The Legal Problems of Everyday Life - The Nature, Extent and Consequences of Justiciable Problems Experienced by Canadians

Chapter IV: The Degrees of Seriousness of Justiciable Problems (continued)

The Range of Individuals Experiencing Problems

Table 30 shows the estimated numbers of individuals in the population with one or more problems in each problem category. This provides a range of estimates about the numbers of people experiencing types of justiciable problems applying the progressively more stringent criteria for a serious and difficult problem discussed above.

The dollar value of the lowest 50% of problems related to purchases of large consumer items is $5,000 and of problems related to repairs is $1,800. Clearly the cost of a engaging a lawyer might exceed the value of the transactions. Providing people with assistance to deal with these problems would have to involve effective alternative means.

Table 30: Population Estimate of the Number of Individuals with One or More Problems by Problem Type: Progressive Criteria for Seriousness
Problem Type All Problems Problems That Were Important to Resolve Problems That Made Daily Life Difficult Problems That Were Both Important and Difficult
Consumer 5,698,000 4,609,900 2,461,500 2,307,700
Employment 4,619,200 4,097,200 3,178,000 3,021,000
Debt 5,263,600 4,508,700 2,626,400 2,552,800
Social Assistance 310,800 285,300 241,200 240,900
Disability Pensions 259,000 242,900 232,100 232,100
Housing 440,300 394,100 301,200 291,900
Immigration 155,400 150,900 128,800 128,800
Discrimination 492,100 400,100 345,900 342,300
Police Action 518,000 442,400 296,800 282,300
Family: Relationship Breakdown 932,400 867,100 794,400 779,500
Other Family 362,600 357,200 350,300 330,900
Wills and Powers of Attorney 1,346,800 1,256,600 996,632 918,500
Personal Injury 751,100 713,500 667,800 630,200
Hospital Treatment and Release 414,400 394,932 348,500 348,500
Threat of Legal Action 310,800 268,200 204,800 170,600

Money as the Measure

For certain types of problems, the monetary value attached to the problem is often, although incorrectly, used as a very rough indicator of the level of seriousness. This is not a sound assumption because the seriousness attached to any given amount of money is relative to one's level of income. For low- to moderate-income people, several hundreds or thousands of dollars can represent a very serious problem. Therefore, the relatively small dollar values attached to many problems are not completely reliable measures of seriousness. The low dollar values may equally serve as an indication that problems that are important to people may require dispute resolution mechanisms that are cost-effective, commensurate with the monetary value of the problem or dispute.

For consumer and debt problems, respondents were asked the monetary value of the purchase or transaction. The following two tables express the monetary value attached to consumer and debt problems. Each table shows the highest monetary value for the lowest 25 per cent, the lowest 50 per cent and 75 per cent of all problems reported. Generally, the low monetary value attached to many justiciable problems is evident. The monetary value of 50 per cent of problems related to product safety is only $300 and $500 for the purchase of services.

Table 31: The Monetary Value of Consumer Problems
Problem Percentile Approximate Value
Large Purchase 25% $1,500
50% $5,000
75% $25,000
100% $575,000
Purchase of Services 25% $200
50% $500
75% $1,800
100% $70,000
Major Repairs 25% $500
50% $1,800
75% $6,000
100% $60,000
Return or Repair Related to Product Safety 25% $100
50% $300
75% $1,000
100% $38,000
Insurance Claim Unfairly Rejected 25% $1,200
50% $4,000
75% $75,000
100% $500,000

Table 32 shows the monetary value of problems relating to money and debt. Apart from bankruptcy, half of all debt problems involve relatively small amounts of money. Sensible ways of resolving problems involving these amounts of money would probably not include engaging private counsel at normal rates.

Table 32: The Monetary Value of Debt Problems
Problem Percentile Approximate Value
Bankruptcy 25% $13,000
50% $30,000
75% $120,000
100% $1,000,000
Harassment by a Collection Agency 25% $300
50% $1,800
75% $9,000
100% $280,000
Refused Credit on the Basis of Inaccurate Information 25% $1,000
50% $4,500
75% $36,000
100% $500,000
Dispute Over a Bill or Invoice 25% $100
50% $300
75% $800
100% $60,000
Collecting Money Owed 25% $750
50% $2,500
75% $12,500
100% $500,000

Even though the monetary value attached to many of the consumer and debt problems is low, the importance that people attach to those problems is high. As one would expect, it is generally true that the higher the monetary value, the higher the level of importance people attach to resolving the problems and the greater the extent to which the problem was disruptive for their daily lives. Table 33 shows the strength of the relationship between the quartile, first to fourth, and the importance attached to resolving the problem for specific problem types within the consumer and debt categories. The higher the correlation, the greater the tendency there is for respondents to want to resolve problems with a higher monetary value. The table also shows the percentage of respondents in the lowest and highest quartiles that want to consider it important to resolve the problem. The percentage of respondents indicating that it is important to resolve the problem is always higher for the problems of greater monetary value in the fourth quartile than for problems in the first quartile with lower monetary value attached. However, the percentage of people who want to resolve problem in the first quartile is sufficiently large to conclude that even the problems with a low monetary value are perceived by those experiencing them to be important.

