A Texas jury awarded a family a multi-billion dollar settlement in a civil case, the largest that this country has seen. An 8-year-old boy had suffered serious burn injuries on his birthday. Allegedly he was doused with gasoline and set on fire; an act that many believe was an intentional attack.
People may see the news story about the large settlement award and assume that the family filed a civil suit in order to get money. But often the real intent is not necessary financial motivation but a family moved to seek justice. The boy's family does not expect to ever receive a dollar of the award, but instead hope that this verdict will protect other children in the future.
After the tragic incident occurred, investigators chose not to file criminal charges against the suspect due to inconsistent evidence. But while the suspect escaped criminal liability, the boy's life completely changed.
He, like other victims of catastrophic injuries, was forced to deal with both emotional and physical trauma. Instead of being able to play with his friends or run around outside, he was in the hospital hearing phrases like "rehabilitation" and "skin graft". For the rest of his life he also had to adjust to the extensive scarring on his body.
Catastrophic injuries, whether they are the result of intentional or negligent acts, will permanently impact the victim and his or her family. And while compensation from a civil lawsuit can help with the financial challenges that arise, no amount of money will ever reverse the devastating life changes the victim experienced.
However in a verdict like the one announced in the burn injury case, it is more likely that the settlement amount was intended as an "expression of moral outrage", a way to acknowledge the pain and suffering that the little boy endured.
Source: Newsday, "Family hopes $150B civil award prompts charges," Michael Graczyk, Dec. 21, 2011.