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Journal of European Tort Law

Editor-in-Chief: Oliphant, Ken

Ed. by Karner, Ernst / Koch, Bernhard A. / Wendehorst, Christiane

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Are We Really Helping Them? – The Needs of Tort Victims in Mass Litigation Environments

Karlijn van Doorn
  • Corresponding author
  • Lecturer and researcher, Private Law, Tilburg Law School, Tilburg University, the NetherlandsNetherlands
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/ Charles Dybus
Published Online: 2017-05-04 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jetl-2017-0005


In the area of mass litigation, little is known about the needs of the individual victim and to what extent these needs are satisfied through the system of collective redress. Are we really helping tort victims through procedures of mass litigation? In response to this question we conducted two studies that focused on the needs of the individual victim in mass litigation contexts. The main results and valuable insights from these studies are presented and compared in this article. We conclude that although the damages have derived from vastly different origins, it is remarkable that some of the needs are rather comparable. Money is not the only need of victims. Sometimes it is not even the primary reason for victims to litigate. Both groups of victims express the need for recognition, taking responsibility, prevention, and information. Moreover, we have found that these victims experience feelings of solidarity, have altruistic needs in multiple forms, and could experience an overwhelming feeling of empowerment in joining a mass litigation process.

I Introduction

Situations of mass harm occur frequently. Such situations are characterised by one or several parties causing harm to (hundreds of) thousands of people. Examples vary from disasters like the 9/11-events and the MH17 plane crash, to the global health problems caused by tobacco and asbestos, to the worldwide use of the DES-hormone and to the PIP-breast implants. More recently we have encountered situations where numerous consumers suffered financial damages through deficient global stock markets or misleading financial products.

For reasons of efficiency and manageability, a collective way to deal with mass harm and to repair mass damages is preferable. From a cost and effort saving perspective, collective redress is preferable for society and its legal system.1 From a concrete perspective, the partaking parties are the main beneficiaries of the efficient upsides of such a procedure. Collective redress is beneficial for the parties which caused the damage: they can save costs and generally have a clearer picture of their financial obligations. The individual victims can join forces, bundle their efforts and share the burdens: not only the financial costs but also the emotional troubles can be shared.

In theory, sharing financial and emotional burdens by using ways of collective redress is an alluring starting point for the victims of mass torts. However, existing empirical research indicates it is difficult to satisfy the needs of victims following an individual path dealing with and settling the suffered damage.2 Mistakenly, lawyers and practitioners tend to think that victims are only interested in financial compensation, and getting it as fast as possible.3 Research shows, however, that victims have more varied and other needs. The pursuit of compensation for damage along the individual path often did not bring the victim what he actually needed; that is why the victims perceived the path as onerous and sometimes even as inhibiting recovery.4

What does this mean for collective ways to deal with and to settle mass damages, where thousands of victims are involved? To what extent do we satisfy the needs of the individual victims by using collective redress?

These questions gave rise to two recent empirical studies, carried out amongst victims of mass harm. The first study relates to victims in the Dutch DSB Bank case, in which the entity sold various misleading and non-transparent financial products to consumers.5 The Dirk Scheringa Beheer Bank was a bank in the Netherlands that operated from 1975 to 2009. Thousands of consumers suffered financial damages at its hands. After the entity’s bankruptcy, the situation became even less transparent for the victims. The second study focuses on the retired players in the American National Football League (NFL), who have sustained serious injuries after playing in the NFL.6 These players are confronted with the severe consequences of cumulative brain injuries and suffer amnesia, forgetfulness, problems with focus or headaches. In both studies, we investigated what the needs of the victims are, and to what extent the victims experienced that the chosen methods of collective redress satisfied their needs.

In this article, we will reveal the results of the two studies. To provide a baseline of the legal needs of victims we start by introducing the existing research on these needs (section II). Subsequently, we briefly explain the design and methods of both studies (section III). In section IV we discuss the results of the empirical studies and in section V we analyse which parallels can be drawn with earlier research and what new knowledge the studies reveal compared with existing research. Of particular interest are the derived new insights on the role of non-material needs of victims with damages and the additional role of the element of being part of a collective. We conclude in this article in section VI the fact that victims have other additional needs to that of financial compensation.

II Existing research: needs of victims who suffered damage

In this article, needs are defined as: the actual needs, concerns, hopes and desires which lie behind legal positions, opinions and rights. This definition fits in with the negotiation-theory.7 The research on the needs of victims is primarily executed within a criminal law context.8 In recent years, research on the needs within private law has gained traction. Recurring research questions are: ‘Why do victims who have suffered damages start a civil procedure?’, ‘What do they hope to achieve?’, ‘What are their experiences with the proceedings?’ The existing research within private law primarily focuses on the needs of victims of medical injuries, traffic accidents, labour induced injuries and disasters.9 There is also research on the reasons for civil actions of victims of sexual abuse.10 The methods used in empirical studies vary from case studies, in-depth interviews, focus groups and expert meetings to surveys or questionnaires. Distinguishable main features arise after studying and overviewing this research. It is important not to lose sight of the context and the methods used for the various research studies. We refer to the different reports and scientific articles as summarised in the footnotes.

