Why do people sue part 2. David Ball's response

Have big giant lawyer crush on David Ball.  Have followed him around the country listening to his speeches like a faithful groupie.   So when Cristina stumps me with her question, decide to pose it to him.  Here's what he says.


Excellent question, though few people seem to be interested in the answers or even think about them.  So thanks for asking it.  The questioner was quite perceptive.

I've looked into this in some depth and over a period of years.  There are different reasons people sue -- reasons which plaintiffs are consciously aware of only to an extremely limited extent.  The most common of the reasons tend to combine with each other. In rough approximate order of occurrence, they are:

1.  First is the need for some kind of completion.  After any kind of wrongdoing is done to them, humans need to know that the other shoe has dropped-- by means of an apology or remorse from the wrongdoer that the wronged person can believe (think Yom Kippur -- or a murderer's remorse, the latter of which usually gets a capital to impose a life instead of death sentence), or revenge, or punishment, or compensation, or something.  One reason Jesus made such a big deal about turning the other cheek is that letting go is unnatural: so turning the other cheek is almost impossible and thus leaves the other shoe dropping up to the wrongdoer, which in Jesus's time -- not to mention ours -- was extremely unlikely for the wrongdoer to take care of; in societies of starkly unequal levels of power, the powerful never need to apologize.  Result: unavoidable anguish of incompletion for the victim, which JC wanted to alleviate.  The drive for the other shoe to drop is one of the strongest human drives we have -- because it is a survival necessity.  Lineages that did not share the drive for the other shoe to drop were unlikely to survive the forces of evolution.  If you wrong me and I do nothing about it, I am in greater danger of you wronging me again. "Other shoe dropping" means that there's less likely you'll wrong me again.  Eons ago, "wronging me" meant harming my survival chances by taking food, mate,  shelter, whatever, since that's all there was.  The drive for other-shoe-dropping is usually driven by anger, but can also be driven by a desire to begin the healing process (which often cannot start until the other shoe drops).  Needing the other shoe to drop is common to all human beings, and hence common to almost everyone who sues.  (For more on this, and one way to use it in trial, see pps. 82- 85 in Reptile.)

2.  Second is to try to make something good come out of something bad.  "I don't want this to happen to anyone else."  It is a way for victims to deal with loss or irreparable harm.  It makes the harm seem less of a loss.  A basic human drive -- one that is deeply inbred over the eons of evolution -- is that we have an automatic, unconscious, and almost irresistible drive to turn catastrophe into something good (the Phoenix rising from the ashes -- Katrina -- 9/11 new buildings -- "the only thing wrong with being knocked down is not getting up again" -- "turn adversity to advantage" -- etc.).  This drive follows every great community/national calamity, and many people feel it as they recover and look back on individual disasters.  Suing to prevent the same harm to others is one of the only ways individuals can do it when only an individual is the victim.  This drive is astonishingly common among plaintiffs; it's one reason that so many plaintiffs resist confidential settlements -- though they will usually do so for enough money.  (For more on this drive and one way to use it in trial, see pps. 85 - 87 in Reptile.)

3.  Third is the need for money for the victim to support himself or his family -- meds, money to live on, etc., depending on the case.

4.  Fourth is opportunism.  Not as rare as we might want.

5. Fifth: The plaintiff's need for the community -- in the form of a jury, the legal system, a judge, whatever -- to acknowledge that the plaintiff was wronged.  This is almost the same as #1, and can be impossible to distinguish from it, though there are differences.

6.  Sixth is a desire for importance -- people see in movies, books, TV shows how much attention a plaintiff can get.  This is probably not enough on its own, but certainly accompanies the other reasons.  On the other hand, it may well be a lot more intertwined with some of the earlier reasons than we think.

7.  Something to occupy the time. When injuries take away much of  a person's ability to occupy herself with things she used to do to fill in her life, a lawsuit becomes a pursuit per se -- a passion, almost like a serious hobby, an artistic pursuit, or some other passion-driven activity.

8.  Obsession.

Obviously all these have strategy and moral ramifications for trial lawyers.

Obviously indeed.