“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?