Instead of Tort Reform, Let's do Insurance Reform (A Personal Injury Attorney's View on the Argument for Tort Reform)

Over the weekend, I heard yet another joke about personal injury lawyers. A representative of a business joked about spending a lot of money to renovate a building that had parts of the roof falling off. When asked why she put so much money into it, her response was “because of personal injury lawyers.” Of course, everyone laughed.

At first, I laughed too.  I’m a huge fan of comedy, and her joke was good timing. I’ve also become accustomed to the personal injury attorney jokes. 

But over the following days, I thought about the joke over and over. The more I thought it over, the more I realized what a harmful misunderstanding the joke demonstrated. Instead of tort reform, we need insurance reform.     

Consider this, the speaker talked about her main concern for renovation was due to possible lawsuits. In reality, for a lawsuit to happen, someone would have suffered an injury due to negligence – here, a piece of the roof falling onto a person causing injury.  

Just imagine that you’re walking by a building and, without warning, a large object falls and strikes you in the head/neck/shoulder/etc. Further imagine that the owner of that building knew about the danger of that happening, but did nothing about it! Wouldn’t you call an attorney?!

If you’ve read this far, you’re might be thinking, “well, won't people just fake an injury to get a ton of money?!” If this is your thought, all of the insurance company lobbying money has been well spent!  Sure, it’s possible for someone to fake an injury. But in reality, the owner of that building should have fixed the roof immediately so no one got hurt.  It’s like if you knew your roof was falling from your house – you’d do something about it so your kids wouldn't get hurt! 

But what’s more, it’s this exact thought as to why I believe true insurance reform must take place. The reason I, a personal injury attorney, have a job is because insurance companies treat every claim as if the injured party is faking it. Even where a victim has sustained obvious/permanent damage, insurance adjustors come at the claim skeptically, require proof beyond what is necessary to establish the claim, and outright undervalue claims from the outset.[1]  

In the complex injury cases, the insurance company often takes every step to minimize the payout on claims. Whether it’s finding some procedural issue with the claim to use the law to deny payout, or delving into prior medical records to dig into a “pre-existing condition”, or other tactics. Insurance companies don’t look at claimants as people, but as numbers. 

It’s often not until months have passed into litigation, thousands of dollars have been spent on depositions, court reporters, and expert witness fees that there is real progress made on a claim. And since lay people often do not have the experience to push a case this far, I, the personal injury attorney, am required to be involved. 

You may be thinking, “well insurance companies are companies and they have a right to make a profit.” Don’t get me wrong, the older I get, the more attuned I have become to the need of businesses, profits, and the like. 

But, step back, and imagine it’s you, your spouse, your son, etc. who suffered serious injury due to another person’s negligence. You’d likely be thinking the same thing my favorite clients think, “I’m not trying to cash in on my injury, I just want to be compensated for my medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages – the costs their negligence caused.” 

Look, I’m not advocating that all personal injury claims are valid. I’m also not advocating that insurance companies should just pay out everything. 

But there needs to be sincere thought as to how the system currently works. Insurance companies need to invest time into training adjustors and their agents in empathy

The clients that I deal with are just average people trying to provide for their family. When out of nowhere, someone’s negligence has caused them serious pain and disruption in their lives. If the insurance companies played fair ball, my clients wouldn’t need my help. But until insurance companies take serious steps to reform, there will always be the need for personal injury attorneys


[1] There are some exceptions to this rule.  And I have worked with a handful of insurance adjustors that truly take the time to consider cases.  But they are truly rare and appreciated.  

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