I’ve always liked lawyers.
In fact, I loved two of them — my best friend and my wife of 18 years. But recently I’ve been put off by the ambulance-chasing tactics of personal-injury lawyers.
I was involved in a freeway accident in which my Honda Civic was sideswiped by another car, sending me spinning into the ditch.
I wasn’t hurt and I said so at the time. But you’d never know it based on the dozen letters I received within the next 10 days.
I realize that personal-injury lawyers play a real role in achieving justice for truly aggrieved victims.
One of my friends won very valuable verdicts (millions of dollars) for victims of medical malpractice and corporate chiseling.
But he doesn’t send out letters to a universe of potential victims, and he routinely turns down those whose claims are fanciful or frivolous.
Meanwhile, the lawyers — ready to do battle on my behalf for injuries I did NOT have — came from St. Paul, St. Louis Park, Minneapolis and beyond.
Here’s a sampling of their pitches:
“You’re No Dummy. You have been injured in an accident that wasn’t your fault. Call Us Now!”
“Sorry to hear you’ve been involved in an accident. Besides the trauma of the accident, you may now face medical bills, car repair bills, wage loss, insurance companies that drag their feet on paying money they owe or the possibility of no insurance coverage.”
“It has come to our attention that you were recently involved in an auto accident. Quite often people in your situation are not sure of their legal rights and would like to consult an attorney.”
This last letter seemed more responsible and realistic than the others.
However, the letter from the National Victims Compensation Group in Washington, D.C., left me breathless and bewildered:
“Hello ______________.” (Apparently they didn’t know who I was, but that didn’t seem to be a stumbling block.) “Due to your recent accident and injuries, you have qualified for an immediate $1,000 cash settlement advance.”
In addition, the national victim’s group said it would give me the name of local attorneys who would fight for me and doctors who would “document, treat and rehabilitate” my injuries.
When I called the group’s 800 number, a woman offered to refer me to a local representative. I declined to give my name and effectively ended the charade.
Sure, you could dismiss all of this as shameless huckstering, but the implications are more serious: Frivolous lawsuits from baseless claims can certainly drive up the cost of health care for all of us.
I’m hoping that the Affordable Care Act is modified to make it harder for people to file such claims.
In return, perhaps the law could also make it easier for the government to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices.
While the response of the lawyers to the accident was annoying, the reaction of the teenage driver who struck my car was gratifying.
She came rushing over to ask if I was hurt.
Then she told me the accident “was entirely” her fault. Thinking her vehicle had been brushed by a car to her left, she swerved into my lane — and my car.
When her lower lip started to quiver, I told her we were both lucky and that I admired her courage and candor.
She told me she’d never had an accident before and this was such a shock.
She told me she was a senior about to graduate from high school, with plans to enter a private college in Minnesota this fall.
I suspect she will do just fine.
That made two of us — without any help from a lawyer.
Dave Nimmer has had a long career as a reporter, editor and professor. Now retired, he has no business card, but plenty to do.
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