Lawfirm denied access to bridge site for lawsuits
ST. PAUL (AP) - A federal judge has denied a law firm's request for access to the 35W bridge collapse site to gather information for possible wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits.
Judge Patrick J. Schiltz says the government has "an urgent interest" in recovering victims, clearing the wreckage, reopening the river and rebuilding the bridge as sLawfirm denied access to bridge site for lawsuits oon as possible. The judge says those challenges are daunting enough without turning loose potentially dozens of lawyers, expert witnesses and investigators on the site.
The firm of Schwebel, Goetz and Seiben says it's representing three people severely injured in the collapse and the families of two people who died. It was trying to gain access to the site for two of its experts and some attorneys.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
As you know, I recently left my job with an insurance company. While I didn't handle injury claims - recently - part of my job was to handle bodily injury claims if it was proper to do so, and I've settled a good number of them in my time at that company. It's part of the insurance business, and some people specialize in handling these types of claims. Personally, I hated them, which is why I became a non-medical investigator.
Minnesota is a "No-Fault" state, which is a term often miused and misunderstood. What it means is that if you are involved in some kind of vehicle accident, you must go through your own vehicle insurance company to handle your medical bills, up to the policy limit (which is often only $20,000 but can be doubled with "stacking" insurance if you insure more than one vehicle on the same policy). However, "No Fault" has nothing to do with negligence; typically SOMEONE is at fault (negligent) when an accident occurrs. It can be both drivers, it can be a pedestrian, it can be a manufacture defect. And when negligence is determined, meaning that someone is majority at fault for the accident, then if the injured party does not bear the majority of negligence, that person may hav a bodily injury (BI) claim.
For example; if a semi truck rearrends a stopped Pinto at 50 mph if said Pinto is legally stopped, waiting for the light to change, said driver of the semi is negligent, and in all liklihood, the Pinto driver is injured, or dead. That person certainly has a Bodily Injury claim. Certain "thresholds" may apply as claim of an injury does not, in Minnesota, automatically entitle someone to a BI settlement. In MN, those thresholds are: treatment over $4,000 (not inluding diagnostic tests such as MRI's), serious injuries such as fractures and scarring, death or dismemberment, or permanent injury. Insurance companies are well aware of these thresholds and immediately prepare to handle them, which requires the cooperation of the injured party, that party's own insurance carrier, and, of course, any attorneys who may be involved.
So, many of the people on the bridge, especially those who were killed or were severely injured, have bodily injury (BI) claims. They are not at fault for the bridge collapse, but clearly, SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE is liable. Attorneys and Insurance Companies have to determine WHO is responsible via their investigators, expert witnesses, and the findings of the Federal investigators and MNDOT investigators as all the details are sorted out. The attorneys will go after all the negligent parties, focusing, of course, on those with the deepest pockets.
That's what this article is about; the attorneys are working on gathering evidence for their cases, as will be the insurance companies. However, as those in the insurance industry know, access to such disasters isn't automatically granted. I was an investigator and often had to wait out "holds" before I could really start following threads. It's hard for everyone, but it's extremely important to let the authorities do their job and maintain the integrity of the scene.
That's part of why the attorneys are trying to gain access; they are looking to either breach the integrity of the scene, or prove that something has been breached, so as to weaken any defense that may be taken by the negligent parties. They are also making a play for publicity, as they know well that they would not be allowed access to the collapse scene just yet. Especially considering that not all of the deceased have been recovered and laid to rest. It's also a pre-emptive move that gives them a position of strength no matter what happens in court. Because they are using the courts to request access, and the courts have shut them down (for now), they will later be able to argue in court that the "rights" of their clients were quashed by this decision and they will do whatever they can to play upon the conspiracy theorists in the jury to be chosen at a later date. That makes the government look bad; it makes those working at the site to recover the remains of the still-missing people look like bad guys while the law firm gets to look like heroes to people that are gullible enough to fall for this public relations scam. And, of course, when this goes to court or to closed-door settlements, the real reason they were denied access to the scene and the fact that, if they were allowed to enter would have compromised the scene and would have been detrimental to recovery efforts will be completely ignored or glossed over.
And of course, the law firm gets their name out there, which brings in both related and unrelated business for them.
It is not surprising that a law firm is involved; this is expected. Given what I know, I would not be likely to get an attorney if I were injured in a vehicle accident, unless an insurance company was not doing their job. I know what their job is, so perhaps I'm in a good position to be able to ascertain when something is wrong. (Overall, insurance companies DO handle their injury claims well, but there are times when they don't, and then it's time to be represented.) Many peple think that claims are handled differently with attorney representation; this is complete fallacy. Typically, if someone told me they were going to get an attorney, I'd yawn and tell them that I looked forward to this event and that the attorney would be far more reasonable and professional that they would be. (That latter was saved for especially arrogent and threatening customers). I spoke truly, for there were some difficult customers we just PRAYED would get an attorney so that we could get the job done and it would be wonderful to deal with someone who knew what we needed and wouldn't wait for us to ask. Because when the customer gets paid...they get paid.
And pay...that's another reason I wouldn't want to get an attorney; they take 1/3 of the settlement, and in many cases, that means that the customer would actually be paid less (directly) than if they were unrepped. Additionally, an analysis of customer surveys revealed that of those people who were represented by attorneys and those who were not, those who were not represented were far more pleased with how their claim was handled than if they had gone through a law firm. This is VERY telling.
But none of that is why I'm disturbed about the above article. As I said, I would expect to have law firms involved in this, and if I were that seriously injured, or I'd lost a loved one, it would be easier to get the attorney as I'd be tied up with other things such as serious recovering or grief.
Here's what disturbs me:
The firm of Schwebel, Goetz and Seiben says it's representing three people severely injured in the collapse and the families of two people who died
The SAME firm is representing a high percentage of the people directly impacted in this incident. That defies statistcs and speaks of "recruitment". Perhaps that recruitment was one family to another. Or perhaps it's a class-action type of thing (I'm not sure what constitutes class action). If so, then no problem.
But typically, anyone injured in an accident. when that info is made public, they are INUNDATED with Personal Injury attorney spam. It's completely ridiculous. Even where injury is not indicated, these vulturs crowd in to convince them they are injured and some even suggest what to do in order to cross a treatment threshold if they don't qualify under any other category. That's one of the inherent flaws in the No Fault law; the abuse entailed. We spend a LOT more on bodily injury claims in Minnesota than do Tort states such as Wisconsin where, from the first dollar spent on an injury constitutes a bodily injury claim.
But something about this just rubs me the wrong way. It could be completely legitimate, but at the same time, the statistics that the same firm would represent so many (if not class action) indicates someone was "recruiting", which is a bit unethical.
Just my humble opinion. But then again, I'm not fond of PI law firms, and even as I would consider seeking employment with a law firm, they would be excluded from my consideration.