Tag Archives: Childhood Injury Attorney Bainbridge GA

GOVERNOR’S OFFICE OF HIGHWAY SAFETY

Overview

Georgia Personal Injury Attorney’s in Bainbridge, GA as well as statewide, saw an increase in cases overall in 2017.  Many Attorneys like Mark F. Milhollin / Milhollin Law have seen an increase in Truck (Semi-Truck), Auto, Motorcycle and Recreational Vehicle Injuries throughout 2017 that resulted in head Injuries, back Injuries, neck Injuries and unfortunately child Injuries suffered with and without seatbelts.

Many of the Injured have survived horrific accidents and although the level of medical care is fantastic in Georgia, many of these individuals sustain lasting/permanent disabilities (now and in the future).

After steadily declining since 2006, Georgia traffic fatalities increased dramatically in 2015, and increased again the following year. In 2016, the State of Georgia suffered 1,554 fatalities in motor vehicle crashes (an 8.5% increase from 2015). Impaired driving killed 368 persons in those crashes (a 2.7k increase over 2015), and unrestrained fatalities numbered 476 (up 15.8% from 2015). Two hundred and sixty-six (266) of the total 1,554 fatalities were related to speeding — a 2.7k increase over 2015. Although fatalities still have not returned to the levels seen in 2007, when Georgia experienced 1,641 traffic fatalities, the statistics continue to be troubling. The nation as a whole and our neighboring states all saw increases as well (U.S. up 5.6%, Alabama up 22.1%, Florida up 8.0%, South Carolina up 3.7%, and Tennessee up 8.2%). Preliminary estimates for 2017 suggest that the number and rate of fatalities may at last be decreasing again, thanks to GOHS’ evidence-based traffic safety enforcement plan.

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WHY I DO WHAT I DO

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.

WHY ARE Y’ALL MOVING TO BAINBRIDGE?

As my wife Margueritte and I have met and gotten the know some of the wonderful people in and around Bainbridge, after a while the polite question surfaces. It usually takes more than one meeting or introduction, but I can see the look in their eyes from the outset. They have lived in Bainbridge for at least a long time, if not their whole lives, as generations have before them. They all wonder “Why?” – “Why Bainbridge?”. Sometimes I guess folks can’t see what is right in front of them, because they have been standing too close to it to focus on it and see the big picture. It’s the old “can’t see the forest for the leaves on the trees” adage. So, please permit me to step back from the leaves on the trees and to give you my perspective of the forest:

why1

After having offices in Marietta and Kennesaw since 1992, my wife and I decided to move out of Metro Atlanta. Our children were grown and gone for the most part. We had both had more than enough of Atlanta traffic, where at times you can spend an hour and a half and not go 10 miles. My mom lived in South Georgia (I was born in Coffee County) and we started looking South of Cuthbert and West of Valdosta, to see what was appealing. You see, I am from a small town, where both sides were farmers for almost 100 years. Before that, both sides of my family lived in the mountains of North Georgia, long before the War of Northern Aggression, which both sides of my family had fought in.

In the early part of the last century they had all traded in steep red clay terraced farm land for the flat black sand dirt in Coffee County. As a child, my parents moved to Tucker, in DeKalb County, and my mom taught in a new school that we lived only four houses away from. At first, it was not so bad. We had bird dogs in a backyard pen and the vacant land behind our subdivision let us three boys continue to go afield on “safaris” and hunt rabbits and be mischievous boys (as God intended). Soon enough, another subdivision sprang up behind our house and took away that after school fun and we were then forced to rely on trips to rural areas and family farms to fulfill that basic need. Soon enough though, Tucker was not a small town anymore.

