Ambulance Chaser or Guardian of Community Safety? Will the Real Trial Lawyers Please Stand up?

The common view of a plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer is not flattering.   Most people see the PI lawyer as an “ambulance chasing” parasite on our economy and our society.  This image, perpetuated by those who oppose personal injury lawyers in court, prevails.  Who are those who oppose personal injury lawyers in court?  Insurance companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, hospitals, product manufacturers, and doctors, to name a few.  There are plenty of resources available to generate the propaganda machine that feeds and perpetuates the adverse view of personal injury lawyers in our society.

The fault is not all the big money, powerful interests.  There are, of course, plenty of personal injury lawyers who feed the flame and who lack regard for a calling higher than lining their own pockets.  But this group is a minority.  Most personal injury lawyers willing to take on America’s biggest and most powerful entities are devoted to more than their own profit.  These men and women are empowered by the realization that their work makes a difference, that by holding negligent (and worse) actors accountable for the harm they cause, no matter how rich or powerful the negligent actor is, the plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer helps make all of us safer.

When a lawyer overcomes the stereotyping, takes great financial risk for her client, and shines a bright light on unsafe practices or socially unacceptable behavior, the lawyer helps organize our society so that others don’t repeat the same practices or behavior.  At the very least, such a lawyer helps reduce, if not eliminate, the repeat behavior in the future.

That is our system at its best, and it is what most personal injury attorneys fight for every day.

I know we live in a cynical world, and many of you reading this resist the words on the page.  But the next time you consider the incentives out there for obeying traffic laws, building safe motor vehicles and other products, selling pharmaceuticals that don’t kill or injure, delivering safe medical care, surgery or anesthesia at a hospital, think about who enforces those incentives.  Who exposes themselves to financial risk, who toils long, late hours in the office, who stands in open court before a judge and a jury to seek enforcement of the safety rules that protect us all from harm?  Who advocates for the financial incentives that promote safe behavior? 

I say that is the job of the American personal injury lawyer, at least those who have the courage to bring their cases into our system of justice, to be decided by juries and judges.  When we realize as a community that our lawyers are, more often than not, courageous men and women enthused by their privilege and responsibility to make our world a safer place, we will learn the truth about our justice system.  Our system ain’t perfect, but our Founding Fathers created an enduring instrument of social responsibility when they created the civil jury system.  And our personal injury trial lawyers deserve some credit for breathing life into that system.

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