Restoring The Public’s Faith In Lawyers, One Client At A Time
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18 wheeler accident

“So it should heal in no time.  Besides, your client has degenerative disc disease and that wasn’t caused by the accident.”  I hear this sort of thing a lot from insurance adjusters in back injury claims as they try to keep their claim payments low.   I don’t blame them for serving their employer’s interest.  Their employer, frequently a multi-billion dollar insurance company, has only one interest, and that is to make a profit.   But the unfortunate reality of profitability in the insurance world is that profits come at the expense of inadequately compensated, or often uncompensated victims of injury.   But the stock ticker has no conscious, and the insurance company has no concern or care for the injured.  The almighty dollar rules.  And contrary to catchy advertising, the insurance mega-corps are not our good neighbors, do not hold us in good hands, and the only personal responsibility known to the mega-corp is to be responsible to its profit motive.  So I don’t blame the adjuster.  She’s just doing her job.

But I won’t tolerate disingenuous medical arguments.  Let me explain about “soft tissue injury” and “degenerative disc disease.”   These phrases are commonly tossed around by the intellectually lazy as half-hearted bases for inadequate payments to the injured.   Inflamed and injured intervertebral discs are soft tissue.  They are not bone.  And to be sure, injury to an intervertebral disc can be and frequently is very painful and debilitating, and at the core of chronic, life-long back pain, a leading cause of missed work in the United States.  Injured discs often necessitate surgery on the back, and anyone remotely familiar with surgery of the back knows that it is never a good thing and always marks the beginning of a new stage of life for the patient – a stage of life where common ordinary physical tasks are difficult or impossible.    So, “No, Ms. Insurance Lady, it won’t heal in time.  It is here to stay.”

But as we age, we degenerate.  Every body system begins the slow process of aging.  There is nothing about a 40 year old body that is better than a 30 year old body.  This is a simple truth.   And to some extent or another, our intervertebral discs have begun the slow process of degeneration – of aging – at some point perhaps younger than 30.  For others, maybe 40.  But to be sure, as we get older, our discs become more dried out (medically known as dessicated) and fragile.   And yet, most of us are walking around at 40 or 50 without any debilitating back symptoms or injury even though we may have some degree of degenerative disc disease.   But, that same person, when involved in what may otherwise seem to be a relatively minor rear-ender car wreck, may then suffer very severe, even profound symptoms in the lower back or neck.  What was symptom-free and, for all practical purposes, harmless degenerative disc disease before the wreck, has become a debilitating life-changing injury because of a wreck.

There is a time honored and universally accepted concept in law commonly known as “take your victim as you find him.”  This legal doctrine means that a wrongdoer – whether a careless and negligent person or an intentional wrongdoer – is responsible for the injury and resulting harms he causes even if the injured person was predisposed to injury before the wrongdoing.   If I were to carelessly knock down a weak and frail elderly person, causing him to fall down and break a hip – even when a younger and healthier person would not have been hurt -  would any reasonable person say that I am not responsible for his broken hip and the related harms and losses he suffered?  Of course not.  No reasonable person would say, “well, he wouldn’t have broken his hip if he weren’t old and fragile, so you’re not responsible for his broken hip even though you carelessly knocked him to the ground.”  Yet that is the equivalent of what the insurance adjuster is saying when she attempts to minimize a claim by reference to degenerative disc disease, which has no significance without consideration of when symptoms first began.   So, the adjuster is either intentionally disingenuous – cruelly attempting to deny a portion of a legitimate claim – or she is intellectually lazy, fundamentally unscientific, and just offering nonsensical gibberish hoping it will stick like spaghetti thrown against the wall.

But, as I’ve said, the adjuster is just doing a job, I suppose.  Well, I’m not just doing a job.  I’m pursuing justice.  I’m advocating for reasonable solutions for my clients.  I’m working within the framework of the law to right wrongs.   Fortunately, the ultimate decision maker on this sort of thing is not an adjuster, but a jury of ordinary and unbiased people.

