Pam sat on the leather couch in my office, assuring me for the third time during our initial consultation that she was not a litigious person. She emphasized that she was not one of “those people” on the lookout for ways to profit from a car accident.
“But after that insurance adjuster told me the ridiculous amount they were offering to pay to cover my medical bills and injuries,” Pam said, “I knew I needed help.” Over the next several months I worked with Pam and helped her settle her claims for several times more than what the insurance adjuster previously claimed was his maximum offer. By the end, Pam understood that hiring an attorney to counsel her and fight for her interests did not make her litigious or one of “those people” at all. Working with an attorney only meant that Pam now had someone representing her best interests against an insurance company that was busy representing its shareholders’ best interests. Where does the concern about being seen as litigious come from? Why do many people, like Pam, avoid seeking an attorney’s help sooner after an accident? First, I believe the hesitation to seek legal help after an accident comes largely from the insurance companies’ campaigns for tort reform. We all remember the “hot coffee” cases and other extreme cases that were circulated as examples of a frivolous, run-away lawsuit culture. We also all remember how frivolous suits were blamed for the exploding costs of physician liability insurance. The campaign against frivolous suits was largely successful in bringing tort reform issues to light, but in the end there has been a deep chilling effect on many people with legitimate and serious injury claims. No one wants to be one of “those people” who are causing so many problems because of their lawsuits, so many injured people refrain from seeking legal counsel until absolutely forced to do so. Second, many of my clients cite personal injury attorney advertising as a major deterrent. They usually point to advertising that appears to brag about the amount of money a person has recovered for a specific injury as very off-putting because the focus is on the dollar figure rather than on the person and his or her recovery. My personal clients are often relieved to hear a different message from me that focuses on local and caring (yet aggressive when appropriate) representation. Finally, I believe many are concerned over being “litigious” because many think all cases that are handled by an attorney go to court. However, the truth is that the majority of the cases I handle settle without even filing a lawsuit, and it is only the very small minority of suits that go all the way to the trial stage. The truth is that well over 90% of injury claims settle without ever going to trial in a courtroom. I always encourage people to seek counsel after an accident or major loss occurs. In my practice, the consultation is always free, and I am always happy to help families explore how best to proceed after a traumatic injury or loss. At our last meeting, Pam stopped in the foyer, thanked me, and said “I only wish I came to you sooner.”