It's October 29, 2012. You and your family heeded government warnings and evacuated your home on the South shore of Long Island, New York. Hurricane Sandy is ravaging the coast, and you can do nothing but wait for it to end.
The next day you return to your home, hoping it is still standing. As you enter the front door, you initially notice that the floor is covered with sand and debris. Water stains mark each wall, parallel to the ground at about three feet high. Everything on your first floor is destroyed, along with major damage to your home's exterior. Your cars are totaled.
But, you are a Christian, and you keep things in their proper perspective. You think, "Thank God that my family is OK", and then, "Thank God that I have insurance!" You call your insurance company to make a claim, knowing that at least you won't suffer a major financial setback.
Is this Wrong?
What were your first thoughts when reading the above story? Did you think it is a sin to make an insurance claim? Did you think, "Christians should stay out of court"? Did the above story conjure thoughts of something dishonest or dubious? No?
Then why do many Christians have these thoughts when faced with making a personal injury claim? The answer is multifaceted, but I believe predominantly stems firstly from a misinterpretation of scripture and secondly from marketing by insurance companies.
What is the Distinction?
It is perplexing that the same Christians who would unhesitantly pursue a property damage claim, refuse to make a personal injury claim. A comparison of a property damage claim and personal injury claim will reveal little distinction. Both cases begin as a claim and may end up in court. Both cases are paid out by billion dollar insurance companies, whose business is to sell insurance and pay claims. Also, neither claim will be paid personally by an individual involved in a lawsuit. Neither case will take money out of an individuals pocket nor take a family's house away.
The belief that it might be a sin or somehow displeasing to God to bring a personal injury lawsuit makes sense on the surface, because Christians are supposed to be "forgiving" and not seek revenge as "Vengeance is mine, says the Lord." Christians who accept this superficial rationale allow themselves to be twice victimized; first by the injury, and second by a misapplication of scripture.
So why is there such a stigma on Christian personal injury lawsuits?
Did Paul Say Don't Go to Court?
Perhaps the most often cited scripture against Christians using the courts is 1 Corinthians 6. You may have heard that Christians should "stay out of court". A careful reading of this passage reveals that this interpretation is in error. 1 Corinthians 6:1-2 states:
If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? (1 Corinthians 6:1-2 Emphasis added)
Paul specifically mentions "trivial" cases. This statement about trivial cases is the backdrop for 1 Corinthians 6. Paul is pleading with the Corinthians to keep their trivial matters out of court. This is not a blanket prohibition against using the court system. Also, an injury to one's body is never trivial! In fact, your body, as the Temple of the Holy Spirit and made in the image of God, is more infinitely valuable than any property and infinitely more deserving of protections offered by society.
Disputes Against a Brother
Paul goes on to state:
Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? (1 Corinthians 6:5b emphasis added)
1 Corinthians 6 is clearly written for disputes amongst believers. It does not state that a believer should not sue a nonbeliever. This would make no sense since a non-believer would not submit to the "Lord's people" for adjudication of a matter.
Paul did not want Christians suing Christians where a Roman jail might be involved. Roman justice was very harsh and favored the rich and powerful. This is absolutely not the case in the modern day personal injury case. The injured party is never in the superior position, as the insurance companies have an inexhaustible supply of money and thousands of attorneys on their side.
Modern civil disputes, specifically for serious personal injuries must use the courts as there is no other way to proceed. A modern day lawsuit is nothing more than a dispute resolution system provided for by your tax dollars to uphold the rule of law. Civil lawsuits protect society by acting as a deterrence to bad conduct. To protect people, the government has set up a civil court system whereby private citizens can resolve disputes with other private citizens and insurance companies when they have a significant injury inflicted upon them. In failing to pursue a personal injury claim, one may unwittingly permit the offending party to inflict injury on other members of the public.
This brings to mind a recent case handled by my office. My client, I'll call him Tom, was biking, when a woman in a car ran a stop sign and collided with Tom. He landed about 12 feet away and sustained serious injuries. The defendant in this case then fled the scene of the accident, but only after she stopped, saw exactly what she had done, and considered her options. We brought a lawsuit which not only compensated our client for his injuries, but also let the defendant's insurance company know what she did. This served to protect the public in that the defendant will likely have to carry more insurance in the future, and hopefully will more carefully consider her conduct when driving.
Old Testament Insight
God has not only allowed personal injury lawsuits but he has actually ordained them in the Scriptures. In Exodus Chapters 21 and 22 God instructs Moses on the way personal injury claims are to be handled. So, God not only is not against injury lawsuits, in fact he believes they are important enough to set up a system to deal with them.
Does this really have to do with Christianity?
While some Christians are quick to point to the Bible as a the reason why they will not bring a personal injury lawsuit, they may actually have been convinced by the insurance companies that it is wrong. For years, consumers have been inundated with propaganda from the insurance companies convincing them that every claim is illegitimate and that there is rampant fraud against the insurance companies. This is simply not true. This is actually just an attempt by insurance companies to minimize the number of claims that people make. It is a great business model for them - collect billions of dollars in premiums, and convince their customers that if they make a claim it is unscrupulous or fraudulent.
Does God want you to forgive someone who injures you in an accident? Yes. Does God want you to go bankrupt, lose your home, and have your family destroyed because you can no longer work after a catastrophic accident? No. A careful reading of 1 Corinthians or the Bible as a whole does not lead to the conclusion that a Christian who is run down by a drunk driver and paralyzed should not make an insurance claim.