Friday, 2 October 2009

Blind justice- sue online

Guest post by Stephen Adshead

Lady Justice is often depicted – as she is on the lampposts outside the US Supreme Court – wearing a blindfold and carrying balanced scales; indicating that justice should be blind and meted out impartially, without fear or favour.

In his book ‘The End of Lawyers’, Richard Susskind drew attention to a recent US phenomenon that may deliver just that, electronically. The online courtroom.
“On January 18, 2009 at approximately 10:30pm I entered into Dirty Girl Laundromat on 2009 Wisk Avenue between Tide and All Streets, Bronx NY. As I walk to an available washing machine with my clothes in my arm I found myself slipping on the floor since it was wet.

"In the process of trying to keep my balance with my clothes in my hand, I eventually fell on my right side on my hip, butt and back. Due to the fall I was unable to get up and the ambulance was called and I was taken to the hospital. As a result of the fall I sustained a fracture hipbone, bruised butt and T-11 back injury.

"I was admitted into the hospital for two weeks and have not been able to return back to work. I am filing a jury lawsuit for permanent personal injuries and loss wages….”
This is an example of a case at www.i-courthouse.com, where justice moves swiftly and surely. Justice here is “more egalitarian, more democratic and, actually, rather enjoyable”, according to the website. And the court is “always in session”.

To find out whether the plaintiff is awarded damages for his bruised bottom you will need to volunteer to be a juror. Don’t despair - anyone can act as a juror on pending cases. Internet bandwidth appears to be the only restriction. You can also combine jury work with other internet-based activities, perhaps surfing, reading blogs, gambling, or even gainful employment. Who goes empty handed? Who gets damages? You, and your online peers, decide.

This is no sinecure position – you will be presented with plaintiff’s and defendant’s opening statements, evidence and closing arguments, and be given an opportunity to post questions to the plaintiff and defendant. You can review digital photos or videos and follow links to legal information. In short order, you, the jury, will deliver a verdict, one which according to the website is binding and enforceable.

If handing the keys to the judicature seems a touch radical, why not try online computer-assisted dispute resolution. At www.cybersettle.com its customers engage in an online double-blind bid, enabling them to settle disputes electronically and, therefore, instantly. Still unsure? Fortunately, this digital video makes it all clear. In the past 10 years, Cybersettle claims that it has handled over 200,000 transactions and has facilitated over $1.6 billion in settlements.

As a litigator-turned-risk manager-turned-blogger, I can see benefits to online courtrooms and computer-assisted settlement negotiations – speed and cost to name but two - even if I am hesitant to use them currently and on complex cases. The 2.0 versions may assuage my doubts that the jurors are 12 year old kids operating from basements and may include a paid/professional jurors option.

The internet has the power to deliver incredible variation and flexibility, e.g. 12 electricians to decide a dispute about negligent wiring or 12 bilingual English/Chinese speakers to decide a case resolving around promises made in both languages. Jurors could be rated in the same way that they are on ebay and, much like professional arbitrators, their impartiality will be evident from their appeal to all the parties to a dispute.

For the time being, I will simply volunteer to be a juror (no.11). Now, back to the case of The Dirty Laundromat...

Stephen Adshead is a litigator-turned-risk manager-turned-blogger.

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