Table 33: Importance of Resolving Problems of Different Monetary Value

Consumer Problems
Problem Correlation Between Monetary Value and Importance of Resolving the Problem Percent Indicating It is Important to Resolve the Problem,
Lowest Quartile Highest Quartile
Purchase of Expensive Item Phi = .26c2 = 23.9,p = .02 62.0 89.8
Repairs or Renovations Phi = .20c2 = 22.7, p = .03 71.3 85.6
Purchase of Services Phi = .26c2 = 20.6,p = .05    
Product Safety Not statistically significant -- --
Rejection of Insurance Claim Phi = .41c2 = 22.9,p = .02 81.9 96.2
Debt Problems
Problem Correlation Between Monetary Value and Importance of Resolving the Problem Percent Indicating It is Important to Resolve the Problem,
Lowest Quartile Highest Quartile
Bankruptcy Not statistically significant    
Harassment by Collection Agency Phi = .36c2 = 34.2,p = .0006 79.5 87.5
Unfairly Refused Credit Not statistically significant -- --
Dispute over Bill or Invoice Phi = .24c2 = 24.0,p = .02 84.2 100.0
Collecting Money Owed Phi = .30c2 = 26.5,p = .009 76.6 88.8

For example, the Phi correlation of .41 between the value of the rejected insurance claim and the importance attached to resolving it shows that the higher the monetary value the greater the desire to have the matter resolved. However, even for insurance matters in the lowest 25 per cent of the range in terms of monetary value, 81.9 per cent of all respondents with that particular problem said it was somewhat to extremely important to resolve the matter. In the lower panel dealing with debt problems, the strongest relationship between the monetary value of the problems and importance ofresolving the problem is for harassment by a collection agency. The strength of the correlation, represented by the Phi statistic is .36. For problems with monetary values falling within the lowest quartile (the lowest 25%), a substantial 79.5 per cent of respondents said it was somewhat to extremely important to resolve the problem. This is less than the 87.5 per cent of respondents with the highest valued problems (the fourth quartile) who said it was important to resolve the problem. Nonetheless, 79.5 per cent is a large proportion, indicating that people attach a high level of seriousness to problems of lower monetary value. This pattern is consistent for all problems with statistically significant results. This demonstrates that people attach importance to justiciable problems that are serious and difficult to resolve even if the monetary value is very modest.

Table 34 presents a similar analysis using as a measure of importance of problems respondents' perception that the problem made their daily lives difficult.

Table 34: Difficulty Caused in Daily Life by Problems of Different Monetary Value

Consumer Problem
Problem Correlation Between Monetary Value and Difficult for Daily Life Percent Indicating the problem Caused Difficulties in Daily Life
Lowest Quartile Highest Quartile
Purchase of Expensive Item Phi = .31c2 = 33.7,p = .0008 29.3 61.1
Repairs or Renovations Not statistically significant -- --
Purchase of Services Phi = .31c2 = 29.2, p = .004 37.5 53.6
Product Safety Not statistically significant -- --
Rejection of Insurance Claim Phi = .43c2 = 24.5,p = .02 18.2 65.4
Debt Problem
Problem Correlation Between Monetary Value and Difficult for Daily Life Percent Indicating the problem Caused Difficulties in Daily Life
Lowest Quartile Highest Quartile
Bankruptcy Not statistically significant    
Harassment by Collection Agency Phi = .33c2 = 28.5, p = .005 47.5 74.6
Unfairly Refused Credit Not statistically significant -- --
Dispute over Bill or Invoice Phi = .26c2 = 26.9,p = .008 26.4 45.3
Collecting Money Owed Phi = .24c2 = 22.4,p = .03 26.5 62.2

Using the degree to which the problem made daily life difficult as a measure of the seriousness of the problem produces the same conclusion as importance to resolve the problem as an indicator of seriousness. Generally, the higher the monetary value of the problems, the greater the extent to which respondent's said it made their normal day-to-day lives difficult. This is reflected in the phi statistics showing the strength of the correlation between the quartile range of monetary value and the self-reported degree of difficulty caused for people's daily lives. However, the percentages of respondents having problems with monetary values in the lowest quartile who said the problem made their daily lives somewhat to extremely difficult suggests that even the problems representing low monetary value are important to the people experiencing them.

Looking at problems from the point of view of the people who experience them, problems that might, from an external point of view, be considered minor are viewed as serious and important. It is clear, based on these observations, that problems that are perceived to be important are legitimately so regardless of their monetary value, and there ought to be mechanisms available to assist people to resolve them.

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