It is commonly thought that obtaining financial compensation is the only motive for an injured party to initiate a civil liability proceeding. The vitality of the need for financial compensation is confirmed in several researches.11 Especially when financial compensation is needed to ensure a viable future, it is an essential – if not the most important – need of victims. However, various studies show that financial compensation is not the only – or primary – motive to instigate a civil procedure. Socio-emotional needs tend to play a role in the victim’s initiation of civil proceedings too. Victims often seek recognition. Not only do they want recognition by the opposing party of what happened to them, but also from their own social environment. The victims want the other party to admit to having made a mistake, taking responsibly and apologising for the situation.12 Victims want apprehension for the suffering and harm that has been done to them;13 they want their illnesses acknowledged;14 they do not want to suffer for another’s fault; or are generally seeking redress, justice or righteousness.15 Subsequently victims regularly have the need to be heard, to be taken seriously, and/or to be treated respectfully.16 The need to be heard and to be treated respectfully can be related to core principles within procedural justice. Procedural justice theory assumes that people are not (only) influenced by the outcome in their judgement on justice, but are (also) affected by procedural aspects.17

Another socio-emotional need that has been covered in research is the need for revenge or retaliation against the party causing the damage.18 For that reason, victims tend to find it important that the perpetrator makes some kind of sacrifice. Research also uncovered that victims have altruistic needs. Victims often want to prevent others from enduring the same negative experience that they endured. Therefore, prevention can be marked as a need for starting a procedure.19 Several studies also show that acquiring information is a general need of victims. They want to know what and why something happened.20 We also see that victims need information on the legal process and their part in it, specifically about the procedural steps and the possible outcomes.21 This need for information can be related to procedural justice, but because of its importance it is autonomously called informational justice.22

Depending on the type of incident, more specific needs come in to play. For example, for victims of disasters, the need to receive adequate first aid and shelter is an important need.23 In the case of medical malpractice, the need for recovery treatment is defined as a need.24 Finally, it is crucial to understand that the needs are not isolated autonomous islands. They are interrelated and form a continuous line. For instance, victims want to receive information on the incident in order to also fulfill their prevention motive. Some victims consider obtaining financial compensation as a form of recognition.25

III Research design: cases, methods, strengths and limitations

For the most part, the existing research as discussed in the previous section relates to individual procedures dealing with the claim of an individual victim. The two studies which we will now discuss, focus on situations of mass harm in a mass litigation context and the collective settlement of the suffered damage. Currently, there is minimal knowledge on the needs of victims of mass harm and their experiences with collective methods of settling damages.26 This is why the two empirical studies the results of which are the subject of this paper take an exploratory approach.

As previously mentioned, the first study is about Dutch consumers who suffered financial damages because of misleading and non-transparent financial products sold by the DSB bank. These financial products were called koopsompolissen. The bank used an aggressive marketing policy, often granting loans that exceeded the consumer’s creditworthiness. Early 2009, the DSB bank was heavily criticised and was accused of violating its duty of care. Several interest groups were established and the victims of the DSB bank were invited to register with these organisations. This is a common method to settle mass disputes in the Netherlands. These organisations informed the public and the DSB bank that they were preparing a collective claim against the bank. This created doubt amongst the public and many customers questioned the bank’s solvency and ultimately decided to withdraw their balance. On 19 October 2009, the bank was declared bankrupt and the trustees took over settlement negotiations with the organisations. These negotiations resulted in a collective settlement agreement in 2011. The interviews with the DSB victims were conducted before the settlement was declared binding by the Amsterdam Court of Appeal. In November 2014 the settlement agreement was declared binding under the Law for Collective Settlement of Mass Claims (WCAM) for all DSB victims who suffered financial damages.27 Estimates of the number of victims over the years run in to the hundreds of thousands.28

The second study focuses on the retired players in the American National Football League, who sustained serious injuries after playing in the NFL. These players are confronted with the severe consequences of cumulative brain injuries and suffer amnesia, forgetfulness, and problems with focus or headaches. The case revolves around the question whether there is a casual link between the accumulation of multiple concussions during a player’s career and the mentioned conditions that the players face today. In August 2013, the NFL settled with the more than 4500 retired NFL players at a cost of $ 765 million. The settlement is the result of a multi-district litigation case against the NFL. On 14 January 2014, Judge Brody denied the motion for preliminary approval of the settlement.29 She suspended the preliminary approval and requested more supporting information to determine whether the settlement would be sufficient. On 7 July 2014, Judge Brody granted preliminary approval of the amended settlement.30 The approval was granted because the monetary ceiling of the compensation fund had been lifted. The interviews with the retired players were conducted before the settlement was granted preliminary approval. After further legal proceedings, the settlement was officially accepted on 18 April 2016 by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.31

In both studies, we investigated what the needs of the victims are, and to what extent the victims experienced that the method of collective redress satisfied their needs. The leading question in both studies is what the needs of the (DSB/NFL) victims are, and to what extent the victims experience that the collective approach to settling the suffered damage, meets their needs. To answer these questions, we used the qualitative research method. In both studies data was collected by in-depth and semi-structured interviews. In the DSB case seventeen DSB clients were interviewed; in the NFL case32 ten interviews with former NFL players were held. These numbers are small in relation to the total study population, but it is important to note that in terms of the qualitative, explanatory approach used, symbolic representation and diversity in the sample are the most important.33

In both cases victims who represent the research population were selected. In the Dutch DSB case the victims can be divided in victims who joined an interest group34 and victims who made an appeal to their legal aid insurer. Both categories of victims are represented in the sample. Three interest groups in favour of the DSB victims were involved in the collective settlement reached in the DSB case: Stichting Steunfonds Probleemhypotheken (SSP), Platform Aandelenlease (PAL) and a foundation in favour of the DSB clients with a legal aid insurance, Stichting Belangen Rechtsbijstandverzekerden (SBRD). A Stichting is a Dutch legal entity with limited liability that exists for a specific purpose. The sample included DSB victims who were affiliated to these interest groups. We drafted a scope concerning age, income, level of education, living conditions and amount of damage suffered in the sample.35 In the NFL case, former NFL players were selected in collaboration with a contact person within the NFL’s inner circle. The nature of playing in the NFL provided an automatic scope within the sample. For instance, all players are male and had generally obtained a college education. To narrow down the sample other factors were chosen. To minimise costs, effort and travel time, the players were selected on availability during a one-month timeframe and within a two-hour drive from Jacksonville. To enhance the depth of the interviews, players were selected on the basis that they had made it onto the beloved 53-man-roster at least once.36

