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What Does the Public Really Think of Lawsuits?

Lawsuits are what make the legal world go ‘round. Without some form of legal proceeding that allows you to pursue some form of recourse for mistakes and misdeeds, it would be hard to get people and corporations to do the right thing after something goes wrong.

But when it comes to lawsuits, there’s no question that these professional matters can quickly become personal. No matter what side of the – real or hypothetical – suit you’re on, you’re bound to develop a strong personal opinion on the subject of lawsuits.

To better understand this opinion, we decided that a deep dive into original data surrounding public perceptions of lawsuits was in order. We asked more than 1,000 people their honest, anonymous opinions on matters relating to lawsuits, lawyers, car accidents, and insurance. In this, part 2 of our 3-part series (See Part 1; Lawyers and Lawsuits in the Public Eye), we examine the trends and surprises revealed by our survey data.

Survey Methodology

To better understand what the public really thinks about lawsuits, we surveyed more than 1,000 men and women across various age groups, geographic regions, and income levels. The survey was anonymous to encourage respondents to be completely honest in their answers – and some of what they said really took us by surprise.

Survey Highlights

Although attorneys deal with lawsuits on a daily basis, we spend most of our time with a small portion of the population – those who have (or may have) the grounds for a viable injury lawsuit. So we don’t know as much as we may think about how outsiders to the legal system see lawsuits.

We expected to learn a thing or two about the general public’s perception of lawsuits, but here’s what most shocked us about the survey results.

  • The vast majority of respondents would consider suing, but only under the right conditions. 

More than 95% of survey participants would sue, but their motivation for suing ranges from merely feeling “wronged” to legal action being absolutely necessary due to the serious impact on the victim’s life.

  • Almost half of respondents would never even consider suing a loved one – and that means more than half would sue (and have already thought about when they would sue). 

The two factors that impacted the decision to sue a friend or family member: how bad the victim’s injuries were and whether the loved one or the insurance company had to foot the bill.

  • A small but shocking group of respondents would sue purely for money, revenge or to stick it to the insurance company. 

For 11% of survey takers, these motivations are apparently what would drive them to pursue a lawsuit.

  • Most people aren’t sellouts – but nearly 1 in 5 would do some pretty shady things to win that lawsuit lottery. 

More than 80% of respondents say they wouldn’t engage in dishonest behavior to win a $100,000 accident settlement. The nearly 20% remaining are willing to do everything from exaggerating real injuries to getting into a collision intentionally.

The Hypothetical Conditions That Would Cause Someone to Sue

We kicked off this lawsuit-based section of our survey by asking respondents to think hard about whether they would ever, under any circumstances, sue someone.

Would you ever sue someone? Console and Associates Survey Data Bar Chart
Click to enlarge
. Console, Richard P., Console and Associates, P.C. “2020 Public Perception of Attorneys, Insurance Companies & Lawsuits.” Powered by Survey Monkey.

  • 57.05% of respondents said, “I would only sue someone if I felt it was absolutely necessary.”

  • 29.23% of respondents said, “I would sue someone if I felt I was wronged and a lawyer thinks it’s a good case.”

  • 8.83% of respondents said, “Yes, I would sue someone if I felt wronged.”

  • 4.89% of respondents said, “No, I would never sue someone.”

The majority of survey participants – 57 %, to be exact – said they would sue someone only if absolutely necessary. To be honest, this part doesn’t surprise us. Most of our clients aren’t people who were looking for a lawsuit.

They don’t want to sue anyone, but they do need compensation so they can get better.

The next most popular answer was another “yes” with a qualifier. In this case, these respondents said they would sue if two conditions were met: 1.) they felt wronged, and 2.) an attorney told them that they have a good case.

It’s a little surprising that nearly 1 in 10 participants would sue purely because they felt wronged – regardless of whether there were injuries or actual losses involved. Is it a legitimate legal matter, or just a grudge to settle?

This small but vocal group must be what people with legitimate claims mean when they say to us – as they often do – that they’re “not the type of person to sue.”

Finally, the nearly 5 % of respondents who would never, ever sue any person, for any reason – we’re not so sure we buy it. In a perfect world, no one would ever have to sue anyone, but in the real world, people make mistakes, innocent people get hurt, and a lawsuit is sometimes the only recourse available.

Public Opinion on Suing Family Members or Friends

Would you sue a family member? How about a friend? Under the right circumstances, most people would.

Are there any circumstances that you would sue a family member or friend? Console and Associates Survey Data Bar Chart2
Click to enlarge
. Console, Richard P., Console and Associates, P.C. “2020 Public Perception of Attorneys, Insurance Companies & Lawsuits.” Powered by Survey Monkey.

  • 47.74% of respondents said, “No, I would never sue a family member or friend.”

  • 31.58% of respondents said, “I would consider suing a family member or friend if the injury was severe enough.”

