Attorney Van O'Steen

Principal Overshadows Principle

Van O'Steen

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All lawyers know the expression "for every wrong, there is a remedy." From the first day of law school, students are taught that our legal system accommodates all those with a just claim.

Lawyers also know that although the expression may be correct technically, in practice, it is untrue. In my experience, there are four categories of legitimate legal claims for which there is no practical remedy:

  • When the amount in dispute is relatively small but the legal issues are complex, it generally is not cost-effective to pursue even a valid legal claim. Common examples of this include the buyer of a used car who believes he or she was defrauded by the seller and a medical malpractice victim with only a relatively minor injury from a physician's negligence.
  • Disputes over relatively small sums involving parties who live in different states rarely end as they should. For several reasons, it is difficult and often costly to process these claims through the collection of a judgment. (The cost may easily exceed the value of the claim.) The result is that most of these wrongs are not remedied.
  • People with little or no money are unable to pay their debts. If the person against whom a claim is made is uninsured, has few assets and is not steadily employed by someone who pays him wages, there is little likelihood that even the most valid claim will be collected. This is common with automobile accident victims where no insurance coverage is available to cover a claim.
  • When the complexity of a matter, regardless of the size of the claim, requires lawyer involvement, a claimant who cannot afford to employ a lawyer is left with no realistic remedy.

With Justice Court and its Small Claims Division available for small claims, and government agencies available to assist in some cases, our system is designed to at least try to provide a remedy in every case.

I assure you, however, that an Arizona plaintiff with a $150 judgment against an unemployed defendant last seen heading east should not plan on spending the money. The system has its limitations.