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Maui, Hawaii 96793
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Trends in Personal Injury Litigation

By James Krueger, Esq

No one who has never been one knows what it’s like to be a victim…until it happens. Personal injury litigation intimately involves people – average people – at one of the lowest points in their lives.  A wife kisses her husband goodbye to go to work.  She gets a call later that another driver entered the highway without looking and killed him. Life is fragile. Becoming a victim is an instant life transition for which there is no prior training.

Traumatized victims then discover one of the greater mismatches in the world: an average citizen resolving a claim with an insurance company. For lawyers like myself, serving as an interface and equalizer with an insurer to help victims reclaim their lives is incredibly motivating and profoundly seriously undertaken.

In my 42 years of practice, I have found that most clients, after suffering serious harm negligently caused by another and only after exhausting attempts to resolve claims with adverse liability insurers, come to visit despite being stigmatized by propaganda about so-called frivolous claims, which is a shibai. This is because Hawaii’s sense of ‘ohana has made going to an attorney a last resort, occurring after being put off by an insurer.

Regardless of the local or national economic downturn, man’s inhumanity to man continues. People run red lights and engage in negligent conduct. As no one is above the law, rich or poor, no one is immune to being killed or seriously injured.

The advent of sophisticated legal and detective television shows has sharpened the expectations and perspectives of jurors who now expect more from litigators.  This has had a positive impact on litigation – from how we lawyers comport ourselves to how well we represent clients.
Now and for the immediate future, the litigation system is in jeopardy as the number of experienced, competent attorneys is dangerously diminishing due to Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR), which has made mediation or arbitration an efficient problem-solving procedure, inexpensive when compared to a court trial.  

The smaller cases on which younger lawyers used to cut their professional teeth are being settled without going to trial, reducing opportunities to learn the ins and outs of litigation.  Despite the seemingly beneficial impact of ADR, it remains to be seen whether society’s best interests are served when upcoming members of the trial bar may be unable to screw in a courtroom’s proverbial legal light bulb.

To preserve what has, over centuries, been a fundamental cornerstone of western society, our community must vigilantly maintain victims’ rights to seek fair, just and appropriate compensation for life-altering tragedies that you or your next door neighbor may suffer. A victim’s dignity must not be taken away because of societal apathy respecting protection of the rights of all of us – “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, ….”

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