Through the Dutch interest groups, we were able to get in touch with the DSB victims. Due to privacy reasons, the contact person of the interest group approached the DSB victims to participate. Upon agreeing to participate, the contact person gave the victim’s contact details to the researchers. Many victims were not willing to be interviewed, because of privacy-reasons, feeling ashamed about their financial problems or because of feelings of ‘DSB fatigue’. Finally, seventeen interviews were conducted. The interviews were held in person, in different parts of the Netherlands during the period March-June 2014. During the course of the last interviews, we concluded that little new information was gained: saturation had been reached.37 In the NFL case we were able to get in touch with the NFL players by using the network of a contact person within the NFL’s inner circle. The interviews were held in person in and near Jacksonville FL (USA) during May-June 2014. The former NFL players were naturally hesitant to speak to outsiders about their possible negative experiences with their former employer. Having a contact person vouching for the integrity of the researcher and guaranteeing anonymity of the research opened the doors to conduct the necessary interviews. Despite these measures in reaching out to the sample group, some interviews were nevertheless cut short due to unwillingness on the part of the interviewees to continue. These players expressed that they did not wish to speak against their former employers. As a result these interviews did not provide information and they were not used in the final data evaluation. Even though ten interviews may seem minimal, as noted above, the final interviews did not provide new information and contained high levels of structural repetitiveness. For that reason, a practical saturation was reached.

To sustain a high level of openness and potential for in depth discussion, but to nevertheless also obtain comparable data, a semi structured topic list for the interviews was drafted in both cases.38 The victims were interviewed by using open-ended questions, like ‘Why did you undertake legal action?’ and ‘What did you hope to achieve when joining the claimants?’. We anticipated situations in which the interviewed victims did not understand the questions suffered by designing alternative open-ended questions. Through this method, the victims spoke about their needs, expectations, experiences and wishes within the context of collective redress. The interviews were recorded with permission of the victims by using a voice recorder. The audio files were transcribed to digital documents. For the analysis, we used the thematic framework-method: the information was placed in a spreadsheet by coding and labelling the topics. Subsequently, the topics were analysed to form recurring subjects and statements. By so doing, we were able to give significance to the data on a more abstract level.39 In the DSB case, different experts discussed the outcomes during an expert meeting to increase the reliability of the outcomes. During this meeting, remarkable results, new aspects and inconsistencies in comparison with existing research or experiences of practitioners could be discussed.

In the next sections, we discuss the results of both studies, point out similarities and differences and draw connections with the existing research. We want to draw attention to the fact that by using a qualitative research method, valuable insights were gained about the needs of victims in both cases. The results provide an exploratory glance into the world of affected DSB consumers and retired NFL players and illuminate their experiences with collective redress. The research method used is not suitable to estimate the definitive actual legal needs in the wider population or field. The results should not be generalised and/or used to draft quantitative statements.

IV Interviews with the DSB victims and NFL victims

In this section, we will discuss some of the outcomes of the interviews with DSB and NFL victims and compare them with each other.40 The kind of damage DSB victims and NFL victims suffered is quite different. The DSB victims suffered primarily financial damage, while the retired NFL players suffered personal injury. Surprisingly, in some ways the expressed legal needs by the DSB and NFL victims are comparable. Both groups of victims reported outcome-orientated needs, socio-emotional needs and altruistic needs. First, we will discuss two important needs: the need for financial compensation and the socio-emotional need for recognition (section IVA). Next (section IVB) we discuss other socio-emotional needs: the need for retribution and responsibility. In section IV C we pay attention to altruistic needs and the role of the need for information. In section IVD we move on to discuss another new and interesting outcome: the meaning of ‘being one of many’ for the interviewed victims. Finally we say something about the reported experiences and the satisfaction of the victims (section IVE).

A Financial compensation and recognition

An important underlying motive for DSB victims to take action was obtaining financial compensation. For some DSB victims, financial compensation was an end in itself: it was a necessary condition to ensure a viable future. However, for most interviewed DSB victims getting money was not the primary goal. These victims wanted to end an uncertain situation within their financial future by knowing where they stand. Many DSB clients also wanted recognition by the DSB bank or from society as a whole. More specifically, they needed recognition of the fact that the bank had misled them and of the suffering that they had had to withstand afterwards. Many of them had to deal with stress and fear and felt severe pressure within their social relations. Some victims expressed that they were searching for a sense of understanding, or – more commonly – that they were seeking justice. They felt that they were not taken seriously regarding their perception of being misled or sense of injustice.

This DSB victim saw financial compensation as recognition that she had been misled by the DSB bank:

Well, you receive a note: ‘you are not eligible for any compensation’. Why? Don’t ask me. You don’t get to know that. But I’ve been swindled, right? So, shouldn’t I be entitled to compensation? Well, it doesn’t happen.41

Although some interviews with DSB victims revealed financial compensation as the driving force for taking action, the NFL interviews showed that financial compensation was not the primary reason to initiate legal proceedings. On the other hand, financial compensation does matter. The NFL players were worried about their future, especially about the medical bills they have to pay for the treatment of their injuries. On the basis of their medical history, they were not eligible for affordable health insurance. In this regard, they also wanted to know where they stood. This quote of a former NFL player reflects this need:

I wanted health benefits for retirees. I wanted them to have insurance. That would have been good enough for me. Not actual money to put in your bank accounts. That was my main thing.

Like the DSB victims, recognition was an important underlying motive for the NFL players to take action. They wanted recognition for their contribution to the National Football League. The former NFL players felt that their achievements and efforts on the field help to build the NFL into what it is today. They felt that the tremendous growth and popularity of the NFL can be partly attributed to their efforts. This resulted in them feeling that the NFL is enjoying the fruits of their labour, but will not acknowledge their affiliated health deterioration. The former players wanted the NFL to recognise the severity of their injuries and to recognise the fact that their brain injuries had not been taken seriously in the past. The following quote describes the frustration of a former NFL player in seeking a shared responsibility for their conditions:

I made the NFL a lot of money, I did. I made the NFL owners a lot of money, by doing well for what I did. I was compensated well, but they also shared from that benefit. I think they should share some of that responsibility, not so much for me, but for my family...that’s the essence of this lawsuit.

