People often ask me why I became a lawyer or why I do what I do. Only half-jokingly, I tell them that I became a lawyer so that I can afford to hunt and fish. Seriously, that is part of it. Concrete and asphalt have never held a glimpse of God as far as I am concerned. I have pounded my tired feet on a lot of both just so I would have a chance later on to go hunting or fishing. God did not invent Golf, which I have heard to be a very frustrating game. I understand that you have to be “handicapped” to even play it for very long. (Is that handicap mental or physical or both? I have often wanted to ask). Bowling is done indoors and although I like throwing large heavy objects and the sound the ball makes when it crashes into the pins, I don’t think I could make a hobby of it. All the speed racers I know have a hard time at airports and metal detectors because the OEM parts God provided to them to begin with at birth are now supplemented with metal screws, titanium rods and steel plates.
But, when you are in a place and privileged to know that you are seeing nature as God created and intended, that is special. Whether you are sitting in a deer stand overlooking an oak bottom, or sitting on a lake or walking beside the ocean, there is some semblance of The Alpha and The Omega. There is some escape from the things that man has created. There is moment of peace and tranquility. I’ll take that over frustrating rules and sports rivalries any day.
JOB 12: 7 “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
8 or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you.
9 Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?
10 In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”
For a person who likes being outdoors, spending most of my time working at a desk is very hard (to tortuous), both mentally and physically. So, why do I do it? One reason is that I despise unfairness and that is big part of me. I do not tolerate bullies. One of my proudest moments as a parent was when my football-playing son was in the 6th grade and had just started middle school and he was sent to the vice-principal’s office (who was also a High School Coach) for fighting other kids at school. I hated getting those phone calls at work. He always called me before he talked to my son and told me that he had a tape to watch (they had cameras in the hallway ceilings in that school), but first he wanted my permission to question my son over what happened. The Coach told me there was zero tolerance over physical violence (School Board policy) and that my son had been in a fight, whether he started it or not, that he would be in trouble or worse yet, suspended from school or even kicked out, if it was bad enough. Sometimes my son would call me before the principal did and tell me he had done nothing wrong. Inevitably, after long thought interrupting minutes had passed, the phone would ring a second time and the Coach would tell me that he had watched the video, that what happened was some big 8th graders had picked on a small 6th grader (classmate of my son) between classes and that my son had slammed the other kids up against the wall and told them to back off or he would do worse. (My son was an offensive lineman and a very good one). The Coach would tell me he was not going to suspend my son (even though the official “Zero Tolerance” policy absolutely required that both parties be punished, without exception). My son would not tolerate the strong picking on the weak. I was a proud dad indeed. These phone calls continued periodically throughout my son’s middle school years, but I think by the time of high school, the boys had figured it all figured out. When my son walked down the High School hallways loudly kicking the heels of his cowboy boots into the floor, I suppose that a Sheriff’s respect was paid. I always told the Coach, in no uncertain terms, that I could not possibly care less what the “policy” was – that if he was defending himself or others, that such would always be more than fine with me and that I would defend my son’s actions in that regard. I think the Coach got a kick out of it, and from watching the tapes, because he was “just doing his job.”
I have my own ZERO TOLERANCE as well, and it is for people and companies who think they have a right to make other people less safe. We all have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Who among us has the right to take that from other people? Does the right for a business to make a greater profit outweigh our rights as individuals to safety? Does someone’s cell phone give them the right to not watch the road in front of them and to slam into the back of someone else who was just sitting there stopped and minding their own business?
A defense I often get in cases – “well, it was just a quick thing, a momentary lapse and we all do that at times, stuff happens, bad stuff just happens”. No, No, No – it is a choice to put other people in danger. You either are safe and considerate where other people are concerned – or you are not – there is no in between. It all boils down to THE GOLDEN RULE and being considerate of others. When I taught my son to drive – I told him to drill it into himself that before he drove, every time he put the key into the ignition switch, that he was to religiously tell himself “I can kill myself or others”. EVERY TIME remind yourself of this, I had said. You have to stay hyper-focused on the road. There is no in between – that text message or whatever other distraction there may be can wait. Is the drunk driver being considerate of others when they put their own pleasure and over-indulgence ahead of the safety of other people in the community?
So, what happens when a person is wrongfully hurt? Thousands of years later, our civil justice system is no longer one of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. We no longer have blood feuds that last for generations when a member of another family hurts one of ours. We can’t go out and take a pound of flesh back. If another man hurts my wife or child in a car wreck, I can’t go over his house and take it up in person with him out back. While that might feel good (or not depending on just how big a boy the other fella is), the result would be chaos. We have rules in a civilized society – we are to be civil to each other. The Seventh Amendment to our Constitution provides that can go to court with a civil case and let a jury decide what should happen. Since we can’t get a pound of flesh, we convert everything – all harms and losses – into dollar bills. It is either blood or money, that is how our society has come to deal with mayhem and to resolve injuries and damages, and these days it is just resolved with money, like it or not.
