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Civil Remedies

Criminal courts can take away a person's freedom and even life. The civil courts are usually limited to taking away the defendant's money or prohibiting certain conduct. In the special case of family law jurisdiction, the courts may also determine the custody of children and use imprisonment to enforce their orders to pay money. In general, however, the civil courts are a useful recourse only if the defendant has enough money to pay a judgment. We are unwilling to incarcerate a person for being unable to pay a debt.

While the parties usually dispute the amount of money at issue, paying money is a logical way to resolve the dispute. The business deal has a certain value, as does the land. While the monetary value of a personal injury is more difficult to quantify, it is possible to assess the costs of medical care, lost wages, and so forth and arrive at an award that will compensate the plaintiff for injuries. This reduction of personal injuries to monetary damages is an emotional issue in medical malpractice litigation. In the case of severe injuries or injuries to children, money will not make the plaintiff whole. Few people would trade a child's health for a monetary award. Conversely, most physician defendants believe that it is their good name that is at issue rather than their insurance company's money. This debate is usually framed in terms of whether plaintiffs should be compensated for pain and suffering in addition to actual monetary losses. There are other economic concerns involved in this debate over the adequacy of awards in medical malpractice (see Chapter 4).


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