B Other socio-emotional needs: retribution and responsibility

Both groups of victims had a vindictive need towards the party or parties that they held responsible for the suffered damage. In the DSB case the victims express feelings of retribution: some victims were angry and want retaliation in some way. In their eyes, the bankruptcy of the DSB bank was ‘magnificent’, because DSB and its top executives had to be punished. The NFL victims did not report such feelings of retribution. They felt some reservations about bringing the National Football League to trial, because they were thankful for the opportunities that playing in the NFL had provided. They did, however, feel that the responsibility of the severe consequences of their brain damage should be divided between the NFL and the retired players. The players held mainly themselves responsible for their physical injuries: they had never thought about the cognitive consequences of repetitive brain damage. But, in their opinion, the NFL has to take responsibility too, for them and for their families. This was a reason for them to support the litigation against the NFL. This quotation is a striking example of this need:

The NFL should share the responsibility, if I indeed turn out to have problems in the future, maybe not for me, but for my family. If I get Alzheimer’s, can’t run my business at age fifty... I think they should share some of that responsibility...

The act of holding themselves responsible is also seen in the other case. The DSB victims blame themselves for their suffered damage and define themselves as stupid and naïve. They realise that the damage is their own fault too: they decided to take a loan at the DSB bank. Contrary to the NFL victims, in this respect some DSB victims express strong feelings of shame. These feelings of shame resulted in hermit-like behaviour in that they did not share their financial problems with others around them, not even with their family and friends.42 A victim expressed it as such:

How often I overheard my colleagues saying: ‘being in debt, I just can’t understand living like that’. Well, that’s when you know. There is a taboo on borrowing money, you just don’t talk about it. You don’t talk about your income; you just don’t talk about such things.

Interestingly some of these victims linked their need for recognition with their feelings of shame. The fact that society recognised that the financial products of the DSB bank were not transparent, made them realise that their miserable financial situation was not completely their fault.43

C Altruistic needs and the need for information

In both cases victims express the need for prevention. For the DSB victims it was important that such misleading practices in the financial branch should come to a halt. For that reason, the DSB bank had to stop its operations. Furthermore, the financial branch should learn from these mistakes and ensure that they never occur again. In line with this need, another altruistic need came up: some DSB victims expressed that they wanted to help other persons who had contracted with the DSB bank and experienced financial difficulties. They started to volunteer in an interest group that supports DSB victims. The NFL victims wanted the NFL and other involved parties to be aware of the serious injuries of NFL players and the severe consequences of brain damage. For them it was important to prevent such situations from occurring to future generations. A former NFL player expressed his altruistic need in the following quote:

One of those things is what I just said, protection of future generations, not only NFL football players, but also younger players...whatever rules they put into place, it will most likely trickle down and be implemented in lower levels. It is not only going to protect the guys in the top 1 %, it will hopefully help hundreds of thousands of people across the country. All because of the fact that a group of individuals came forward and said this was wrong. In that respect, good is, much good has been done already.

This should not mean, however, that the NFL should stop its operations: the retired players are in some way hooked on the NFL. They want the NFL to pay attention to their injuries and to take measures of care, before and after the game. By doing so it will become attractive again for young people to play in the NFL: the NFL and its existence remain close to the hearts of the retired players.

In contrast to the DSB clients, the retired NFL players reported a need for knowing ‘the truth’. The players wanted to acquire information on the knowledge the NFL had about the health problems of former NFL players in the era that they played, more specifically: the severe consequences of cumulative brain damage. They wanted to know if the NFL had cheated them and if the NFL had tried to cover up such information. This need for finding the truth did not come up during the interviews with the DSB victims. However, some of the DSB victims reported a strong need for information as well. They wanted information on how to deal with their financial problems, about the procedure followed by the insolvency practitioners and on the designed scheme for financial compensation. This need for information of some DSB victims can be partially explained by their feelings of shame: these victims did not talk about their financial problems with their family and friends and needed other sources of information and help to deal with their problems. The victims expressed a need for clear information in understandable language, because the language used by different legal practitioners was not ‘their language’:

It doesn’t matter what you read, those initial letters I got from the Trustee, that language, you think, never mind. Yeah, that’s the language professionals’ use, it’s not my language.

D Being one of many

Being part of a collective provided an extra dimension in the litigation process. On behalf of the DSB victims it showed that plenty of people with different educational backgrounds fell for the same misleading financial products. It provided a feeling of relief for the DSB victims in that they felt that they were not the only people that were so ‘dumb’ or ‘foolish’ to fall for such financial products. In particular, this was a great help for DSB victims who had feelings of shame and/or self-loathing. Remarkably, this sense of being one of many generated expectations too. The DSB victims thought that the sheer volume of victims would generate opportunities. These victims were of the view that the masses would prevail, resulting in their financial problems being solved by compensation or reparation. The following quote is a striking example of this actuality:

Yeah, because you hear the numbers, we had a feeling of: if it’s something so organized, you could expect a situation in which compensation would be provided.

This possible false sense of empowerment created disappointment among several DSB victims. They concluded that bundling their efforts never amounted to meeting their expectations. This was despite the fact that the collective effort created much (media) attention for the subject. Some DSB victims felt that ‘only the severe cases’ were taken seriously. Being one of many also amounted to victims comparing their situation to others. This resulted in confusion amongst victims: why did other victims obtain different outcomes?

The interviews with the NFL victims also highlighted elements of the victims’ sense of being one of many, though the underlying reason for this seems different from that of the DSB victims. Former NFL players tend to have started legal proceedings out of feelings of camaraderie with their former colleagues. The NFL players were shocked to see their beloved friends and colleagues going through rough physical times. They wanted to help them by joining them in legal proceedings. They tended to bundle their efforts to create better chances for other people that ‘need it more than they do’. This need to start legal proceedings out of feelings of brotherhood and camaraderie were very present in the interviews. The next quote illustrates the strong presence of this need during an interview:

Guys that I played with are deceased, or they have, you know, they have, early forms of dementia, or they have had hip replacements, knee replacements, shoulder, and they are only forty years old. You know, and so, you see that the physical decline, the curve of physical decline goes very rapidly when they are 10-15 years removed from the games, fortunately I’m not one of those guys...yet. But a lot of my friends have gone through that, you see what they are going through, for me that was important.