Another development in civilization has been the business of insurance against loss. I can insure myself or my car or my business and if I am at fault and hurt someone else, the insurance company will step in and pay the loss so I do not have to (is how it is supposed to work). Theoretically, that keeps the person I hurt or their family from coming over and kicking my butt. So, what do y’all think insurers companies are concerned with? Protecting their insured from loss? No, the number one and only purpose of a corporation’s existence is to make money for its stock holders. The insurance adjuster is not bringing food to the sick or putting flowers on graves – they are trying to save their company money and to make money for their stock holders. That’s the bottom line. If you think I am not speaking the truth – please look up the profit margins for every insurance company in America. They may squawk that paying claims raises rates for others, but that is hogwash when compared to the money they rake in as profits. They would not be in the risk business in the first place unless it was very highly profitable for them. Just for kicks, I looked up the price for an ETF called iShares U.S. Insurance ETF. An ETF, or “Exchange Traded Fund”, is a pool that holds lots of different stocks, so an investor can buy in to it without having to own every single stock that it is made up of. Many ETF’s are industry specific in the stocks they hold, so you can invest very broadly in an entire industry versus individual companies, which allows you to take advantage of industry trends, assuming that such economic sector is profitable. This particular one holds stock in numerous liability (property and casualty) insurance companies, the names of which you would easily recognize. In 2017, this ETF saw an increase in value of 14.24%. That is a lot better than the 2% or less you might be able to get on a long term bank CD. Over the past 5 years, this ETF has gone up an astounding 110.17%. The sky might be falling, but it is raining money.
Just so you get some sense of just how false insurance companies public claims about their losing money are, here is how health insurers have done lately:
Please understand this – Safety is always expressed in dollars and cents. Dollars also represent the importance of the Rule that has been broken. All safety rules came about because someone either got hurt or killed, typically a lot of people. Other people looked at what happened and thought how it could be prevented from happening again (from happening to them or their family members). Laws and rules were written. For instance, after we got cars, people died or were badly hurt when the cars they were in got hit by trains while crossing the railroad tracks. Eventually rules were made to require crossing arms, gates, bells, and lights at railroad crossings. Horns had to be sounded by train engineers when approaching a road crossing, etc. BUT it took people dying before that was ever though of and done. Why are we required to stop at stop signs and red lights? Because people will be killed if we don’t. Pretty simple, but that is where we get safety rules from.
When the violation of a safety rules results in some injured person or a deceased person’s family getting a large amount of money, “tort reformers” want to scream out about how unfair that is. But the greater good of the verdict is missed entirely. I can tell you that if I know that I can be sued for millions of dollars if I text and drive distracted or drunk and I end up hurting or killing someone, then I am thereby discouraged from ever doing it. And the people who hear about such a verdict will be discouraged from doing that as well! In the law, this concept is called DETERRENCE. If the trucking company knows that tired drivers kill people, and that can cost them a lot of money, then hopefully they will obey the rules and let their drivers take off enough time to sleep. Let’s suppose that XYZ Trucking hears that ABC Trucking had to pay money (or their insurer did) because a driver they let violate the safety rules that restricts the maximum hours that truckers can drive, and hurt someone when they fell asleep. It is perfectly predictable that the safety people at the other company, XYZ Trucking, would THEN want to give their drivers enough time off for them to properly rest and be safe on the road. So, there is a ripple effect in the greater community and we personal injury lawyers call that deterrence. It makes the entire community safer.
Insurance companies and their lawyers certainly do not want communties and jurors to know that Deterrence is a major purpose and function of tort or personal injury law. Here is what the Georgia Supreme Court says about that: “[t]he “prophylactic” factor of preventing future harm has been quite important in the field of torts. The courts are concerned not only with compensation of the victim, but with admonition of the wrongdoer. When the decisions of the courts become known, and defendants realize that they may be held liable, there is of course a strong incentive to prevent the occurrence of the harm.” Denton v. Conway Southern Express, 402 S.E.2d 269, 261 Ga. 41 (1991).
I think we ought to all follow the Golden Rule and make things as safe as we can for the other fellow. But, what about the weak, the unprivileged, the undereducated, the less powerful people? (and by those terms I mean ALL OF US when compared to big insurance companies and powerful corporations). We all deserve a fair level playing field, whether we know how the government’s civil justice system works or not. That is where I come in. I realized a long time ago, long before I was ever thinking of going to law school, that lawyers can have a lot of power. Personal injury lawyers have been demonized in the press and in the government (and some should be judging by their distasteful tv ads). When Shakespeare wrote the famous line of “First off, let’s kill all the lawyers”, he was actually writing about how the characters would plan to overthrow the government and cause anarchy. Lawyers, especially trial lawyers, make everyone follow the rule of law and therefore act as public servants for the greater good. I have been a prosecutor in criminal cases, both in the Army and in the civilian world. Prosecutors enforce the law. Personal injury lawyers enforce safety rules in civil cases and help to fulfill the deterrent function of safety rules and the law. I am proud to call myself a Plaintiff’s Personal Injury Lawyer. I am a Deterrent Lawyer and a Community Safety Advcocate.
BOTTON LINE: Why do I do what do? I am a personal injury lawyer because I think what I do makes the communities in which I practice safer places for all of us to work and live. By holding wrongdoers accountable and by stopping insurance companies’ unfair practices and undervaluing of injury claims, I also hopefully help my clients to retain some sense of comfort that their health, well-being, and families have not been forgotten and steamrolled by big business.
NEXT UP: Two Keys to the Courthouse
Until then, may we love one another and treat each other as we would wish to be treated ourselves.