Anyone who has served on a jury is familiar with the long waits while attorneys for both sides huddle to reach a last-minute settlement and avoid a trial. It’s a roll of the dice for everyone, balancing the risks of a jury verdict and the costs of the trial itself against the certainty of a payout that doesn’t apportion blame. Settlements can bring closure to the victims, relief to an overburdened court system, and big fees for the lawyers. But do they provide any justice?
Consider the recent spate of billion-dollar settlements designed to close sordid chapters in mortgage lending, environmental disasters, and pharmaceutical misconduct. Earlier this month, 10 of the nation’s largest banks agreed to pay $8.5 billion to settle claims by the US Justice Department that they wrongly foreclosed on millions of homeowners in 2009 and 2010. It sounds like a lot of money, but remember that 3.8 million bank customers were slapped with foreclosure orders during this period. That’s about $2,200 a claim.