I Feel Like Suing Someone

I’ve never sued anyone, personally, that is. I have been involved in lawsuits as legal counsel for clients. But that’s an entirely different matter. It’s not me. It’s not personal. It wasn’t my decision.

I’d be very reluctant to sue anyone, mainly because, as a lawyer, I have an appreciation for what’s involved — the expense, the emotional toll, the bitterness, the destructive aspect of the litigation process, the failures of our judicial system. So my default position, for both myself and any client, is don’t. Try to find another way of resolving the dispute — of finding justice.

That said, I feel like suing someone.

This urge emanates from a recent experience with a provider of medical equipment. To be brief, they overbilled me. There are two possible explanations for the overbilling: 1) negligence or 2) fraud.

Initially, I’m always inclined to believe screwups of this type are the product of negligence — what we call mistakes — because, goodness knows, a culture of mediocrity and uncaring sloppiness grips many of our institutions and companies. Yet sometimes, and this is one such time, evidence to the contrary becomes too hard to ignore. Sometimes, the evidence points to something more nefarious, namely, to fraud.

Fraud means intent, which means the overbilling was not the product of anyone’s mistake but, instead, was the fruit of wrongdoing, specifically, an intentional decision to bill a patient more than the provider was entitled to receive, for the purpose of enriching the provider’s own coffers (increasing its revenue and profits).

If there was such intent (and, at this point, it’s hard to believe there wasn’t), then it’s reasonable to assume the scheme was not limited to me and my account; it’s reasonable to assume there are other victims.

Can I be sure such intent was present? No. I can’t look inside anyone’s mind, and I don’t possess incontrovertible evidence. But I do have enough evidence that would allow a jury to conclude that intent was present and to punish the provider accordingly.

But that alone does not give rise to this urge to sue. It takes more than that. The sums at stake aren’t large enough to clutter my life with litigation. The injustice isn’t so great to devote the necessary time and resources to punishing this wrongdoer through the court system.

What does give rise to this urge within me, however, is the strong suspicion — indeed, the likelihood — that other people are being ripped off in similar fashion. Indeed, I suspect some people are getting ripped off and they don’t even know it.

If the victim is a savvy rich person, I’m not too concerned. They could do something about it if they wished. However, if the victims are unsophisticated individuals who can’t fend for themselves, that’s another matter. Or if they’re good people who believe in the goodness of other people and who’d never imagine someone would intentionally rip them off, that’s another matter as well. Or if they’re simply poor and lack the resources to defend themselves against greedy pariahs, that’s another matter, too.

There are people in all these categories, of course. And that’s what makes me feel like I want to sue somebody — in this case, a particular provider of medical equipment.

But I probably won’t. I can’t be bothered. And that’s too bad.

It’s too bad because, essentially, it means I can’t be bothered to pursue a wrongdoer, who not only has cheated me but also is likely cheating others. It’s hard to feel good about yourself when you do that.

Experience has taught me, Vera, that the world is full of people who are willing to take advantage of other people. I suppose I’ve seen more of this ugly face of humanity due to my chosen profession (law). (And by that I don’t mean it’s because I work with lawyers. In my life, at least, many of the lawyers have been the most honest and ethical people with whom I’ve dealt.)

I’ve also learned you can’t judge a book by its cover. Some people with stellar reputations are cheaters at heart and don’t hesitate to rip someone off. I could name names but I won’t.

Frankly, I wish I hadn’t seen as much of this behavior as I have. I’d much rather believe that, on average, people are basically honest and caring — that they wouldn’t dream of taking advantage of another human being. But that’s a big pill to swallow.

That’s not to say there aren’t people of integrity out there. There are. Many in fact. But probably not as many as some people think.

I don’t know what the ratio of honest to dishonest people is. But, based on my experiences over the years and the data I’ve reviewed, I suspect it’s lower than we think.

You might think this is an unwarranted bleak view of humanity. I disagree on two counts. First, it’s not unwarranted. Second, it’s not bleak.

Despite our proclivity for misdeeds, justice and goodness manages to grow on our good earth. It’s growth is slow at times. And, at times, it seems to shrink. But it lives. Seemingly, it’s a force that evil cannot defeat or overwhelm indefinitely.

Yet goodness will never win out either, at least that’s my best guess. And the road of humanity will continue to be littered with many innocent victims. And bad people will continue to get rich and become “successful” from their misdeeds. And the number of victims will grow.

Some victims will have lost money. Some will have lost homes. Some will have lost limbs or lives. Compared to most, my losses have been trivial.

So what’s all this mean for you, Vera?

My wish is that you grow up with your eyes wide open: that you’ll be able to see both the good and the bad and that you won’t be victimized due to ignorance or naiveté.

You will be victimized at some point, in some manner, of course. That’s inevitable. You may not even know it. I just hope your losses are not great (financial, physical or emotional), and I hope you won’t be an easy target.

Further, my hope is that you will grow up with good models and a strong sense of justice. With the parents you have, I believe that’s likely.

Finally, I hope you reflect on what your response to injustice should be. I don’t know; I can’t provide you with answers. I just hope you give it some serious thought.

I’ve always had a rather strong visceral reaction to injustice. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I became a lawyer. But it wasn’t strong enough for me to devote my life to fighting injustice, as some lawyers have done. I suppose I was too selfish and insecure for that.

I used to feel guilty about my pursuit of selfish interests over the interests of the disadvantaged and victimized among us, but I’ve become more comfortable with whom I am, including my own limitations and weaknesses. But in my comfort resides deep discontent and disappointment.

And so, today, I feel like suing someone. My faith ancestors (people who are part of the Anabaptist tradition called the Church of the Brethren) taught me it’s wrong to sue. I used to think they were right. I no longer do. I’ve come to believe active opposition to injustice is necessary. It’s not enough to preach. And sacrifice.

Knowing what’s right and wrong isn’t always an easy thing. But let me tell you what is easier: treating others like you would want them to treat you.

Yet apparently it’s not as easy as it seems.

(P.S. Today, I’ll be sending the above-mentioned perpetrator a last-chance letter that gives them another (and final) chance to right their wrong. I have no idea whether they’ll seize the opportunity. If they choose not to, my present inclination is to sue them. But that’s a decision for another day.)

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