like the death of Carrie Goretzka.
2) Lawsuits Expand Product Recalls
When two-year-old Josef Dudek’s father went to check on him during naptime, he made a horrifying discovery – the boy was trapped underneath an IKEA dresser that tipped over on top of him. Josef died later that day.
A year later, in 2018, Josef’s parents filed suit against IKEA in California civil court. They alleged that the company had not properly notified them of a product recall for the dresser that killed their son. During litigation, hundreds of tip over events involving similar IKEA dressers were uncovered. These incidents resulted in injury to 91 children.
The case ultimately settled for $46 million. In addition to remitting damages, IKEA agreed to restructure its product recall protocol to make more consumers aware of the defective dressers, potentially saving many lives.
3) Lawsuits Institute Protective Legislation
Rebecca Burgess was rendered a quadriplegic in the late 1970’s when the Ford Pinto she was riding in exploded after a front-end collision. She filed a lawsuit against the Ford Motor Company, arguing that its failure to include airbags in its vehicles contributed to her injury. At the time, airbags weren’t mandated for vehicles in the U.S. The automotive industry fought fiercely against proposed legislation that would require their installation on the grounds that it wasn’t cost effective, despite evidence that airbags significantly reduced driver impact in a crash.
But Burgess’ lawsuit launched changes. After a ten-day trial in 1984, her case settled for $1.8 million. The settlement attracted media attention and led to similar lawsuits from injured motorists. In response to the public pressure, the automotive industry finally started offering airbag equipped models. By 1997, Congress passed legislation requiring airbags for all U.S. vehicles – a law that has saved tens of thousands of lives.
These case studies make it clear: lawsuits make us safer. Injured people don’t just want financial restitution. They want assurance that other people won’t suffer the way they have. That’s how companies are held accountable. That’s how true justice is achieved.