Well I was born in a small town
And I live in a small town
Prob’ly die in a small town
Oh, those small – communities

I spent most of my Summers in South Georgia, fishing and working in tobacco, and eventually went to Georgia Military College in Milledgeville. I loved the rich history of the school and found out that other family members before me had gone there as well. Men who’d grown up together and fought in wars together still gathered at the barber shop and the hardware store to mull over the state of the world. The Pharmacy, Five and Dime, and Army Navy Store were run by the same families. The same families still sent their sons and daughters to Georgia Military College and Georgia College. There was no Home Depot or Lowe’s or Wal-Mart. Milledgeville was a community and still very much a small town where people knew each other. After GMC, I went to Athens to attend the University of Georgia. I quickly found out that Athens was no small town anymore and I longed for Milledgeville again, where I went back to and finished my degree at Georgia College, with many friends that I had then known for years. After that, I attended various Army schools and ended up in the National Guard in Thomaston, Georgia for many years – another small town. I was building houses, swinging a hammer and on rainy days I looked over my possible entrance to law school and took the placement test. That Summer, I went back to Fort Benning to attend Infantry Mortar Platoon Officer School (way too much math in that pre-GPS age) and, two days before we were to graduate, I got notice from the Georgia State University College of Law that I could attend law school there if I could be there by Friday. We graduated Wednesday and I headed back to the big city. That was in 1987, over 30 years ago, and aside from some Army tours, and a few foreign countries, I have been in or near the big city ever since. However, my favorite law case has always been one that was “OTP”, that is “Outside the Perimeter” of Interstate 285 that surrounds and encircles Atlanta. I have been fortunate enough to represent people all over the state, as well as to be involved in cases in other states as well. Throughout, I always had the longing for smaller towns.

As my wife and I discussed escaping from Metro Atlanta, a lawyer friend in Albany, Robert Margeson, who I had done a few cases with, told us that Bainbridge would be a great place for us to live. I do personal injury cases and he said there was no one there who did only that type of law. I had been to Bainbridge many times, to duck hunt on Lake Seminole, and I knew the area and had met many fine people whenever I had been there. On faith, we started the roll the ball. It would be a slow process, as I had to downsize, finish up some courts cases and a trial or two. We would be moving both home and office, so it would be a logistical nightmare that we would be accomplishing day by day for months on end. The first step was getting out of my hunting club and cabin in Talbot County, which my son and I had been in for approximately 14 years. I packed out, sold my equity and the shack, and left there in May. Since August of 2017, we have been moving both house and office. In that process, we had to have a lot of work done on both locations and that process confirmed to us that we had made the best choice possible. One of the first people we met said he wished he had known me before, because he had been in a bad wreck and could not find anyone local who only did the type of case that I do, so he’d hired a big firm from out of state who had an office in Atlanta. He had never met his lawyer face to face. The sellers of the house we bought told us at closing that they were moving to Kennesaw. I actually felt sorry for them and wondered if they had any idea of what they were getting into.

After we had closed on the house purchase, I went by Boyd’s to get some barbeque to take to my wife at the house. While I was waiting for my to-go order, a fellow who was also waiting on his to go order, struck up a conversation with me and said that he had been badly injured at work from a defectively manufactured product six months before, and had been unable to return to work. At that late date, the product had disappeared and there wasn’t much that I could do for him. But, what he told me next stuck with me – he said “We don’t have anyone around her who does what you do, Bainbridge needs someone who does what you do”. I was moved to the point of tears. “Thank You God for confirming my mission. We acted and worked on faith and you gave me confirmation.”

For generations now, mostly during and after World War II, families have left the small towns. They left the farms and the way of life they’d known for what was conceived to be better opportunities, whether that was working for plane or car manufacturers, or carpet mills, or other big global corporate businesses. Most people who live in and around Atlanta now are not even from this State. That community has become millions of people, stuck in traffic, hammering away at their cell phones, always in a hurry and typically running late. Schools are the only real “community” left and that ends when your kids leave. When my mom retired from teaching school, she eventually returned to her family home in Broxton, Georgia, and was there when her mom “Granny Stella” lived out her last years, as well as her two sisters, my Great Aunts. My mom went to a small church and was always the first one to bring food to funerals, visit the sick, and take care of people, just like her mom and grandmother had done. She enjoyed her class reunions over the years, only to see the numbers left in attendance dwindle down each year. Recently, my uncle Fred moved from the big city where he had been for over 50 years, back to Coffee County, and this week married a girl he had known since high school. Love springs eternal …

All my friends are so small town
My parents live in a same small town
My job is so small town
Provides little opportunity, hey!