In some way the camaraderie expressed by the NFL players can also be found amongst the DSB victims. As discussed above, some DSB victims expressed their desire to help other DSB victims and became active as a volunteer to fulfill this task. As a volunteer they tried to help the victims by structuring their financial situations, writing letters to the relevant persons and institutions, answering questions and so on. These feelings of DSB victims had a different form and intensity from the feelings expressed by the retired NFL players, but can also be seen as feelings of brotherhood.

E Satisfaction and experiences

The extent to which the DSB victims were satisfied about the fulfillment of their needs, varies. Half of the interviewed DSB victims were disappointed with the achieved outcome. They were disappointed by the amount of financial compensation received and even after some years still did not know where they stood in general. The other half was satisfied. They had been financially compensated and/or their financial problem was solved and they were once again in control of their own situation. Many DSB victims experienced the settlement process as too long. Another negative experience was the administrative burden the DSB victims had to go through to determine if they were entitled to financial compensation. With regard to the expressed needs for retribution and prevention the picture was not very different: the DSB victims were satisfied with some aspects but with others they were not. Some victims were happy because the DSB went bankrupt, others thought the financial branch has not learned its lesson, and still some victims were happy because they had helped other DSB victims. The need for recognition stands out in a negative way: many DSB victims experienced a lack of recognition. They felt they were not taken seriously by the (trustees of the) DSB bank. One victim described this lack of recognition in the following quote:

The suffering that you went through, that isn’t even being recognized. Trustees only think in numbers, especially in huge lawsuits, but if they would look at a single person, what kind of suffering they are put through...that’s just uncorrectable.

Two victims experienced recognition, though: one victim derived recognition from the awareness in society that some financial products were misleading for consumers, whilst another victim experienced recognition through receiving financial compensation.

While interviewing the NFL players, the process of collective redress was still ongoing: the NFL and the 4500 retired NFL players had just reached a settlement. Considering the financial compensation that the settlement fund would pay, many NFL players used the statement: those that really need it, get it’. Through this statement the players expressed the view that only players with serious injury should get financial compensation from the fund. In fact, primarily the players did not want financial compensation. They want the retired players that actually need care to receive the necessary care. In a way the compensation fund indirectly covered the needs of the retired NFL players: by obtaining financial compensation from the settlement fund, players could fund their medical expenses. From this perspective, the NFL players experienced the capped and possible discounted amounts a player could receive as problematic.44 It stood to reason that the final payment would not be enough to cover medical expenses in the present or in the future.

For many NFL players receiving recognition was an important need. The settlement included a clear provision that stated that neither the settlement nor any actions undertaken by the NFL constituted an admission of any liability or wrongdoing or recognition of the validity of any claim made by the class. The NFL players experienced this provision as a total denial of responsibility, and they deplored this attitude of the NFL. In the view of the NFL players, this denial of wrongdoing in the agreed settlement also canceled out the option of covering the need for finding out the truth. Nevertheless, for most NFL players the fact that retired NFL players who are seriously injured, will receive (the financial resources to obtain) the necessary care was more important than getting recognition or knowing the truth.

The settlement contains a fund that will be devoted to educational purposes of promoting safety and preventing injuries in the game of American Football. The former NFL players were positive about this fund: it fits in with their altruistic need of preventing brain injuries in future generations. The commotion the trial brought sparked debates and media interest. Generating awareness fits in with both the altruistic need and the need for recognition of the NFL players.

V Insights and key considerations as a result of the two studies

Because of the limitations of the chosen research method in both studies, comments on the outcomes cannot be generalised. Nevertheless, both studies bring useful and helpful insights to the topic also in comparison with the existing research as discussed above. We further examine the results in this section.

A Comparisons on a core level and differentiation within the elements

The need for financial compensation is mentioned in both studies. Amongst the interviewed DSB victims, some indicated that obtaining financial reparations was the main motive to initiate legal proceedings. Earlier research also shows that – especially when ensuring a viable future is at stake – financial compensation can be the most important need for victims.45 The group of victims for whom financial compensation is the main motive cannot be found within the sample of former NFL players. This could possibly be explained by reference to fact that former NFL players tend to have better social and economic conditions than the DSB victims. Not obtaining financial compensation would thus not threaten their current livelihood or way of life. However, the former NFL players were worried about paying the long term medical bills. Many DSB victims were worried about their future too and wanted to put an end to this uncertainty. This need to know what the future looks like in financial terms (for the victims themselves and their families) is a need that was never explicitly expressed in earlier research. Both groups of victims also expressed the need to obtain recognition (by being heard or being taken seriously). Recognition, being heard and being taken seriously are important needs that also emerged from earlier research.46

The similarities within the needs for financial stability and recognition between the two groups of victims are remarkable, especially because the damage suffered by the respective groups of victims is – at first sight – quite different: primarily financial damage versus personal injury. A new and interesting outcome of the DSB case research is that financial damage is accompanied by immaterial needs. This conclusion fits in with research conducted in economic psychology.47 Such research shows that material and immaterial aspects govern the trust between two parties, also in economic relationships. When they suffer financial damage victims therefore have material and immaterial needs, like the need for recognition of mistakes and of responsibility. Our observation is that behind different ‘legal’ concepts of damage comparable human suffering is hidden, which brings forth comparable needs: victims want to be taken seriously in their feelings of injustice.

The two groups of victims differentiate when it comes to needs of retribution or vengeance, recognisable needs under earlier research.48 The DSB victims have strong feelings of anger and retribution, whereas the NFL victims showed no signs of these needs or feelings. The NFL victims expressed their need towards the other party ‘on another level’: they wanted the NFL to take responsibility. This difference could be explained by the fact that playing in the NFL also brought the retired players benefits: a great job and fabulous lifestyle for several years. In comparison, the relationship between the DSB bank and its clients was more short-term and business-like.

