Serious Disconnect: Why people sue.

One of the common themes you see running through these posts is the “disconnect” between the plaintiff and defendants in a lawsuit. This disconnect is between what the plaintiff is asking for and what the defendant believes the plaintiff wants. The defendant always believes the plaintiff wants money. The only thing a court can provide is money, no matter what the plaintiff may want. When you read the plaintiff’s statements however plaintiffs rarely are asking for money. Plaintiff’s want answers, want a response, and want to know why.

Defendants are prevented by insurance companies and attorneys from dealing with possible plaintiffs because insurance companies and attorneys know their client will make the lawsuit worse. (For proof read the back of your automobile insurance card.) This is where the disconnect starts. The plaintiff has a question and the defendant is not allowed to answer the question.

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education titled Family Uses Web Site to Publicize Their Son’s Injury at Camp Run by Community College is a perfect example of these issues.

The facts of the original case have been broadcast in the media and on the web but need to be reviewed here. Twelve year old Adam E. Dzialo had gone to a summer camp run by Greenfield Community College. During a whitewater activity Adam’s foot was caught and he was submerged for several minutes suffering permanent brain damage. Adam is now minimal functional, paralyzed and unable to hear.

The college had just undergone an Association of Experiential Education accreditation review where the review report alleged stated the whitewater program needed more instructors.

Accrediting Program Increases Liability Exposure

This accreditation report created the issue in everyone’s mind that has continued to plague the college. If the “group” you paid to come in and review you said to add more instructors, why did you not add more instructors? This also highlights the risk of asking a group to come in and review you. If you are not going to heed the review, don’t ask for the review. Someone else may look at the review.

Plaintiff’s filed suit

Adam Dzialos parents filed suit against the college. However the college was protected by government immunity and that lawsuit was dismissed. The parents then sued for violation of Adam’s civil rights in Federal District Court. This is a way to get around the governmental immunity defense in most states, but the damages are much more limited in this type of lawsuit.

The Dzialos have now set up a website to publicize their son’s progress and their issues with the college.

Plaintiff’s comments about the suit

Of greater interest though are comments the Dzialos have made about the website and the college. The following statements have been reported to the media.

“They [Dzialos] wanted to know why only one of the camp’s two counselors was on hand for a white-water river rescue exercise that day.”

“They wanted to know why they were not notified first by college officials but nearly two hours later by the hospital where their son was taken for treatment.”

“….the Dzialos say they have gotten little response from officials at the Massachusetts college.”

“….and to help educate the community about camp safety.”

“But they say what they really want is an apology from the institution.”

“”Instead of dealing with all these issues of honesty, they would rather protect their mortar and bricks,” says Adam’s father, Philip A. Dzialo.”

“”I’m hoping that there is enough community response that the college will say, Because these are our consumers, we should sit down with these people and hear what they have to say,” he says.”

The only statement indicating the Dzialos want any money out of the college is this last one and it is not a quote.

“So they decided to set up a Web site to provide information about their son’s rehabilitation progress and to pressure the college to assume some responsibility for his injuries.”

At the same time, this statement could also mean they want the college to acknowledge they are wrong, which does not necessarily mean they want money. The medical bills have forced the Dzialos to file bankruptcy.

Although by this point, money is probably necessary to ease the issues facing the family. But the amount of money might be significantly reduced if the college agrees to meet and accept responsibility for what occurred. There is a fear that apologizing will prove liability, but that is not the case. No lawsuits have ever shown an apology to be more than an apology. Several states protect apologies from being used as a statement of liability and if made during settlement negotiations the apology cannot be used in court.

The Disconnect

The college knows, because their attorney and insurance company have told them so, that the Dzialos want money. The Dzialos attorney wants money that is how he or she makes a living. But the Dzialos have never made a statement that they want money! They want answers

This is a serious disconnect. And it pervades our society. One side is convinced it knows what the other side wants, no matter how many times they are told differently. No matter what, the only thing one side can get is money and the only thing the other side is allowed to give is money. Yet neither wants to deal in that medium

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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