I’ve been practicing law now for decades and I have seen a lot of changes. Not just regarding the law, but also people. People seem so polarized and ideological – meaning that many jurors I see care more about their personal beliefs than facts. This is especially true on police misconduct cases. Of course we all support the police, not in small part because we have to depend on the police. Even as recently as 10 years ago, jurors, while skeptical of any claim against the police, would still be willing to do the right thing. Now it seems more true than not that even when jurors believe the evidence against the police, they rule in their favor because they are afraid of how it will affect other officers.
The same is true with medical malpractice. Jurors I talk to all say that they are more concerned about the affect of a monetary verdict on insurance premiums than they are about how serious the injuries were to the victim. Years of propaganda from corporations and Conservatives have convinced people that the police won’t police if bad cops are punished, and their own health care will be affected if they give money to a victim as compensation. Common sense tells us that if cops know they will be punished if they break the law, then fewer would break the law. Instead, we have an explosion of police shootings of innocent citizens. Common sense tells us that if doctors have to be more careful with patients, then fewer errors will occur and health care costs will go down, but deaths due to medical mistakes continue to kill over 50,000 patients a year. It is a matter of emotions and beliefs instead of overwhelming facts and common sense. It is as though any compensation for victims is coming from their own finances.
However, there is another even more disturbing change that I sense. It’s a certain hardness, even cruelty, among people concerning the suffering of others. It can be measured in the amount of compensation provided to victims (rather, the lack of it), especially for pain and suffering. It is also measured by the comments I hear about suffering. People who suffer constant and disabling pain, and will for the rest of their lives, are often given token compensation or none at all. It’s as though suffering is meaningless. The cruelty of dismissing the suffering of another person is disturbing.
I guess we see this same hardness in society in general, where empathy for victims is overwhelmed by political or ideological concerns. The murder of an innocent black man in Minnesota or Missouri is dismissed or even defended by many people. Suffering and injustice that is undeniable is met with this common phrase: “yes, but what about …” Whether it is a social sea change or not, the implications for society are profound. If victims cannot get justice from the legal system, then the only alternative is violence and anarchy. We already see this beginning in places like St. Loius, where an obviously unjust dismissal of a police officer resulted in days of rioting. So what is the cure?