Educated in a small town
Taught to fear Jesus in a small town
Used to daydream in that small town
Another born romantic that’s me

But I’ve seen it all in a small town
Had myself a ball in a small town
Married an L.A. (Chicago) doll and brought her to this small town
Now she’s small town just like me

My wife and I went to The American on the square in Bainbridge the other day to eat lunch, which opened about the time we were first moving to Bainbridge. (If you have not been there to eat yet, get busy because you deserve it and will be very glad you did). We had heard that the owners, Heather and Chef Tyler, had picked Bainbridge to open their amazing restaurant because there was nothing like it here. That sounded eerily familiar to the advice I had been given earlier. My wife likes their food so much that she decided to get a bunch of gift certificates for Christmas. We had been told that we had been given the first gift certificate they ever issued by our real estate agent, who had helped us to get a house. We closed on a house right before they opened. Rollins chose well.

As my nineteen year old son and I and many others worked to rehab the office space I had chosen, right across from the courthouse, the community apparently took notice. My son was clearing brush and weeds and re-landscaping the street with flowers one Friday afternoon. He came rushing back in the office all excited and said ”Dad people are driving by and honking and yelling out their windows ‘looks good !!!’ and giving me the thumbs up.” I laughed at his state of surprise. You don’t get that in or near Atlanta, where he had done a lot of landscaping. Up North, you get neighbors who report you to City Hall or even call the police because your trash can sat out at the street a few extra hours, or you are not splitting firewood quick enough, or some rain water ran down their driveway. There is no sense of community there. My son had told me years back that he wanted a sense of community. Honestly, I could not provide him with much of one in Cobb County. I smiled and wanted to laugh whenever people in Atlanta asked if I knew lawyer so-and-so. There are over 10,000 lawyers in Metro Atlanta, so unless they do exactly what I do, chances are that I did not know them and would never even meet them. My son’s first impression of Bainbridge was that people care about their community – and about him. My mom came over from her house about two and half hours away, to visit us in Bainbridge, and as I was driving her home that night, she decided right then that she was moving to Bainbridge too. My wife and I were overjoyed that she would be coming to live with us. She has driven all over town checking it out and talking to people and hoeps ot be here full-time soon.

The other day we saw someone we knew on the Square, Rollins. He had another gentleman with him, whom he introduced us to. All four of us had arrived at The American at the same time and we were very happy when they said they’d join us for lunch. We were taking Chef Tyler some citrus, and as we chatted and got to know John, we found out he was from a small town in Alabama, but he and his wife had lived and worked in big cities all over the country. They had recently re-settled in Bainbridge. Inevitably, the subject of conversation got around to us two couples being newcomers to Bainbridge and John asked if people around town had asked us why we moved to Bainbridge. He and my wife and I all thought that was very funny, because there really are too many good reasons to list. Rollins talked about how he had grown up within a stone’s throw of where we sat. I thought about how lucky he was and hoped that he knew that. (I think he did). Looking out over the square from our booth, the simplest most obvious answer to “Why are y’all moving to Bainbridge?” was out there – staring right at all of us:

Bottom Line: Bainbridge is simply a wonderful place filled with wonderful people. There is no place we’d rather be and have the privilege to call “home”.

No I cannot forget where it is that I come from
I cannot forget the people who love me
Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town
And people let me be just what I want to be

Got nothing against a big town
Still hayseed enough to say
Look who’s in the big town
But my bed is in a small town
Oh, that’s good enough for me

Well I was born in a small town
And I can breathe in a small town
Gonna die in a small town
Ah, that’s prob’ly where they’ll bury me

Post Script – As I was writing this, a childhood friend from Tucker texted me and 19 of our other classmates from Brocket Elementary School. We had all gone on to Tucker High School together and some had graduated college together as well. It was a special group of people. This friend had married a man from Thomasville many years back and they had raised a fine family together there. I have seen her a few times since High School, but she had texted us today to let our “community” know that one of us had fallen ill and was in the hospital and unlikely to make it. People in a community care about and have compassion for one another. Enough said.

