The Basics of Personal Injury Claims in WV


Burton's Head Shot

First; let’s deal with the myth of the greedy client and greedy lawyer. My wife and I were on our way home from visiting our children in North Carolina. We stopped at the light on WV 19 North of Beckley. A few seconds later we hear a keening squeal. A large object flits by on our left nudging our car and “totaling” the Ford Crown Vic in the turning lane next to us. The Ford is shortened by four feet! And, we suffer no injury, but $6000 damage from the “nudge”. We are honest people; really, we are! Had the driver not swerved to miss us, OUR car would have been shortened by four feet.

That impact, and resultant injuries, would not have turned us into greedy moneygrubbers, but it might have put us off work, from the same small business, the only attorney and the business manager! We might have been hospitalized for weeks, and we might have become permanently disabled, perhaps with a closed head brain injury.

So, also, lawyers who become adept at representing personal injury victims are not, per se, greedy or dishonest. Truth be known, lawyering is survival of the fittest, and the ones who do well are usually some of the brightest and most innovative in our profession, able to understand complex legal and medical issues. Some are motivated to help mankind, some to line their own pockets, and the vast majority a combination of the two, just like doctors, nurses, sales persons, teachers, and ditch diggers.

The majority of people who seek me out first want to assure me they are not “like them”, the greedy ones they hear about in the Bush/Republican campaign ads. Tens of millions of dollars have been spent to convince them, and you, that “junk lawsuits” are bad. Trouble is, Bush (of whom I was a supporter) perceives every lawsuit by a consumer or injured person against a company or an insurance company to be “junk”.

Finally, have you heard in the news that the McDonald’s coffee suit victim was in her 80’s, that the coffee caused severe burns, that they were on her “privates”, that they required skin grafts, that her car was parked when the cup slipped from her fingers, that McDonald’s knew their coffee caused such burns, that McDonald’s received over 500 such claims a year, that their internal memos showed that the profit earned from the hotter coffee (don’t ask me why)exceeded what they had been paying defending claims, that the jury awarded actual damages, AND punitive (punishment) damages of $1.2 million which was 2-3 days of their coffee profits for one year, and that the appellate court reduced the award to $400,000?

I didn’t think so. My guess is the attorneys in that case risked getting no fee; expended at least a couple hundred thousand dollars in work effort and litigation costs, didn’t get paid for years, and didn’t charge the lady one nickel of “up front” money. They probably made their money speaking at continuing legal education seminars.

I say, “Thank God there is someone out there who can give the little guy a voice.”

Are there mistakes and frivolous suits; absolutely. Even in the McDonald’s case, a judge made the ultimate decision, but a system that guarantees us trial before a jury of our peers, which protects those who have little from those who have much; and that allows contingent attorney fees, is a system that assures there will be motivated persons willing to represent injury victims. If you doubt that self interest can motivate, just check in with your State Lottery Commissioner.

Another example; Historically, England stopped the high level of prisoner deaths in their penal ships sailing to Australia. Captains had been paid for the number of prisoners walking onto the ships and were allowed to keep the supplies left over at the end of the voyage. No amount of begging our preaching could improve the situation.

The simple solution was to pay them ONLY for the live, healthy, prisoners who walked off the ships. The problem was solved almost immediately as the captains began acting consistently with their self interests.

There should be rules against frivolous lawsuits, and there are, but just claims should have a reasonable chance of a successful result.

This post was written by Burton Hunter

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