Conquent: Without Limits
Conquent: Without Limits
Michael Bissell's Blog

The Lawsuit Lottery

2010-02-25 08:27:56
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Not too long ago in Portland a man got separated from his kid on the Max train. It was a terrible thing, and the train driver didn't stop to let him out -- fortunately a woman at the train station saw it happen and stayed with the kid until the dad was able to change trains at the next stop and get back.

I remember the story as a heartwarming example of how people actually do step in and take care of each other, that the woman on the platform did a good thing by watching a stranger's child and everything came out okay in the end.

The driver got fired for negligence and lying to Tri-Met (he apparently told his bosses he didn't do anything because the intercom was broken, but that doesn't seem to be true). Overall I felt the problem was resolved -- the kid was okay, and the driver won't be in a position to cause such a problem again.

Except the dad is now suing Tri-Met for $300,000 for "emotional distress." I'm not saying it wasn't distressing, but it was an accident, and the problems that led to the accident have been fixed, so "sending a message to Tri-Met" is redundant.

$300K sounds like a lawyer number to me -- one of those that's big enough to be worth pursuing on a long shot, but small enough that it might just be easier for Tri-Met to settle. That settlement, of course, comes out of money we all pay in taxes, and out of a transportation budget that's already strained with fewer people working and, therefore, fewer people paying those taxes.

I just wish that when bad things happen and everything comes out okay that people would decide to "send a message" that our community works, that we take care of each other, and that we don't need to profit from the government because one ex-employee was an idiot.

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Bruce Dickson: Re: The Lawsuit Lottery
2010-02-25 10:26:00

Right on Michael!

John Bissell: Re: The Lawsuit Lottery
2010-02-25 12:53:20

This is so frustrating for the reason we don't think of. When it really counts it is too expensive to sue. I work for clients who need the Government to follow the rules that they promulgate. Very often they don't and it creates great expense for my clients. When the government does not follow their own rules, the courts will tell the government to do so, and the government will then follow the rules for everyone else too, so the lawsuit in that case really helps. But it often costs upwards of $100,000 to win such a case. If the plaintiff has lost only $80,000 it is not worth the suit, and the government goes on violating the law. And this is common, even daily in my world.

The Tri-Met case is foolish, and as Michael says is a lottery. It clouds the need to be able to to sue when it counts - and most of the time one can't sue when it counts

Joy Kovacs: Re: The Lawsuit Lottery
2010-02-25 19:17:16

I agree thoroughly, and unfortunately if this does proceed, the father may not come out looking so good as a result of the things he did wrong in this incident - for not pulling the emergency door release, for letting go of his child's hand, for not leaving his arm in the doors as they were closing (they are designed to reopen if they make contact with something as a safety precaution), for not running to the next set of doors that were still open as shown in the video of the incident.
I'm not saying that what the train operator did was right, but neither is the father entirely blameless, which makes the public far less sympathetic for the sum he's after (which can be seen in the news comments of any article covering this story).

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