NEXT UP: WHY I DO WHAT I DO.

Until then, I wish everyone a Happy New Year, a peaceful and prosperous 2018, and may we love one another and treat each other as we would wish to be treated ourselves.

Lyrics in bold = to “Small Town” – courtesy of John Mellencamp, ©

TWO KEYS TO THE COURTHOUSE

In criminal cases, we have a constitutional right to a lawyer – free of charge – if we can not afford one. We call this a “court appointed lawyer”. However, in a private civil case, there is no such right. You have to hire a lawyer to represent you. That lawyer will typically charge you by the hour against a sum of money called a retainer. Once that retainer is gone, they will ask you for another retainer. If you can not pay the additional retainer, then the lawyer will typically withdraw from the case (no one can afford to work for free for very long, if at all). If you are the defendant in a civil case and you have insurance which would cover the claim, then the insurance company will pay for your lawyer (even though that lawyer’s client is really the insurance company and not you). So, what do you do when you have been injured and you can not afford to pay a lawyer by the hour to represent you?

When I was still in my last year law school, I had already taken the bar exam in February and was waiting on my score and diploma. Most of my class work was done. I was headed back into the U.S. Army and was working as a prosecutor in the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office in Atlanta. I got to try my first jury trial by myself under the Third Year Practice Act, which is a law in Georgia that lets some law students work as lawyers, but only in a governmental setting and with supervision. I asked the senior prosecutor if he knew where I might could find some paying work and he told me he had a former student who was looking for someone to clerk in their office. I applied and interviewed and soon found myself working in a real law office with real cases, not the fictional ones we argued in law school. These were real people: divorces, real estate closings, and some personal injury cases. I had always wanted to do personal injury cases, but you have to have some trial experience first, so I had planned to try cases in the Army to begin with, because I had some rank already, I understood the structure of the Army, and due to my prior service I would make a bit more money than I would have in a civilian prosecutors office (the other best place to get trial experience). Eventually, after a few years, I planned to become a civilian trial lawyer.

One day we got a call from a guy who said he had slipped and fallen outside a convenience store and had hurt his back. This fellow had been given the run around by the insurance company and needed some relief from his pain. The lawyer who took the call did not think much of the potential claim, but told me that I could bring the guy in and talk to him, if I wanted to, and see if I could make something of it. The man and his wife came in and he was in pain (“fire” running down his leg, which I supposed was sciatica) and explained to me that he was walking into the convenience store and stepped on a piece of clear cellophane wrapper (that he did not see because he was making sure no one came out the door and ran into him as he reached for the door handle). He said his foot slipped out underneath him and he went backwards and landed on his butt on the concrete sidewalk. His wife was right behind him and said she saw the whole thing. I asked the guy what he had slipped on and he said when he was laying there he picked up the wrapper and it was a Banana Flip wrapper. I asked him why it made him slip and he said it had like a cream coating on it and was partially dried but had like whipped crème on it. Because I was a student and therefore a connoisseur of gas station food, I just so happened to know exactly what a Banana Flip was. For those of you who do not know, it is basically a very greasy banana pancake filled with banana cream and folded over in half. It probably would take about four years of heavy cardio in order to work off those calories in a gym.

