The City Wins Even If They Lose

The City Wins Even If They Lose

The City of Chicago has come up with a strategy to discourage people from filing relatively small lawsuits against the police. They are simply refusing to settle.

Here’s how it works: The people who want to sue can’t find a lawyer for their smallish case (less than $100,000), because the lawyers know that the city won’t settle. They know they’ll have to take the case to trial, which is expensive, time-consuming and risky. Lawyers turn down these small cases, leaving people to either give up or handle them on their own (a losing battle). So by forcing litigation, the city is effectively preventing cases from being filed in the first place.

This has been in the news lately, related to the story of a woman who sued the police for fatally shooting her dog. The city could have settled for $10,000. Instead they spent $50,000 to take it to trial. The city won the case, but the real victory was enforcing their policy of not settling these cases. Even when the city loses a case, it saves money in the long run.

The strategy is apparently working. The city says there were 47% fewer cases filed against the police in 2010 than there were in 2009, and that the city has saved $2.5 million under this new policy.

Allegedly, some insurance companies, like State Farm and Allstate, follow the same strategy and apparently they’ve made a lot of money doing it. For small cases, specifically those that involve soft tissue injuries (minor injuries), they either don’t settle or offer very little even when their clients are at fault. These are pretty simple cases to settle – mostly medical bills, no lasting injuries or pain and suffering to argue about. But if they refuse to settle, many of the cases go away completely because the injured people can’t find an attorney willing to go to trial over $5,000 or $10,000.

Injury attorneys charge on a contingency basis. They only get paid if they win the case or settle, and if that happens, they get a portion of the amount they can recover for their client. This makes small cases unrealistic, financially speaking. It might cost a lawyer $10,000 to take a $5,000 case to trial. And they’re only going to get about $1,650 of that back. Even if they win, they don’t win.

It’s the big guy against the little guy, and no surprise, the little guy gets screwed. People with legitimate claims and injuries aren’t getting compensated, and even if they get their day in court, it’s not going to be a fair one if they can’t get an attorney.

Someone called me about this issue the other day and when I explained the reality he said, “So a cop can just abuse me and get away with it?”  Like it or not, the answer is often yes.  And guess what, even though the great majority of Chicago cops are honest, there are certainly a handful that know how far they can go in roughing someone up without going too far.


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  • I don't know. The CTA used to be a pushover, but then got tough in this manner, too. Of course, it also had the notice of claim defense until that was recently repealed.

    Walmart has always used a strong defense strategy. If some lawyer wants to cash a big contingency because someone's crotch was burned by McDonald's coffee, expect making an investment first.

    Professor (now U.S. Circuit Judge) Posner said that there was an economic basis to the tort system, setting the standard of care so as to deter violations of it. The only public safety result of the the McDonald's case is that the cup now says "caliente," meeting the duty to warn.

    I don't litigate medical malpractice claims, but all news reports are that certain hospitals just pass on the cost to the patients. So, the patients get screwed either way. Similarly, the taxpayers are now tapped out, and if paying Corporation Counsel (who has to be paid any way) is as efficient as you say, maybe that's necessary.

    In connection with the medical malpractice post, I believe I said that I don't believe in noneconomic damages, and that a no fault compensation based system would work better in a lot of instances. And, as I also suggested there, maybe there needs to be more efficient police discipline, instead of letting Burge get away with it for, say, 15 years before being fired.

  • That image is great. I'll have Steph put that on the cover of the next CPD collective bargaining proposal.

  • Why is it that everyone seem to think the police are the bad guys? Have you ever seen what they deal with day in a day out. Have you ever beem in a domestic were you are called by a family member only to have the family turn on you and now the fight is on. After all is said and done the police were the bad guy and here comes the law suit. Before you bash the police get your facts right, remember nobody is a fault except the police find out who threw the first punch, the police officer is not your punching bag and won't be there if they weren't called there.

  • In reply to catfish:

    Who said the police are the bad guys? Like all of the pix I post it is tongue in cheek. 99% of cops do things the right way and I don't think they get enough credit or pay for what they do. The point of the post is that the City has realized that when the bad ones mess up, they can discourage lawsuits by refusing to settle.

  • In reply to catfish:

    Michael, you're wrong about the way attorneys get compensated. An attorney who wants to file a lawsuit alleging police misconduct can file in state or federal court. It

  • In reply to redgrange:

    First off, welcome to the galloping ghost.

    Second, unless it's on video for the shock factor, if a cop punches you in the stomach, head, wherever, without cause but does not cause an injury, they are going to get away with it.

    If you don't believe me, call any civil rights firm you can find and tell them a cop punched you in the face, but you are just bruised. See if they'll even take a meeting with you. Or search the City records for lawsuit payouts from trial or settlement. See how many are being paid for minor abuse like this.

    The answer is almost none for the same reason why insurance companies won't pay you anything if you are hit by a car and go to the hospital just once.

    If a cop is going to hit you, if you want a lawsuit the best thing that could happen to you (which is also the worst) is have a major injury.

  • In reply to Findgreatlawyers:

    Somebody call Ice Cube!

  • In reply to Findgreatlawyers:

    The point of your post was that the city is screwing the little guy by refusing to settle and insisting that plaintiffs prove their cases in court because their lawyers have no incentive to take even meritorious cases.

  • In reply to redgrange:

    You lost me on that last one, but thanks for reading and thanks for serving.

  • In reply to redgrange:

    I'm not a cop, I just appreciate being safe.

  • In reply to redgrange:

    Then I take it back. :)

  • In reply to redgrange:

    So basically, if you want to be compensated for a suspected police wrong doing, you want something like this,, to happen. Right?

  • In reply to PeterNo:

    Yes, I realize this was in Lake County, however, I would guess the aforementioned tactics are the same.

  • PeterNo- I was thinking the same thing.

    1096- Unless the criminal had money, the answer would be no unless the client was going to pay all of the expenses. Fortunately for the cops, if this happens that person is going to jail.

    Redgrange (below) - You are right, all cops are perfect. Of the almost 14,000 in Chicago and many more in the burbs, no one tortures, abuses, racially profiles or does anything wrong. And if it happens we should all ignore it because, hey, it's a tough job. You probably also don't think that cops take free meals and drinks from bars and restaurants and echanges that for arresting whoever those people want, no questions asked. Of course it's not everyone, but there are a few hundred that do and it makes you all look bad. And you made my point, if there is no injury there should be no payout which is how cops (and others as described in the post) get away with it. Unfortunately calling 311 won't do anything to weed out the bad apples. I had more than 20 calls last year from people that said they called 311 first and when they got no response they decided to seek a lawyer. Do you think all of them are criminals and lying?

  • In reply to Findgreatlawyers:

    Michael, you are way off topic. You opined in your initial post that the City is screwing the little guy by refusing settle and opting instead to go to trial. You seem to have abandoned that argument, which was uninformed and logically absurd. What I think is that police officers risk their lives every day and every night so that we can work, play, raise families and make smart-ass comments on the internet without fear of being assaulted, raped, etc. I also think that the above reality does not ever excuse the use of excessive force, but that you are creating a straw man by bringing it up so much, as if it happens routinely. It does not. People who are the subject of a police officer's use of force almost always think it's excessive and that they did nothing wrong. That's human nature. I have no idea who called you last year or why it matters to anyone. All I can tell is that you represent yourself as an attorney and that you misstate facts on your blog, whether intentionally or otherwise. What I do know is that five police officers lost their lives last year, and all you want to talk about is free meals.

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