Interesting is the fact that both groups of victims experience feelings of responsibility. The NFL players explicitly expressed a responsibility that they felt towards their family, which we do not see in the DSB case. In contrast, some DSB victims felt they were responsible for their financial problems and expressed strong feelings of shame, which lead to hiding their financial problems, even for family and friends. This is a remarkable result in the civil context: we have already seen such feelings of shame and self-blame in research in the field of victims of sexual abuse and violence.49 From our research it seems that victims who suffer serious financial damage can experience such feelings too.

Finally, the difference concerning the need for information is noteworthy. The former NFL players expressed a desire to obtain information from the NFL about their knowledge of the consequences of cumulative brain damage. DSB victims did not express the need for information. This could possibly be explained by the availability of data and extensive media coverage on the bankruptcy of the DSB bank and the carelessness in its business model. Information was widely available through a report from an independent governmental committee.50

B Mass harm and collective redress: expectations and feelings of solidarity

The studies show that being part of a collective generated positive and negative experiences. On the positive side, it provided comfort and relief for the involved victims. Being part of a collective generated high hopes for a satisfactory outcome for the DSB victims. The idea was formed that the defendant could not possibly ignore them, or try to lure them into accepting a low compensation offer. These high expectations pressurised the relationship between the DSB victims and their legal counsels. DSB victims expected their legal counsels to accomplish greater results. For that reason, it could be important that interest groups, legal aid insurers or other representatives of the class manage the expectations of victims in mass harm cases. They should be transparent with regards to what they can or cannot achieve. Clarity is especially needed on the details of a collective procedure concerning the extent to which parties can expect a personal approach and/or have their individual circumstances acknowledged.

Expressions of solidarity were present in both groups of victims. Each group had its own way of expressing solidarity. They expressed a need to help other victims or had other altruistic needs. In comparison with individual tort cases, the context of mass harm cases allows for victims to be more ‘visible’ and to appear ‘closer to each other’. This is very much the case in the NFL group. Former players tended to help one another by standing up for each other. They joined the lawsuit out of solidarity. The retired NFL players seem to known and respect each other. In general, a strong sense of comradery was present. In the DSB case, the victims did not know each other and the group of victims was more wide spread. Nevertheless, victims volunteered at interest groups to help others.

VI Conclusion

In general, interviewing the DSB and NFL victims was a very gratifying task to perform. Analysing and comparing their needs was a fascinating process. Even though the research methods used have limitations and the results are not suited to estimate definitive actual legal needs in the wider population or field, valuable and remarkable insights were gained and are summarised in conclusion.

Although the damages were derived from vastly different origins, it is remarkable that some of the needs of DSB and NFLvictims are rather comparable. The results show, in line with earlier research, that money is not the only need victims have. Sometimes it is not even the primary reason for victims to litigate. Both the DSB victims and the NFL victims expressed the need for recognition, taking responsibility, prevention and information.

In addition, the DSB and NFL study provided a first glance at the dynamics around the needs of victims in a collective litigation context. The needs of victims in the context of mass litigation have to date not been studied in this way. The context of mass harm allows for victims to be more ‘visible’ and to appear ‘closer to each other’. It brings feelings of solidarity, which seem to have awakened altruistic needs in new forms: victims want to help each other. Another insight is the fact that victims can experience an overwhelming feeling of empowerment in joining a mass litigation process. These feelings can, however, cloud their expectations and judgements.

From the perspective of the needs of the victims in both the DSB and NFL case, it is remarkable that the civil judicial system still primarily compensates injury and financial loss with money. It would be advisable for the civil judicial system and all people who are involved, to review the options in compensating victims. We should be more aware of the fact that victims have other additional needs to that of financial compensation.51 Practitioners for example can experiment in collective settlements with provisions that meet immaterial needs. Academics can contribute by evaluating and researching such experiments. One thing is for sure: we know very little about the needs of victims in mass claims environments and more research has to be conducted in this area.

Both authors are registered for PhDs at Tilburg Law School, Tilburg University. Van Doorn is writing her PhD about the needs of victims of mass harm. The empirical study of the DSB case is part of her PhD research. Dybus’s research has an empirical nature and focuses on the needs of investors that have joined claims within the European Collective Redress System.


  • 1

    This is for example the ‘European’ starting point, see Communication from the Commission ‘Towards a European Horizontal Framework for Collective Redress’, COM (2013) 401 final, 9. 

  • 2

    Eg RME Huver et al, Slachtoffers en aansprakelijkheid. Een onderzoek naar behoeften, verwachtingen en ervaringen van slachtoffers en hun naasten met betrekking tot het civiele aansprakelijkheidsrecht, Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek- en Documentatiecentrum [Scientific Research and Documentation Centre, WODC] (2007). For a summary in English, see <https://www.wodc.nl/onderzoeksdatabase/slachtoffers-en-aansprakelijkheidsrecht.aspx>. 

  • 3

    See TR Tyler, A Psychological Perspective on the Settlement of Mass Tort Claims, Law and Contemporary Problems 53–4 (1990) 199–205. 

  • 4

    Huver et al (fn 2) 81–85; N Elbers, Empowerment of injured claimants. Investigating claim factors, procedural justice and e-health, (diss Amsterdam) 2013; see fn 9 for further references. 

  • 5

    CJM van Doorn, Belangen van benadeelden bij een collectieve afwikkeling van schade: een kwalitatief onderzoek naar de behoeften, verwachtingen en ervaringen van DSB-gedupeerden, Tilburg University 2015. For the report (with English summary), see <https://pure.uvt.nl/portal/en/publications/belangen-van-benadeelden-bij-een-collectieve-afwikkeling-van-schade(0a13f000-cba1-49f0-bc67-9be4e1bb49e2).html>. 

  • 6

    C Dybus, So you don’t wanna play because you have....a headache!? – Masters thesis Tilburg University 2014, see <https://arno.uvt.nl/show.cgi?fid=135441>. 