I talked it over with the lawyer, who agreed to let me sign them up as clients and do a demand letter. In the coming weeks, the man got much better and I wrote a letter to the unreasonable insurance adjuster, demanding a specific amount of money, included the medical bills and records, and threatened to file a lawsuit (which I would had to have a real lawyer sign) in the event said cash money was not forthcoming. A property owner in Georgia has a statutory duty to inspect their premises and to act in order prevent harm from dangerous conditions. When the couple came in to get their check, the man was very happy. I was proud of my work. My first real injury case. You can see, if the man had not had me (or the real lawyer) willing to do battle, he would not have gotten a dime. Without a law degree and a bar license on their side, this man and his wife were like two titmouses trying to negotiate with a pack of timber wolves. I am sure the insurer also told the store they had to clean up their sidewalk outside and that they could not let trash lay around, because that was hazardous to their customers. I was hooked for life right then. I knew that eventually, when I had gotten good enough in trial, that I would do personal injury cases. I would sign those demand letters and lawsuits and I would bring justice within reach of the injured and downtrodden.

Faced with injury, unpaid medical bills, lost wages, and an insurance adjuster who could not have possibly cared any less about their plight, this man and his wife were faced with a denied claim. They did not know the law. They did not know whether they had a viable claim or not. They felt abused and powerless. They had done nothing wrong. He was just a hardworking guy going into the store to make a purchase. They were proud and upset enough at the injustice to try to get a lawyer. They could have gone out and hired a lawyer by the hour. Thirty years ago that might have cost them $150 or more an hour to get a good one, to get a knowledgeable and skilled trial lawyer who held “the key to the courthouse” in their hand. But a lawsuit and jury trial are massive undertakings and the lawyer’s time would have quickly exceeded even their net worth. It wasn’t a big case and they were not wealthy by any stretch, but to them this was the most important thing going on in their lives at the time. The man needed to get well enough to work again and they were out of money for doctors. Without a lawyer on their side, an insurance company would never pay the claim and had, in fact, already denied it. This man and his wife were not a threat to a big insurance company who could afford to hire a team of lawyers to cut them and their little claim up into pieces. Some people try, but there is no way that a normal person can learn the many court rules and the substantive and procedural laws well enough, in a short period of time, to successfully fight a court case being defended by real lawyers. Insurance companies only fear juries and the only way to really get to one is with a lawyer on your side, and preferably a good one at that.

BUT when that couple came into the office, I held the other key to the courthouse – the contingency fee contract. You have seen it on TV as “No win/no fee” or “we don’t get paid unless you get paid”. Basically, a contingency fee contract is when a lawyer agrees to take the case, work it up, pay the out of pocket expenses, etc., and then IF the case results in a monetary recovery, then the lawyer gets a percentage, typically from 33 and a third percent up to 50%, depending on what type of case it is and the likelihood of a monetary recovery. These contracts are required to be in writing and the terms are spelled out. If the lawyer loses the case or no money is had, they lose the value of all of the time they have put into it, and typically all of the expenses they have paid out, which can be enormous – regardless of what type of case it is. The key to this type of contract for the client is to actually get a lawyer who will go to court and try the case, if need be. I can tell you right now that many lawyers who represent people on contingency fee contracts have never seen the inside of a courtroom unless it was when they were filming a commercial for tv. Insurance companies know exactly who will and will not take a case to trial and that effects what they are willing to pay in cases. I can recall numerous contingency fee cases that I have taken over the years that were not the type of cases that usually result in a lawsuit, but I took the cases because I knew that without me the people would have gotten nothing. Those may have not been the best business decisions I have ever made, because every case I take is extremely time consuming, but I usually took those cases because something about it upset me. I do not like to see other people abused or treated badly just because they are unable to bring a lawsuit for themselves.

