What does the word “accountability” mean to you? Most people would answer that “accountability” means: to be answerable for your own conduct. It is a common belief among Americans that wrongdoers should be held accountable for their wrongful conduct. All of us can probably point to how we stress individual accountability in our own lives – at work, at home, and even in social settings.
Something to think about: What happens when wrongdoers are not required to account for their wrongful conduct? Most of us know that if that were the case, then wrongdoers would have no real incentive to do the right thing.
At the end of the day, legal claims involving people or companies who wrongfully harm others are all about accountability. Too often, it is the wrongdoers themselves – the people who caused the harm – who talk about personal responsibility. They talk about it as if only their victims should bear any responsibility. The wrongdoers, in essence, say that their victims should just accept all the harms and go away – letting the wrongdoers off scott-free! Our message to wrongdoers who try to avoid their own accountability is: It cuts both ways – especially when you cause the harm!
That is why injured folks bring legal claims – because those who caused the harm want to walk away with something less than the full measure of their responsibility and accountability. Where someone is negligent, or deprives someone of his or her legally-protected rights – causing someone to suffer harm, injury or damages – the responsible party should be accountable for compensating the injured person for the loss and damage suffered. That’s the law.
As a last resort, sometimes the injured person needs a jury of his or her peers to make sure that responsibility and accountability still mean something in this country. Without the protection of the law, and judges, and juries, we would have a society where wrongdoers are not held accountable for their conduct. Our civil justice system may be flawed, but it is the keystone of our society’s delivery of justice to everyday people. Without it, we would all be in a bad place indeed.
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