Sometime in early-2008, Liberty Mutual Insurance Company began a new advertising campaign called the "Responsibility Project". The company calls it a place to discuss "doing the right thing". I will get to the hypocrisy of an insurance company having the audacity to suggest that it wants to assist others in "doing the right thing", below.
The project has produced numerous videos in the past couple of years. One was about an absent father, another about a black kid’s first day at an all-Irish school. A third depicts a witness to a purse-snatching and pursues the dilemma of a witness who can’t decide whether to be proactive or ignore the crime. Others explore whether senior citizens should be accountable for bad financial decisions or how we would choose if we had a choice between "rich" or "happy". There are also some articles; one that I read discusses whether you should buy your teenage a car or teach him/her how to save to buy it him/herself. The site also lobbies for a "no phone" zone and rallies against the dangers of distracted driving. There are some very interesting and entertaining subjects being discussed.
A recent entry to the "Responsibility Project" library is a short film entitled "Lawyers". This is the story of two lawyers, a man and a woman, who are about to meet in a sushi bar. They have been dating awhile, and the man brings an engagement ring to "pop the question". They begin a discussion about a case that the woman is handling. When the woman is not looking, the man places the ring on the carousel that carries a selection of sushi rolling past their location. His plan is that the ring will come around the circle, she will see it, and he will ask her to marry him. It is very romantic.
The woman represents an athlete who was injected with steroids by a doctor and is now suing the doctor for ruining his career. The athlete claims he thought he was being injected with vitamins, not steroids. The female lawyer, who keeps getting interrupted with mobile phone calls about the case, says, into the phone, "let’s make this the doctor’s fault for not telling his patient what he was being injected with". She feels the case is about convincing a jury that the doctor is responsible, that the case is not about what was in the athlete’s system but "how it got there".
The male attorney, a public defender, thinks that the athlete should have been more responsible for knowing what was being injected into his body. He says the guy "cheated" and then hired the best the lawyer around to "make his actions seem acceptable". He tells the woman he is about to propose to that she "likes winning too much" and has come up with a "created truth". He asks: "Do you really believe your ballplayer is innocent?" just as her mobile phone rings again. She doesn’t answer his question; instead, she takes the call and repeats into the phone that the case is about the doctor being responsible and the athlete not knowing what was being injected. As the engagement ring arrives at their location, she has her back turned, engaged in the phone conversation. The man reaches out to the carousel, snatches the ring and pockets it. He will not ask this woman to marry him; he doesn’t like her ethics.
The clear and insulting message of this short film (about 7 minutes) is that plaintiff lawyers pursue cases with "created truth", that personal injury or medical malpractice cases are often fabricated or inflated. This is, of course, the ridiculous message of the tort reform crowd, financed, primarily by big tobacco, big pharma, and big insurance. The vast majority of personal injury cases are brought for serious injuries to real people with serious and disabling consequences. These unfortunate people not only suffer serious injury, but the lengthy legal process often causes financial ruin. How do I know? Because I was a personal injury attorney for almost 25 years. After I stopped practicing law, I helped pioneer the concept of lawsuit funding, a service that provides financial assistance to desperate and devastated plaintiffs, injured through no fault of their own, and who are being jacked around by the ‘delay, deny, defend’ tactics of insurance companies like Liberty Mutual.
And this gets me back to the hypocrisy of a project, sponsored by an insurance company, encouraging all of us to "do the right thing". It is certainly the correct message, but it is being delivered by a participant in an industry that almost never does that "right thing". Where is their credibility in challenging all of us to "do the right thing" when they and their brethren behave so despicably in the claims and legal arena?
As CEO of Lawsuit Financial, I have reviewed several cases where the victims have suffered catastrophic injuries, amputations, paraplegia, quadriplegia, even death, from an accident. The insurance companies have ample opportunity to settle these cases for very limited amounts of money because of low policy limits purchased by the responsible party. The public is not made aware of this limitation of recovery in personal injury cases. Lawyers and clients must usually accept the amount of insurance available, sometimes $10,000, sometimes $20,000, sometimes $50,000, almost never as much as $100,000 because that is all the money that will ever be available; most individual defendants are not collectible. In the cases that I have reviewed, despite the low limits, the insurance companies go into "delay, deny, defend" mode and do not tender their small policies. In many states (not all, unfortunately) that behavior constitutes bad faith, and bad faith can negate policy limits, permitting injured plaintiffs to collect all that their injuries are worth. These irresponsible insurance companies, who almost never "do the right thing" end up looking at potential bad faith, multi-million dollar, results because of their wrongful conduct.
"Do the right thing" and "responsibility" are good messages. In fact, the Responsibility Project site has some good tips, good stories and good themes. Perhaps if the message was delivered by someone with more credibility, I might look at it with more favor. Is subtle, "plaintiff lawyer bashing" the "right thing"? Is suggesting that we all engage in personal "responsibility" so that we can blame ourselves and not others, thus filing less insurance claims, the "right thing"? Is lobbying for and financing proposed tort reform legislation, while hiding behind words and phrases like "lawsuit abuse" and "frivolous" "doing the right thing" when what you are really trying to do is limit recovery to inadequate recovery amounts in serious cases for serious, often catastrophic consequences?
Lawsuit Financial invites the insurance industry to stop its policies of blaming victims, delaying, denying, and vigorously defending claims that they should immediately pay, and demonetizing the attorneys who courageously take them on at great personal and financial risk. We invite big insurance to stop constantly engaging in doing the wrong thing. Then and only then will we give any credence to an insurance industry project that preaches "responsibility" or do the right thing". As always, we welcome your comments.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.