In the early days of my practice, insurance companies hired law firms to defend their cases and they paid them on an hourly basis, although at a reduced rate. That helped to settle cases because insurance companies got tired of spending the money defending them through trial, where they might lose even more money. Some years ago, insurance companies figured out they could save money by having lawyers to work exclusively for them and now there are numerous law firms that are wholly owned by insurance companies, because it is cheaper to have these lawyers as employees than it is to pay outside counsel by the hour. Insurance companies also realized that Plaintiff’s lawyers were settling most of their cases and that they were paying too much or making it to easy, so they decided to largely stop the practice of easily settling cases. They decided to make Plaintiff’s lawyers try more cases. Because a smaller value case can take just as much time as a big case with catastrophic damages, many Plaintiff’s lawyers refused to take small cases and if they took them at all, they settled them cheaply rather than go to trial. In the end, insurance companies were able to save money (make more money as profits) by reducing defense costs and by reducing what they paid out to settle cases. Sadly, many “trial lawyers” were anything but, and were cowed by the fact that their cheese was moved. I have always said that if a lawyer is unwilling to try the case, then they should not take it. Things can certainly happen during the investigation or pre-trial phase, or even after suit is filed, that reveal weaknesses in a case that a lawyer can’t overcome, but that is not what I writing about here. Again, liability insurance companies fear a jury at trial and little else.

It does not end here though. To make things worse, along came “tort reform”. Supported by an absolute pack of lies and phony statistics, a national political movement that was well funded by insurance and big business political donors. TV ads were bombarded upon the American Public warning us that out doctors were leaving, and the sky was falling, and evil plaintiff’s personal injury lawyers were getting rich off a broken and unfair tort system, blah blah blah. This campaign was one of fear based upon neuroscientific research that was specifically designed to make the American public be afraid and believe that something had to immediately be done about “runaway juries” and that “tort reform” was the best and only answer. Just like Hitler’s propaganda ministry convince the German people that Jews, books, and privately owned guns were causing the downfall of the fatherland, our own government bought into the lies (or were bought themselves) and helped convince people, even judges, that injury cases were evil and that there would be hell to pay if they did not try to stop it in its tracks. As a result, some really horrible laws were passed in many states, including here in Georgia, that took away people’s constitutional rights. Tort reformed Judges were installed on courthouse benches by politicians whom they owed allegiance to. It was one of the saddest things I have ever witnessed. It was dire days. We simply did not have the money or the power to defeat this tort reform nonsense. It swept over the land like a tsunami.

BUT, fear not, I have good news! Despite all of the industry changes and the difficulties encountered, there is a group of plaintiff’s personal injury trial lawyers who will still take a case to trial. New trial methods have been developed to defeat tort reform in the jury room. I have been proud to be a part of that for many years now. I am proud that we did not give up the fight. I am glad that people smarter than me figured it out. Thousands of us over the whole country have decided that enough is enough. More cases are going to trial now. The results have been great. Young lawyers getting out of law school are wanting to represent injured plaintiffs and families whose loved ones have been lost due to the violation of safety rules. Older lawyers who had become discouraged by tort reform are trying cases again with a rekindled vengeance. We are taking the old case law to all trial judges, all across the country, and reminding them of the purposes of tort (injury) law, as well as the right to a fair and impartial jury trial in a civil case. Justice will be served. We will not be denied.

For now, there are still two keys to the courthouse. We are the only country on earth that still allows civil jury trials – A trial in our community, before ordinary citizens, so that they can decide what conduct should and should not be tolerated. Without civil jury trials, I think (know) that our communities would be much more dangerous places. A jury trial is a priceless check and balance, an individual right that we have as citizens. A right people have fought and died for, so that we can maintain it for our children. If you believe like I do, our state and federal Constitutions are divinely inspired documents. Many times over my lifetime, I have sworn to uphold and defend both, even at the cost of my own death. The right we have to a civil jury trial is indeed a matter of life and death. It’s just that dirt simple.

I hope you will join me in the defense of our Constitutions. Honor that jury summons – it is a high privilege to serve. Educate yourself on the falseness of “tort reform”. Help keep our communities safe. Hug a trial lawyer (just not the ones who defend insurance companies though, because I hear they do not like to hug).

BOTTOM LINE: We must always have two keys to the courthouse, because if we lose one of them – then only the very rich and powerful can afford to seek justice.

NEXT UP: HOW TO SERIOUSLY MESS UP YOUR CLAIM FOR PERSONAL INJURY

Until then, may we love one another and treat each other as we would wish to be treated ourselves.