This story — Victims of G.M. Deadly Defect Fall Through Legal Cracks – NYTimes.com. — illustrates a hole in the justice system, especially for cases which, as I’ve maintained, are a way plaintiffs’ can challenge and even change or make laws and regulations.
The Times story begins:
The law firm was unequivocal. It refused to take the case against General Motors involving a car crash that killed 18-year-old Natasha Weigel, saying that the value of her life in a lawsuit was too small to justify the expense and risk of litigation.
Her family was stunned. A Wisconsin police investigator had looked into why the car’s airbags had not opened when it swerved off a road in 2006 and plowed into trees, killing Ms. Weigel and a second teenager. The inquiry uncovered critical clues: The car’s ignition switch had powered off seconds before the accident, and G.M. had received reports of similar incidents, pointing to a possible defect.
But when Ms. Weigel’s family shared that report with a major plaintiff’s law firm in Milwaukee, the firm responded with cold, hard math.
“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,” Daniel A. Rottier, a partner in the firm, Habush, Habush & Rottier, wrote in May 2007.
Today, at least 42 people are known to have died in crashes linked to the defective ignition switch, and both G.M. and federal safety regulators have come under fire for allowing the danger to linger for more than a decade. But the experience of some accident victims and their families shows that other opportunities to raise public alarm bells — through the legal system — were also lost.
It may be math but it’s sad: if a state limits compensation for personal injury cases, its lawyers will not take cases on contingency — which means that you, the plaintiff, doesn’t pay the lawyer’s fee during the case (he gets his fee out of a successful settlement or award), but more significantly, nor do you pay the expenses of the lawyer, which can be considerable –– unless he is sure you will win, and win enough to reimburse his fees, as well as compensating him for his time and work.