“This client called me yesterday, and he was so depressed,” Traub said. “And I told him, I can go get you a loan … but you do understand that basically I’m borrowing from loan sharks.” He tells them all the story of one client who took out a $2,000 loan, and wound up owing $58,000. “It never goes well when you borrow from a loan shark — the interest just kills you.”
This quote, featured in an article on Law360, caught my attention – and strengthened my pride in the work we do here at The Milestone Foundation. Every day, civil litigants face heartbreaking choices as they try to stay afloat while they await their settlements. Should they pay their rent or their electricity? Prioritize their health or go into work and potentially exacerbate an injury? These challenges seem particularly cruel, when in many cases they know they will achieve justice in the form of a monetary settlement, if they can only hold on long enough to see their case through to completion. Oftentimes, to alleviate these daily concerns, they will turn to for-profit lenders, taking out a loan against their case that accrues compound interest, thereby diminishing the value of their settlement the longer it takes to reach completion.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated this issue, as social distancing and limited courtroom availability have led to long delays in scheduling trial cases. As the article points out, in New York City alone, there were only 360 civil jury trials in 2021, “down from over 2,000 in 2019.” This delay in justice affects the thousands of plaintiffs waiting for their day in court. In these times, many judges are encouraging litigants and defendants to simply enter mediation to settle their disputes, but this tilts justice in favor of defendants who no longer have to face a jury who might be sympathetic to their opponents, and usually results in a much lower settlement amount to be paid out to the injured party. The article includes attorney anecdotes of settlement offers coming in at significantly lower percentages without the specter of a live trial weighing on the defendants. “Several attorneys report that insurers have been taking advantage of the trial backlog, either to offer a small fraction of a case’s value or to refuse to settle at all.”
For those plaintiffs who are unwilling to settle in mediation and are anxious to pursue justice through a trial, these delays are often devastating, both emotionally and financially. Many plaintiffs, like the one mentioned in the quote above, struggle to make ends meet as they await their lawsuit, and are forced to take out loans from predatory, for-profit lenders. Deep-pocketed defendants can play the waiting game, but individual people often can’t, resulting in plaintiffs accepting a much lower settlement sum in order to cover their living expenses and get on with their lives.
Here at The Milestone Foundation, we are proud to offer an alternative to these plaintiffs in their times of need. As a nonprofit – the only one of its kind in the plaintiff-lending space – offering simple, low-interest loans, the plaintiffs we fund can rest assured that they are not being taken advantage of and will be able to afford life’s necessities as they await their settlements.
The difference we make in these plaintiffs’ lives are evident in our interactions with them, Many plaintiffs – and even some attorneys – are surprised when they hear that the interest on their loans does not compound, and they will only own simple interest at a low rate once their settlement arrives. The relief and gratitude they express – particularly at a time when judgments are taking much longer to come to fruition – reenforces the importance of our nonprofit’s mission, and inspires us in our daily work and future plans.
Access to civil justice for all is a core tenant of The Milestone Foundation’s mission, We rely on the generosity of forward-thinking donors to be able to provide funds to those plaintiffs in need of support during some of the most difficult times of their lives. To learn more about how you can help ensure plaintiffs can continue to pursue justice, even as the pandemic continues to wreak impact on the civil justice system, please visit give.classy.org/themilestonefoundation.