Fortunately, indeed.

Anger, judgment, and peace

October 18th, 2013 | Posted by Scott in perspective and stories - (0 Comments)

Anger is everywhere.  I see it in grocery stores, traffic, doctor offices, elevators, soccer fields, and even church.  People are tired, frustrated, over worked, under paid, and rushing to their next event on their busy calendar.  Why can’t we just slow down?

Judgment of others is everywhere.  We all do it.  I try not to, but I do.  I’m better than I used to be about this, but I still do it.  Heck, I’m doing it now.  I judge those who I perceive to be judging others too harshly.  When I see the obviously angry lady in the checkout line, I think to myself, why are you so mad?  Calm down.  It’ll be okay.  And in that sentiment is judgment.  Maybe this angry lady was just informed that her child is using drugs, or has just been told she has tumor but doesn’t know yet if it’s cancer, or maybe her husband cheated on her, or she needs a new transmission.  I don’t know.   I wish I could help her. I wish I could just sit down with her for ten minutes, maybe understand what is going on in her world.  Maybe I could help her find peace.

I am searching for peace.  That’s an awfully difficult thing sometimes in this crazy world we have now, but it’s the most essential task I have before me.  It is my journey.  Through peace we find clearer thinking, better judgment, understanding of others, kindness and love.  The road to these things always runs first through our becoming self-aware and in finding our own balance of our many roles.  In years past, I did not even know what that meant.

I believe peace, self-awareness, and balance are essential for all of us to function as well as possible in our busy worlds.  And that is certainly true for the trial lawyer.   Through self-awareness comes genuine understanding of what is important in our lives.  I suggest there are universal truths here – that what is truly important is the same for all of us, and that we are all connected through what is truly important.  It’s not money, fancy cars, or big houses.  It’s birthday parties, days on the lake, walks on the beach, rolling on the floor with babies, coffee with parents in the early morning, Saturday morning breakfasts and afternoon BBQs, and sitting on the porch during the rain.   These things, and countless other activities that you might describe, are the gravy, the good stuff, the spice of life.

When debilitating injury, or even much more modest injury, touches a family, the “gravy” and “spice” suffer.  Often times, these good times are completely taken from a family.   A family is then left with a skeleton of their former life.  The joy is drained away, smiles are rare if not forgotten entirely, happiness is a fading memory, and each family member is left instead with worry and stress.   And to be sure, each family member suffers a different variety of the loss, but everyone suffers.  True injury litigation starts with a keen appreciation of these undeniable realities.  And this appreciation requires a level of compassion and understanding of the notion that some people perhaps can’t help but to be angry because of the circumstances in their lives and their failed journey to find their own peace.

But we must all try.  It is our journey.

 

The wonderful struggle

October 18th, 2013 | Posted by Scott in perspective and stories - (0 Comments)

I had a great weekend.  I worked in the yard and in the house.   The kids helped until I turned them loose to do their own thing – riding bikes, skating, playing with friends – as kids should do.  As my father did with me, I require my children to work around the house and in the yard.  I don’t spare them from difficult, tedious, or dirty jobs.  In fact, the dirtier, the better.  They moan and groan, of course, but they know they must work before they can play.   It is the struggle we all face and I believe it best to teach them these lessons early.

And then there’s Monday morning.  As every Monday, I wake early to swim before work.  Strenuous exercise tends to clear my mind.  And then, it’s off to work.  The relaxation of a great weekend is instantly gone as I return to the daily grind.  I’m not complaining, as this work is an integral part of the reason I was placed on this earth.  But it’s not easy.  I struggle with the usual difficulties of litigation every day, and suffer the anxiety and stress that comes with it.   And I worry about all the usual things, not just about work, but about things with my family.

