Monthly Archives: January 2011

Combatting the Just World Fallacy in Your Trial

One of the challenges we face as plaintiff’s trial lawyers is known as the “just world fallacy.” To quote wikipedia, the just world fallacy “refers to the tendency for people to want to believe that the world is fundamentally just. As a result, when they witness an otherwise inexplicable injustice, they will rationalize it by searching for things that the victim might have done to deserve it. This deflects their anxiety, and lets them continue to believe the world is a just place, but often at the expense of blaming victims for things that were not, objectively, their fault.”

This can lead to injustice in civil jury trials in several ways, namely when jurors:

  • Blame the wrong person for a car accident, believing it to be both drivers’ fault;
  • Blame a patient for a doctor’s malpractice;
  • Denying compensation  because a victim “shouldn’t have been there in the first place” or “shouldn’t have smoked” or “shouldn’t have been fat”
  • Denying compensation to an attack victim at a bar because they “shouldn’t have been at a bar”

One example locally came from the comments in one of the Quad City papers after the Milan McDonalds hepatitis outbreak. Several online commenters suggested that the people who got hepatitis deserved it for eating at McDonalds. I’m not making that up.

This fallacy exists to make us comfortable. It’s uncomfortable to believe that someone can be injured or killed through no fault of their own. It’s scary to think that bad deeds go unpunished, and victims are not compensated. So we fill in gaps out of fear, not logic.

As trial lawyers, how do we combat this?

Turn it around. Shine a light on it. Help the jury understand that unless they reach a full and fair verdict for your client, that justice hasn’t been done. They are justice – justice isn’t going to come magically or through karma, but it is up to them to make things right. Use their fear of injustice!

The hows, whys and wherefores are for a subject of another post. But remember that this fallacy exists, and combat it.

(Howard Zimmerle is a trial attorney in the Quad Cities, with offices in Davenport, Iowa and Rock Island, Illinois. You can reach him at 309-794-1660 or hzimmerle [at] mjwlaw.com)

 

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Filed under Juries, Trial Practice

Why We Don’t Allow Lawsuit Loans

It happens every few months. A client needs money, and has a case with me. They contact some company (typically Oasis Legal Finance) who promises to loan them money until they settle their PI or workers comp case. If they settle soon, they won’t owe much interest, they’re told. If they don’t win, they don’t owe anything, they’re told. 

But I won’t let them take the loan. I have to sign off on it, and I won’t do it. Why not?

Simply put, the interest rates are ridiculous. Not 25% credit card ridiculous…. much, much worse.

Yesterday’s New York Times had an article about it with some examples. Anyone read that and still want one of these predatory loans?

(Howard Zimmerle practices personal injury, medical malpractice, nursing home malpractice and workers compensation law in the Iowa and Illinois Quad Cities. He can be reached at 309-794-1660 or hzimmerle [at] mjwlaw.com).

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Filed under Negotiations, Settlements

Our Firm in the News

Here is an article about a dram shop case we filed last week. I won’t add much to what is in the article because the case is pending. It should be noted, though, that a bar only needs to be “a cause” not “the main cause” or “the biggest cause” of someone’s intoxication (although it has to be more than de minimis).

(Howard Zimmerle is a personal injury attorney in the Quad Cities who handles car accidents and dram shop cases, as well as many other injury matters. He can be reached at 309-794-1660 or hzimmerle [at] mjwlaw.com).

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Filed under Illinois Case Law, Illinois law, Our Firm, Quad Cities, Wrongful Death

Washington Post Article – “Focus on Patient Safety Hasn’t Succeeded”

Here’s an interesting, short article written by a doctor about the continuing problem of preventable errors and preventable deaths in hospitals.

The main point of the article is that too many preventable injuries/deaths are still happening in hospitals and that hospitals need to “build a culture in which patient safety is the priority” for everyone involved.

Very true.

One of the interesting things in the article is a discussion of the continued efforts to prevent hospital-acquired infections – the article states that “nearly all can be eliminated.” The amazing thing is that it has been over 160 years since Semmelweis figured out that doctors should wash their hands in between handling cadavers and delivering babies, yet some methods of preventing infection are still being ironed out. (And as an aside, doctors still don’t always wash their hands).

(Howard Zimmerle is a medical malpractice attorney in Rock Island, Illinois. You can reach him at 309-794-1660 or hzimmerle [at] mjwlaw.com).

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Filed under Medical Information, Medical Malpractice