  • 7

    RH Mnookin/SR Peppet/AS Tumello, Beyond winning. Negotiating to create value in deals and disputes (2004). 

  • 8

    See for an overview A ten Boom/KF Kuijpers, Victims’ needs as basic human needs, International Review of Victimology (IRV) 18(2) (2012) 155–179. 

  • 9

    DR Hensler/MR Marquis/AF Abrahamse et al, Compensation for Accidental Injuries in the United States (1991); GB Hickson/EW Clayton/PB Githens et al, Factors that prompted families to file medical malpractice claims following perinatal injuries, 267/10 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) 267/10 (1992) 1359–1363; C Vincent et al, Why do people sue doctors? A study of patients and relatives taking legal action (1994) 1609–1613; Stichting De Ombudsman, Letselschaderegeling. Onderhandelen met het mes op tafel, een zoektocht naar de redelijkheid (2003) (about injuries); M Bismark/E Dauer/R Paterson et al, Accountability sought by patients following adverse events from medical care: the New Zealand experience, Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) 175/8 (2006) 889–894; Huver et al (fn 2); GK Hadfield, Framing the Choice between Cash and the Courthouse: Experiences with the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, Law and Society 2008/43, 645–682; WA Eshuis et al, Leerzame schadeclaims. Leren van ‘worst case scenarios’ als opstap naar effectieve interventie en preventie rond beroepsziekten (2009) (about work-related accidents); JJM van Dijk/F van Mierlo, Leemten in de slachtofferhulpverlening: resultaten van een verkennend, kwalitatief onderzoek onder verschillende categorieën gedupeerden van ingrijpende gebeurtenissen (2009) (about far-reaching events); K Mazor/SL Goff/K Dodd et al, Understanding patients’ perceptions of medical errors, Journal of Communication in Healthcare 2/1 (2009) 34–46. 

  • 10

    B Feldthusen/O Hankivsky/L Greaves, Therapeutic Consequences of Civil Actions for Damages and Compensation Claims by Victims of Sexual Abuse, Canadian Journal of Women and Law (CJWL) 12 (2000) 66–115. 

  • 11

    Hensler et al (fn 9) 144 f and 169 f; Hickson et al, JAMA 267/10 (1992) 1359, 1361; Vincent et al (fn 9) 1609, 1612; Feldthusen et al, CJWL 12 (2000) 66, 79; Bismark et al, CMAJ 175/8 (2006) 889, 891; Huver et al (fn 2) 63 and 81; Hadfield, Law and Society 2008–43, 645, 663–666; Eshuis et al (fn 9) 103–112; Van Dijk et al (fn 9) 88–92. 

  • 12

    Hensler et al (fn 9) 144 f and 169 f; Vincent et al (fn 9) 1609, 1612; Feldthusen et al, CJWL 12 (2000) 66, 75–82; Bismark et al, CMAJ 175/8 (2006) 889 891; Huver et al (fn 2) 64 f and 81 f; Hadfield, Law and Society 2008/43, 645, 653–659 and 662; Van Dijk et al (fn 9) 82–88; Mazor et al, Journal of Communication in Healthcare 2/1 (2009) 42. 

  • 13

    De Ombudsman (fn 9) 17 f. 

  • 14

    Eshuis et al (fn 9) 103–112. 

  • 15

    Hensler et al (fn 9) 172; De Ombudsman (fn 9) 17 f; Huver et al (fn 2) 64 f and 81 f. 

  • 16

    Feldthusen et al, CJWL 12 (2000) 66, 75 f; Van Dijk et al (fn 9) 62–71; Eshuis et al (fn 9) 103–112; Mazor et al, Journal of Communication in Healthcare 2/1 (2009) 42. 

  • 17

    J Thibaut/L Walker, Procedural Justice: A Psychological Analysis (1975); GS Leventhal, What Should Be Done with Equity Theory? in: KJ Gergen et al, Social Exchange: Advances in Theory and Research (1980); EA Lind/TR Tyler, The Social Psychology of Procedural Justice (1988). 

  • 18

    Hickson et al, JAMA 267/10 (1992) 1359, 1361; Feldthusen et al, CJWL 12 (2000) 66, 78 f; Bismark et al, CMAJ 175/8 (2006) 889, 891; Mazor et al, Journal of Communication in Healthcare 2/1 (2009) 41. 

  • 19

    Hensler et al (fn 9) 172; Vincent et al (fn 9) 1612; Hickson et al, JAMA 267/10 (1992) 1359, 1361; Feldthusen et al, CJWL 12 (2000) 66, 76; Bismark et al, CMAJ 175/8 (2006) 889, 891; Huver et al (fn 2) 64 f and 81 f; Hadfield, Law and Society 2008–43, 645, 660–662; Eshuis et al (fn 9) 103–112; Mazor et al, Journal of Communication in Healthcare 2/1 (2009) 41 f. 

  • 20

    Hickson, JAMA 267/10 (1992) 1359, 1361; Vincent et al (fn 9) 1612; Bismark et al, CMAJ 175/8 (2006) 889, 891; Huver et al (fn 2) 64 f and 81 f; Hadfield, Law and Society 2008/43, 645, 660–662; Van Dijk et al (fn 9) 76–82; Mazor et al, Journal of Communication in Healthcare 2/1 (2009) 42; E O’Connor et al, Disclosure of patient safety incidents: a comprehensive review, International Journal for Quality in Health Care 22(5) (2010) 371–379. 

  • 21

    De Ombudsman (fn 9) 18 f; Van Dijk et al (fn 9) 76–82. 

  • 22

    See further: J Greenberg, The social side of fairness: interpersonal and informational classes of organizational justice, in: R Cropanzano et al, Justice in the Workplace (1993) 79–103. 

  • 23

    Van Dijk et al (fn 9) 66–69. 

  • 24

    Van Dijk et al (fn 9) 92. 

  • 25

    Eg Van Dijk et al (fn 9) 88. 

