Three Lies You’ve Been Told About Personal Injury Law (and Lawyers)
When I first started working at a personal injury law firm in 1993, my impression of personal injury law had already been tainted by the media; I thought personal injury lawyers were the lowest on the lawyer totem pole. I wanted to practice corporate law, because I thought it was full of respectable lawyers who hadn’t sold their souls for money. The only reason I took the law clerk job at a personal injury firm was because I couldn’t get a job at a silk stocking law firm and, ironically, I needed the money.
Immediately after I started my law clerk job, I began to realize I’d been very, very wrong. My preconceptions were quickly dispelled by my future law partners, Vinse Barrett and Silas Eubanks, and the experience I had working at Eubanks & Barrett (the predecessor of Barrett, Fasig & Brooks). Here’s what I learned:
Myth # 1: Most personal injury plaintiffs are frauds.
Yes, at one time in my life I believed personal injury law was a haven for fraudulent claims and frivolous lawsuits. The first lesson I had as a law clerk was on case selection. Vinse and Silas were very clear about this- there is no time to waste on fraudulent cases. We took great pains to monitor every client’s credibility, and we refused to pursue cases that we didn’t believe in. (One of the best parts of practicing personal injury law is that we get to pick and choose our cases.)
The personal injury attorneys at Barrett, Fasig & Brooks value honesty because it is the foundation of our success. The client’s credibility is the most important asset to a personal injury case. Juries are not easily fooled, and neither are insurance carriers. Insurance companies hire talented lawyers to defend these cases. In litigation, the truth comes out one way or the other.
Prosecuting these cases takes time and money. One of the worst experiences a personal injury lawyer can have is pursuing a case with passion and finding out it was based upon a lie. Fortunately, having represented thousands of clients, I can usually tell with some challenging questioning in the initial interview whether the client is being truthful, and I choose not to take any case where the potential client’s credibility is suspect.
I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but in my experience, the overwhelming majority of personal injury plaintiffs in Tallahassee have legitimate claims.
Myth #2: Most personal injury plaintiffs are just looking for easy money.
This is one of the biggest lies that has been propagated by insurance companies. When I have the privilege of picking a jury, I get to ask questions to the potential jurors. Almost inevitably, at least one of the jurors states the opinion that personal injury plaintiffs are just looking for easy money. I will go to my grave challenging this false assumption.
The vast majority of people I’ve met aren’t looking for a handout; they are looking for justice.
The law doesn’t provide charity money for people who have been injured. It provides fair compensation for what somebody lost due to somebody else’s carelessness. When a person is injured due to somebody else’s carelessness, the injured person has lost something of value.
He or she will incur medical bills and possibly lose wages. Not only that, the injured person spends time suffering and going back and forth to medical appointments when he or she could otherwise be enjoying life.
Time has value. The time a person spends suffering is gone forever. The “made whole doctrine” states that the goal of a negligence case is to make the plaintiff whole.
The law isn’t intended to give anybody a free ride. It is intended to provide fair compensation for the suffering a person endures and the loss of that person’s ability to enjoy life due to pain and limitation.
Myth #3: Insurance companies are here to help us and will look out for our best interests.
Did you know that almost all personal injury claims are paid for and defended by insurance companies, even though the name of an individual appears on the complaint? I can’t even count how many of my clients once believed that insurance companies are good neighbors with good, helping hands. The insurance company commercials are lies, but when you hear it over and over again, you start to believe it, until you make a claim.
The truth is that insurance companies are in the business of making a profit. They make profits by taking in as much money as they can in premiums, and paying as little as they can in claims. The shareholders of the insurance companies are so disconnected from the process they don’t care whether the company pays claims fairly or not.
The higher level executives are judged based on profit. Their salaries are based on profit. The entire industry is incentivized to delay, deny, and defend even legitimate claims. Their bean counters have figured out that only a fraction of the people who are denied claims will seek legal representation. Even then, only a fraction of those people are willing to take the time and effort to take the insurance company to trial.
It is in the insurance company’s best financial interest to deny the claim and delay it as much as possible, to ferret out the claimants who don’t have the tenacity to pursue the claim, then ultimately make a reasonable settlement offer when the trial date is impending. I’ve found that the number one most important motivating factor for an insurance carrier to become reasonable is a trial date.
Unfortunately, most plaintiffs don’t want to go through the process it takes to get that far. So, the insurance company profits, while the injured plaintiffs suffer an injustice.
I’ve had many clients tell me they didn’t believe personal injury law served a valid purpose, until it happened to them. They were injured due to someone else’s carelessness, and they realized how quickly and efficiently an injury can tear somebody’s life apart.
As personal injury lawyers, we can’t make the injury go away, but we can help an injured person get medical treatment, pick up the pieces of his or her life, and try to put it back together with the help of financial resources designed to make up for the suffered losses.