And then I meet with clients, and am instantly reoriented to the notion that my troubles are fantastic luxuries in comparison to the typical plight of my clients, who endure hardships I do not know.    During a typical day it is not unusual to hear of a child’s disabling and permanent injury, leaving parents like broken shells and trying just to hold on.   I speak with fathers and husbands so overtaken with stress and worry at their inability to work and provide for their family that they do not know whether to cry or curse, and often do both.   I speak with mothers overwhelmed with the daily trials of life in ways that I worry for their continued sanity.   I see children dithering along behind their near broken parents, the innocence of their childhoods left behind them like toys in a resale shop.   A man who has become my friend wept openly yesterday in my office as he told me of his inability to buy his son new sneakers for the new school year.  It is tragic to witness these things, but these are the stories of my clients’ lives, and they are mine to carry.  I am proud to hold them, and to let these stories tumble around my head until I find ways to put the pieces together in compelling stories for a judge or jury.

And so my problems, I know, are not problems.  They are blips on the radar compared to the storms my clients typically face.  They are my luxuries.  We are blessed in every way, and I thank God for my wonderful struggle.

“Out here we used to call them bank robbers, now we call them personal injury lawyers.”   This catchy line was boldly printed on a political flyer I received in the mail several years ago by a campaign of an individual running for state representative in Louisiana.   The flyer remains posted in my office as a reminder that this sentiment is held by members of my community.   It saddens me that such a statement, which would be universally rejected as offensive if directed at any other profession, was so popular that it would be offered almost like a campaign slogan.   But I get it.

Personal injury lawyers are not well-liked.  We are seen, somehow, as a pariah, a public menace.  I ask myself how that can be.  I have devoted my professional life to this work, to helping people when they are down, often at great risk and expense to myself and my family.   When my clients’ medical bills are out of control, when they are out of work – unable to work, when their whole life is upside down and the family is in utter disarray, when all plans for the future are shattered and gone, I step in to try to help.  I come in to spend my time and money because I believe they have been wronged and need my help.  Sometimes we win and I recover the money I have spent to help the family, often paying light bills, mortgages, auto payments, grocery bills, school supplies, etc.  And sometimes I lose, and lose all money I have offered in the name of help.  I’m not complaining about occasionally losing that money – it’s what I signed up for and is an integral part of what I do.  But I don’t deserve to be called a bank robber.  And to be sure, my clients don’t consider me a bank robber.

So, how did we get here?   The answer is multi-factorial.  For starters, the insurance lobby is stronger and more well-funded than just about any other.  Insurance companies don’t like it when attorneys make them pay for the harms and losses experienced by others because of the carelessness of insureds.  Of course, we all have auto insurance to pay for the damages we may cause by our carelessness in causing a car wreck.  We all try not to be careless, but even the best drivers can make careless mistakes, and someone will have to pay for the harms caused.  It wouldn’t make sense or be fair for the non-negligent person to pay for the damages, so the insurance company of the at-fault driver must pay.  That’s why we have insurance.  But the insurance companies don’t like it.  I suppose the insurance industry is the only industry which hopes and wants its customers to never use its product.

But there’s more.  There has been abuse in the system.  It’s gone on for years, I suppose.  But, candidly, there is very little.  Judges have a keen eye for baseless cases and are quick to dismiss them, and lawyers can be sanctioned for bringing frivolous cases.   Defense lawyers are also very sharp and frivolous complaints don’t get by them.  And then there is the ultimate safeguard – the jury.  It’s possible to have one or two, or maybe three unreasonable jurors on a jury, but the odds of having a jury of twelve people (sometimes less) return an unreasonable verdict are extremely remote.  Sometimes they get it wrong, I’d say, but its very rare.

But still, lawyers like myself are demonized.  We’re “bank robbers.”  Shame on the politician for the name-calling and lack of respect shown to hard working men and women like myself.   And I’ll leave you with this rhetorical question – if the family member of this politician I mentioned is badly injured by a negligent driver, doctor, or product manufacturer, of if his insurance company refused to pay a claim to him that should be paid, do you think he will call a lawyer for help?