Tort victims in situations of mass harm want more than financial compensation
Collective settlement processes are mostly set up to secure financial compensation for the victims. But money is not the only thing most tort victims seek: they also want their suffering to be acknowledged and to make sure it does not happen again. This shows from Karlijn van Doorn’s PhD research that she will defend at Tilburg University on Friday February 2nd, 2024. Van Doorn makes recommendations on addressing tort victims’ needs in collective settlement cases.
The MH17 crash, toxic chromium (VI), the earthquakes in the Dutch province of Groningen, ruptured breast implants, sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic church: in all of these cases, one or more parties caused damage to a lot of people. To deal with the high number of claims, collective resolution processes are instituted, but do these satisfy the aggrieved parties’ needs? How do they experience the collective procedures? Why do they join?
Legal researcher Karlijn van Doorn explored these questions through literature review and interviews with victims of DSB Bank’s bankruptcy, sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic church, and the DES hormone.
Although lawyers usually go for financial compensation, it turns out that the immaterial dimension also matters greatly (if not more) to the aggrieved parties that were interviewed. The tort victims are seeking recognition, they do not want others to suffer what they have gone through, or they want the person(s) responsible for their damage to be punished or held to account. To the victims, the symbolic significance of a sum of money frequently outweighs its financial significance.
There is more. Knowing that there are other victims brings relief and consolation. Tort victims also value being heard and want to be informed of the settlement process. And while they understand that an allocation key is used to settle claims, they feel that key should reflect how they experience the damage they have suffered.
Based on these findings, van Doorn recommends that both financial and immaterial needs serve as the starting point in collective settlement processes. This impacts on the legal concept of damage, how damage is calculated, and the parties’ autonomy. According to van Doorn, settlement out of court gives room to the parties involved to have regard to the immaterial needs of the aggrieved parties, and this could pave the way for developing best practices.
Karlijn van Doorn will defend her thesis in the Tilburg University Auditorium at 10:00 hrs. on Friday, February 2, 2024. Her PhD thesis is titled De mensen achter de grote getallen. Een empirisch-juridisch onderzoek naar de belangen van benadeelden in situaties van massaschade (The people behind the big numbers. An empirical legal study of the needs of tort victims in situations of mass harm). Supervisors: Professor I.N. Tzankova and Professor M.S. Groenhuijsen. The defense can also be attended via livestream.