My law firm strongly believes in fighting for justice and fairness—so much so that we put it right on the first page of our website. But these two concepts, “justice” and “fairness”, are confusing at times, which makes it difficult for clients when attempting to understand how to obtain justice or fairness in a lawsuit.
Let me first explain these two terms in my view.
Justice: Justice is the process of presenting evidence in Court before a judge or jury and having them decide in your favor after the evidence is reviewed. When you win in court you receive a public pronouncement that you are right and the other side is wrong, and you receive a just punishment or reward against the other side in the form of damages, i.e. usually money.
Fairness: Fairness is a financial determination—w ill you receive more from the lawsuit financially than you put into it? If you spend $20,000 on a lawsuit, you want to receive more than $20,000 out of that suit. Otherwise, the lawsuit was not fair—meaning financially fair.
Justice pays no attention to the financial costs of a case. If a person wants justice they must be willing to spend as much time, emotional capital and money as necessary to achieve that result, which can often be an unfair result from a financial viewpoint. And just because a case goes to trial does not mean that justice will be served;you could lose and thereby suffer an unjust result in the process. That’s one of the risks of fighting for justice—injustice.
For example, when we prosecute killers in court for capital murder, whichcarries the death penalty, it is very expensive. The cost of trying death penalty cases far outweighs any financial gain we (society) will get back in return. So do we decide not to prosecute murderers because it’s just too expensive? No, because we want justice and as a society we are willing to pay the price for justice. Plus, it is society as a whole who pays–no one person is asked to pay for a death penalty trial. But the death penalty trial is not fair from a financial standpoint because the financial costs outweigh the financial benefits—but it is just.
In a civil lawsuit, however, whether it be personal injury, breach of contract, will or trust contest, or breach of duty case, a single person or small group of people are paying the bill. And a vast majority of people want their case to be fair–meaning they will get more out of the case financially than what they put in. Yet, people regularly want justice.
But justice is not easy to obtain. Rarely is it handed out willingly. It must be fought for at any cost and there is no guarantee that a just cause will prevail–losing is always a possibility. It takes time, effort and an emotional toll to pursue justice. Nelson Mandella, Martin Luther King, Jr., our Founding Fathers all fought for justice, placing their lives and freedom on the line. They paid a high price for their just causes; it was not a fair result.
Sometimes, justice and fairness are both achieved such as when a personal injury suit is won with an appropriate award for damages (although one could argue that the damages should have been paid without having to pay an attorney a fee to go to trial—so maybe it’s not so fair after all).
The next time you find yourself in a dispute ask whether you are fighting for justice or fairness. If you really want justice, be prepared to pay the price. And if you really want fairness, then take the opportunity to accept a fair result when and if one is presented.