Keep the Change – The Weight of Emotion


 By: Seth F. Kirby
Dr. Roger Herrin recently made national headlines when he was ordered to return money that his son’s estate had been awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit. By itself, the order was not really newsworthy. The order was simply a judicial resolution of a dispute between Michael Herrin’s estate and the other parties that were injured in an automobile accident. Dr. Herrin’s unusual way of complying with the court order did, however, generate quite a buzz. As an expression of his dissatisfaction with the court’s ruling, Dr. Herrin paid a portion of the judgment in cash. Specifically, he arranged to have $150,000 in quarters delivered to the law firms that represented the other accident victims. This delivery consisted of 150 bags of quarters each weighing approximately 50 pounds. This 7500 pound payload was delivered on the back of a flatbed truck and obviously created a logistical nightmare for the receiving attorneys.
You often hear personal injury plaintiffs and their attorneys claim that their suit is “not about the money.” The basis for such a statement is that they feel a need to prove a point or accomplish some other purpose with the suit, such as establishing the fault of the defendant or correcting a safety issue. In reality, however, personal injury actions are always “about the money” because the transfer of money between litigants is usually the only method that our legal system has to rectify a wrong. In spite of this reality, Dr. Herrin’s actions remind us that personal injury claims, particularly those that involve serious injuries or deaths, carry an emotional component that should not be ignored.
In 2001, Dr. Herrin’s son Michael Herrin was killed when another driver ran a stop sign and broadsided the Jeep in which Michael was a passenger. The three other occupants traveling in the Jeep were also injured, and the recent decision was simply regarding how available insurance proceeds should be divided among the victims. It was not a return of money to an insurance company or to the at-fault driver, yet Dr. Herrin was angered at the court’s distribution of the limited resources. His reaction to the court’s ruling seems to be an expression of emotion over the way his son’s life was valued by the judicial system. He undoubtedly spent his own money to express his displeasure with the outcome. Such conduct is not logical, but rather based upon emotion and his desire to champion the memory of his son. This observation is not a criticism of Dr. Herrin, but merely recognition that his emotions concerning the death of his son greatly impacted the resulting litigation.
Since personal injury litigation always involves the quantification of damages into sums of money, we have a tendency to forget the emotional aspects of a claim.  Overcoming the emotional components of a personal injury claim is often the key to its resolution.  Money is limited, but compassion and understanding do not have to be.