  • 19.45% of respondents said, “I would sue a family member or friend, but only if it would be paid by their insurance.”

  • 1.22% of respondents said, “Yes, and I have done it in the past.”

This one’s a tough one. It didn’t surprise us that 47.74 % of respondents said they would “never” sue a friend under any circumstances. It’s certainly not a position anyone would ever want to be in, and it makes sense why this answer received the most support.

It’s not a shock to us that so many people would have a hard time coming up with a hypothetical situation in which they would actually sue a friend or family member. Even our clients who really did need to sue their loved one to get the compensation they needed were reluctant to do so.

As attorneys, we’ve seen many situations in which a lawsuit against a loved one was appropriate. We were actually pleasantly surprised how many of our survey participants did seem to be able to envision these scenarios.

In all, 52.25% of respondents answered that they would sue a friend or family member, although just over 1% of survey takers had actually done so. More respondents based their decision on the severity of their injuries than on who would be on the hook for paying the settlement.

Concern Over Being Sued for an Auto Accident

After we’d asked whether participants would sue someone else, we wanted to take a look at the flip side. What about being sued?

Are you concerned about being sued in a car accident? Console and Associates Survey Data Bar Chart3
Click to enlarge. Console, Richard P., Console and Associates, P.C. “2020 Public Perception of Attorneys, Insurance Companies & Lawsuits.” Powered by Survey Monkey.

  • 34.21% of respondents said, “I think people are looking for reasons to sue in a car accident.”

  • 32.24% of respondents said, “I think it would be rare for someone to sue me in a car accident.”

  • 26.03% of respondents said, “No, I do not think a lawsuit will happen.”

  • 7.52% of respondents said, “I’m very concerned about being sued in a car accident.”

Being named in a lawsuit is a scary prospect – but not, apparently, for everyone. Altogether, 58.27% of respondents reported (through two separate answers) that they were not concerned about being the target of a lawsuit.

Is this denial? Are these survey participants just such irreproachable drivers that they can say with complete certainty that no at-fault crash could ever tarnish their spotless driving record?

It’s worth noting that the single answer with the largest share of responses is more cynical, and for 7% of respondents, this concern may just border on paranoia.

If you happen to fall into this more fearful crowd, you should know that being sued over a car accident isn’t as serious a problem as you may think. If this does happen, your auto insurance company is contractually obligated to defend you, including hiring (and paying for) an attorney to represent you and paying the settlement or jury award out of the insurance coverage you purchased.

Most car accident claims don’t even go to trial, and – as long as you have adequate insurance – it’s unlikely for you to face any personal financial hardship as a result of the lawsuit. Even if you are sued and lose, the worst thing that will probably happen to you is that your insurance premiums might go up. However, that can also happen even if you’re not sued, if the insurer determines that your collision is considered a “chargeable accident.”

The Top Reasons Why Injured Car Accident Victims Don’t Sue

In our previous post, we established that a surprising portion of respondents – 15% – reported that they could have sued for a car accident but didn’t. This time, we wanted to take it a step further and find out why people injured in any type of accident would decide not to sue.

Have you ever been injured in a car accident but didn't sue? Console and Associates Survey Data Bar Chart4
Click to enlarge. Console, Richard P., Console and Associates, P.C. “2020 Public Perception of Attorneys, Insurance Companies & Lawsuits.” Powered by Survey Monkey.

  • 51.60% of respondents said, “I’ve never been injured that was someone else’s fault.”

  • 26.13% of respondents said, “I didn’t think my injury was bad enough.”

  • 14.29% of respondents said, “I’m not that type of person.”

  • 10.43% of respondents said, “Legal process was too much trouble.”

  • 9.96% of respondents said, “I didn’t realize I could sue at the time.”

  • 9.77% of respondents said, “I thought it would be too expensive.”

  • 7.52% of respondents said, “The person who caused the injury was a friend or family member.”

  • 6.48% of respondents said, “I felt like it would hurt the other person financially.”

  • 3.48% of respondents said, “I think it’s wrong to sue someone.”

Fortunately, most people taking our survey have never been in a position to sue, with 51% reporting that they had never been injured due to someone else’s actions.

Of the nearly half of respondents who did suffer an injury that was someone else’s fault, the most common reason for not suing was because they didn’t think the injury was bad enough to warrant a lawsuit. Fair enough, although we hate to see accident victims make that call on their own without speaking to an attorney (or, oftentimes, even a doctor), because some injuries are more serious than they initially appear.

Some of the other answers really surprised us, though. Nearly 10% of respondents claimed they didn’t realize they could sue.

Really? Have they never seen an attorney’s billboard? Never heard those all-too-common late-night TV commercials that inevitably open with “If you or a loved one…”?

We can only guess that, for one reason or another, they didn’t think that they personally had the grounds for a lawsuit due to the circumstances of their injury.

Also of note, more than 14% of people wouldn’t sue because they’re “not that type of person.”

