I was invited to attend a networking event the other day. I am sure you are familiar with these local events; you meet other people in the business community and listen to a brief presentation about their businesses, a 60 second "snapshot" view of their products or services. I was invited to "spotlight" my company, thus, I was given time for a longer presentation. Rather than focusing on “selling” my firm and its services to these non-lawyers and non-injury victims, I decided to focus my presentation on the topic that most of my InjuryBoard posts focus upon: "Safety". I explained that if people and, especially, corporations were more honest, more careful, more caring in their business and leisure lives; if more people and more corporations put a premium on quality, pride and safety, there would be less lawsuits. I argued that people only sue other people and corporations when they are wronged in some way, when a breach of safety or a standard of care causes an injury or disability. Even with such a breach, I argued, if the injury cause by the breach is not serious, most people do not pursue litigation. It is far too expensive to pursue what some have called "frivolous" lawsuits.
As I was leaving the meeting, a gentleman who I shall call “Max” stopped me. He was surprised that an attorney would speak about safety and lawsuit reduction. He asked me if I wanted to grab a cup of coffee and talk some more. As we sat down, he advised that he was sick of "lawsuit abuse", was an advocate of tort reform, and was pleased that I was doing my part to reduce the amount of lawsuits that are being filed in America. Max is not alone in his distorted opinion; even though his opinion is not reality, I felt that this represented a "teachable", not "preach-able" moment for me. So, I decided to stay calm and educate, not sell.
I shared with Max that Michigan is one of the most heavily tort reformed states in the union and that conservative judges, in recent years, have decimated the civil justice system. There are unreasonably high thresholds for recovery in certain types of cases, fictional standards that prevent liability findings in others, and unreasonably low damage caps on many more. I asked him if he was familiar with a gentleman who lost his entire family, his wife and two young sons, to a drunk driver, a few years ago. He recalled the gentleman and was surprised to learn that today, almost five years later, his case was still pending in the court system, because of the "delay, deny, confuse and refuse" strategies of the insurance companies involved. And these tactics were practiced not only by the carrier for the drunk, but by the man’s own 1st party no-fault carrier, a company to whom he had paid premiums for years. I told him about another gentleman was awarded $49 Million after an auto accident left him paralyzed from the neck down. "That’s outrageously high", said Max. I informed him that because the insurance limits for the defendant were only $100,000, the gentleman could not collect anywhere near the amount awarded, that the defendant could go bankrupt on any amounts over the policy limits and that Michigan does not recognize "bad faith". Thus, the fact that the insurance company made this man pursue the case for years, to obtain a meager recovery, could not be penalized. If Michigan did not have a unlimited 1st party medical benefit under the no-fault statute, this man would be penniless, with no access to medical or attendant care services. Suddenly, Max did not think the award was so outrageous. I also told him the story of a woman who was awarded $2.5 million as the result of a misdiagnosis of colon cancer; she never saw the money she won (which was capped under Michigan law); the money went to her surviving family members, because the misdiagnosis cost this woman her life.
I asked Max: How much money would you give up your body, from the neck down, for? The man who was paralyzed for life got his share of $100,000 and lifetime medical benefits. Is that enough? I asked Max. How much money is his wife’s life worth to him? If a misdiagnosis took her life, what compensation would he seek? Was she worth $2.5 million, or more? If he lost his wife and children to the recklessness of a useless, selfish, drunk driver, how would he like to wait 5 years for justice? How much is an entire family worth and should such a recovery be limited by insurance policy limits? If an insurance company jacks a needy and deserving victim around for no reason, shouldn’t the law allow for some standard of punishment to the offending insurance company? Not in Michigan, I told him.
Of course, Max told me that no amount of money would be worth any of the events described above. I asked him, how he would pay his bills if he was no longer able to work and needed around-the-clock care? He struggled to answer because his wife is a stay-at-home mom with 3 kids. If she went back to work, they would need child care. As we concluded our meeting, Max said he hoped I would consider presenting at another of the upcoming networking meetings.
Today, I received a letter from Max. Here is an excerpt:
Thank you for your time and the “lesson.” Never doubt that you can make a difference. It may take some time, but your commitment to change can help make change possible. I hope that large corporations begin to change their focus from lawsuit restriction to lawsuit prevention. I hope careless people who would drive drunk would recognize the devastation that their senseless decisions could cause. I realize the meaning of your message: if more businesses and more people focused on responsibility and safety we would have a lot less lawsuits. That tort reformers complain about "lawsuit abuse" does not mean that there aren’t serious miscarriages of justice and many more instances of "defense abuse".
Perhaps it is time to re-think trying to prevent lawsuits by lobbying for legislation that places unreasonable restrictions on damage recoveries and court access; perhaps we should, instead, lobby for sanctions and sensible penalties against safety violators, especially, repeat offenders and serial violators. The emphasis should be placed on accident prevention, not lawsuit prevention. Maybe we "tort reformers" should re-think our positions; there is no adequate value to be placed on human life, human suffering and human quality of life. Adequate compensation and punishment may cause future safety violators to think twice. I have heard your message and I hope you will continue to educate others before it is too late. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Max has certainly seen the light. Are you ready to make a change for safety’s sake? All of us, each and every one of us, are responsible for the safety of our mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, daughters and sons. As homeowners, we are responsible for the safety of our neighbors and visitors. As employers and business people, we are responsible for the safety of our employees and our customers. If you believe in this powerful "safety first" message, get out there and make yourself known and heard. Network, create your own radius of influence. By effectively networking, in person or through social media outlets, you can educate, inspire action, broaden horizons, change minds (perhaps one at a time, but you have to start somewhere), prevent bad consequences, serious injury or death. And, at the same time, create a name, increase brand awareness, and, boost your own credibility, all at the same time. Sounds like a win-win proposition to me.
Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, which helps provide cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed while personal injury litigation is being pursued. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series—Mark Bello is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation. He is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.