  • 26

    The existing research that is closest to mass litigation contexts is research on the impact and settlement of disasters. The research that focuses on the needs of victims of disasters, however, is very limited, for example the empirical study of Hadfield, Law and Society 2008/43, 645. 

  • 27

    Hof Amsterdam, 4 November 2014, ECLI:NL:GHAMS:2014:4560. for more information about the complex settlement agreement and the collective procedure see (in Dutch) <https://www.rechtspraak.nl/Uitspraken-en-nieuws/Bekende-rechtszaken/WCAM-Verzoekschrift-DSB-Bank-NV>. 

  • 28

    See the written application in the DSB case, under 3.3–3.4–3.5, <https://www.rechtspraak.nl/SiteCollectionDocuments/Verzoekschrift.PDF>. 

  • 29

    United States District Court (United States) 14 January 2014, Denial of approval: [2014] MDL No 2323 12-md-2323, p 10. 

  • 30

    United States District Court (United States) 7 July 2014, Order on approval: [2014] MDL No 2323 12-md-2323, p 5. 

  • 31

    United States District Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (United States), 18 April 2016, Final approval, [2016] MDL No 2323 12-md-2323. 

  • 32

    The NFL study was carried out within the limits of a Masters thesis research. 

  • 33

    J Ritchie/J Lewis, Qualitative Research Practice, A Guide for Social Science Students and Researchers (2003) 102. 

  • 34

    So called ‘belangenorganisaties’, who represent the interests of the victims. 

  • 35

    For more demographic details, see section 3.2 of the report (<https://pure.uvt.nl/portal/en/publications/belangen-van-benadeelden-bij-een-collectieve-afwikkeling-van-schade(0a13f000-cba1-49f0-bc67-9be4e1bb49e2).html>). 

  • 36

    At the start of the NFL season, an official NFL team consists of 53 players. Before the start of the NFL season a team can however consist of up to 90 players. This creates the existence of a group of former NFL players who have played in practice sessions or scrimmage (pre-season) games, but have never played in an actual season game. Players are ‘cut’ by the team to slim down to the 53-player format. Players that never made a 53-player roster were excluded from the sample. Underlying reasons varied from a presumed lack of NFL experience to the fact that they could not have obtained in-season (head) injuries. 

  • 37

    The moment of reaching saturation is context-dependent. Research by Guest for example shows that after six to 12 interviews in a category, saturation of data occurs and variety in answers decreases – see G Guest/A Bunce/L Johnson, How many interviews are enough? An experiment with data saturation and variability, Field Methods (2006) vol 18 no 1, 59–82. 

  • 38

    The topic list and interview schedule (both in Dutch) in the DSB case can be found in annex 2 and 3 of the report (<https://pure.uvt.nl/portal/en/publications/belangen-van-benadeelden-bij-een-collectieve-afwikkeling-van-schade(0a13f000-cba1-49f0-bc67-9be4e1bb49e2).html>); the topic list and interview schedule (in English) in the NFL case can be found in annex A of the Masters thesis <https://arno.uvt.nl/show.cgi?fid=135441>. 

  • 39

    For more information about the methods used in both studies see ch 2 of the DSB report (fn 5) and ch 4 of the NFL Masters thesis (fn 6). 

  • 40

    Due to the limited scope of this paper we are not able to discuss all the results here. For all the results of the DSB report in chs 3–5 see fn 5 above and for the NFL Masters thesis chs 4–6 see fn 6 above. 

  • 41

    All victims’ quotations in this article were originally expressed in Dutch; unless otherwise stated all translations are the authors’ own. 

  • 42

    It is important to note that in the Netherlands it is uncommon for people to purchase goods on credit, or to use their credit card in everyday purchases. 

  • 43

    See also section IVD. 

  • 44

    For more information on the fund, the capped amounts and discounts see chapter 2: monetary awards in the official long-form notice available at: <https://www.nflconcussionsettlement.com/documents/long-form_notice.pdf>. 

  • 45

    Hensler et al (fn 9); Hickson et al, JAMA 267/10 (1992) 1359; Vincent et al (fn 9); Feldthusen et al, CJWL 12 (2000) 66; Bismark et al, CMAJ 175/8 (2006) 889; Huver et al (fn 2); Hadfield, Law and Society 2008/43, 645; Van Dijk et al (fn 9); Eshuis et al (fn 9). 

  • 46

    Hensler et al (fn 9); Vincent et al (fn 9); Feldthusen et al, CJWL 12 (2000) 66; Stichting De Ombudsman (fn 9); Bismark et al, CMAJ 175/8 (2006) 889; Huver et al (fn 2); Hadfield, Law and Society 2008/43, 645; Van Dijk et al (fn 9); Eshuis et al (fn 9); Mazor et al, Journal of Communication in Healthcare 2/1 (2009). 

  • 47

    P Desmet, In Money we Trust? Trust Repair and the Psychology of Financial Compensations (2011). 

  • 48

    Hickson et al, JAMA 267/10 (1992) 1359; Feldthusen et al, CJWL 12 (2000) 66; Bismark et al, CMAJ 175/8 (2006) 889; Mazor et al, Journal of Communication in Healthcare 2/1 (2009). 

  • 49

    Feldthusen et al, CJWL 12 (2000) 66; Van Dijk et al (fn 9); W Lamet/K Wittebrood, Nooit meer dezelfde. Gevolgen van misdrijven voor slachtoffers (2009) (with summary in English). 

  • 50

    Report of the Committee Research DSB Bank (Committee Scheltema), The Hague, 23 June 2010, <https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/documenten/rapporten/2010/06/29/rapport-van-de-commissie-van-onderzoek-dsb-bank>. 

  • 51

    A comparable statement for the context of mass claims is made by Tyler 1990. 

About the article

Published Online: 2017-05-04

Published in Print: 2017-05-01

Citation Information: Journal of European Tort Law, Volume 8, Issue 1, Pages 100–121, ISSN (Online) 1868-9620, ISSN (Print) 1868-9612, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jetl-2017-0005.

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