What type of person, exactly? We’re not sure. The type of person whose bones are unbreakable? The type of person who can miss months or years of work due to an injury and it will never affect their finances? All we know is, we’d love to hear the secrets to being “that type of person.”

The Most Popular Motivations to Sue

At best, lawsuits are motivated by a real need to make whole the victim of someone else’s negligence. At worst, they’re motivated by, well, some of the following not-so-honorable goals.

If you were injured in a car accident, what would be your motivation to sue? Console and Associates Survey Data Bar Chart5
Click to enlarge. Console, Richard P., Console and Associates, P.C. “2020 Public Perception of Attorneys, Insurance Companies & Lawsuits.” Powered by Survey Monkey.

  • 69.92% of respondents said, “If I were so injured that I felt I had no choice.”

  • 18.33% of respondents said, “I feel like it’s the right thing to do.”

  • 7.42% of respondents said, “I want money.”

  • 2.73% of respondents said, “I’m pissed off and want revenge.”

  • 1.60% of respondents said, “Screw insurance companies.”

The good news, first: almost 70% of respondents said they would only be motivated to sue someone if their injuries were so serious that they had no other viable choice.

The next largest share of participants said they would sue for some notion of justice – because holding the people who caused the accident accountable would be “the right thing to do.” Although they didn’t come out and say it, this sense of a moral reason for suing someone often speaks to preventing future negligence from occurring – and sparing potential victims from having to share this pain.

But for the remaining 11% of survey takers – wow. We really didn’t see this coming.

We put tongue-in-cheek answers like “I want money,” “I’m pissed off and want revenge,” and “Screw insurance companies” on the list – and, collectively, 125 people actually chose them. They’re all pretty funny, but we sure hope these answers aren’t really what our respondents were thinking.

You might think that attorneys encourage everyone to sue on every occasion and for every possible reason, but in fact, lawyers can’t stand truly frivolous lawsuits. They clog up the legal system and make legitimate claims take longer.

Which Moral Compromises People Would Make for a Payout

Sure, $100,000 is a lot of money. But is it worth lying, cheating, and perhaps even putting yourself and others in harm’s way?

What might you do for a settlement of $100,000? Console and Associates Survey Data Bar Chart6
Click to enlarge. Console, Richard P., Console and Associates, P.C. “2020 Public Perception of Attorneys, Insurance Companies & Lawsuits.” Powered by Survey Monkey.

  • 11.65% of respondents said they would “exaggerate injuries from an accident.”

  • 5.83% of respondents said they would “fake an injury.”

  • 3.95% of respondents said they would “fake an accident.”

  • 2.91% of respondents said they would “get in an accident on purpose.”

  • 82.33% of respondents said, “None, I am a morally superior person.”

In this hypothetical question, we asked participants which (if any) unethical behavior they would be willing to do for a lawsuit payout of $100,000. We also reminded respondents that their answers were anonymous.

Among respondents who admitted they would commit some form of fraud, given the chance, most would merely exaggerate the severity of an injury they really suffered. Nothing too shocking there. What surprised us more was the level of commitment some of these survey participants had.

For the purposes of a lawsuit, faking an injury isn’t all that easy to do, but 62 respondents would give it a try. Another 42 people said they would fake an accident completely – how exactly, we’re not sure (and don’t really want to know).

What most stunned us was that 31 people said they would get into an accident on purpose just for the payout. That’s a huge risk to take not just financially – what if the other driver isn’t found at fault or has no insurance? – but also with your own health and the safety of others on the road.

Fortunately, the answers weren’t all so demoralizing. A whopping 82 % of respondents said they are too “morally superior” to consider any of these dishonest actions.

Ah, that restores our faith in humanity – or, at least, tells us that people want to think their behavior is moral.

Conclusion 

Honestly, we’re not sure what all of this data says about society. Is our attitude toward lawsuits better or worse than most people think? You decide.

What we do know is that the public opinion of lawsuits is complicated, varied… and much more interesting than you probably expected.

If our study of lawsuit perceptions captured your interest, we’ve got more surprising survey data to share in the third and final part of our blog post series, coming soon. Check back in a few weeks for our exploration of survey data involving car accidents and insurance.

© 2020 by Console and Associates. All rights reserved.National Law Review, Volume X, Number 183

TRENDING LEGAL ANALYSIS


About this Author

Richard Console Personal Injury Attorney Console and Associates Law Firm
Attorney + Principal

Richard P. Console, Jr. is the founder of Console and Associates, P.C., based in Marlton, NJ. He opened his firm to serve one purpose: to help the victims of accidents and injuries at a time when they most need assistance. That guiding principle helped him create a personal injury law firm with a remarkable record of success. The firm handles personal injury claims of all kinds, including motor vehicle accidents, slip and fall injuries, and medical malpractice cases. In over 25 years of practicing personal injury law, the firm’s team of experienced attorneys has helped more than 6,000...

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