My wife, Lita, and I are still here in Scottsdale, AZ (we’ve been here since June 7th) with excessive heat warnings and days with 118 degrees while I recover from knee replacement surgery. We dearly hope to be released to return to our home in Washington this week.
In the meantime let me share a thought about the tort practice. I practice in a state whose tort law has never had punitive damages except in very limited situations or by statute. We don’t get to talk about sending a message or the like. On the other hand, our courts have always recognized there is an element of deterrence in every civil tort case whether punitive damages are involved or not. Here’s my viewpoint on the subject for your consideration.
Is it the primary role of the advocate for the injured to be an instrument to collect as much money as he or she can from a defendant being sued? If so, our professional role is comparable to a door to door siding sales person who is not interested in whether the product is needed, but only interested in making a sale to earn a commission. In fact, the exclusive role of the advocate in a civil tort case is to achieve justice for their client.
Under our system, justice for an injured plaintiff, is measured by a verdict of money for one legally entitled to it. The amount, to be just, fair and reasonable, must represent a sum equal to the harm done. If the harm is slight, the verdict in dollars should be slight. If the harm is great, the verdict in dollars should be great.
However, the purpose of civil tort law includes more then simply determining the sum of money that is equal to the harm. Justice, under our civil tort law, is intended to discourage future conduct through a finding of fault and to reasonable and fairly compensate the injured person for the damages sustained. Every tort rule, to some extent, is intended to both deter other wrongdoers as well as to compensate the injured person. Restatement (2nd) Conflicts of Law sec 145 p. 416; Medina v Pub. Util. Dist 147 Wn 2nd 303 (324) See also: Babcock v State 112 Wn 2nd 113.