July 09, 2004

Tort reform? No, courtesy reform.

I do not intend to weigh in at length on this emotional and complicated subject. I write now only to make a limited observation based on my own personal experience.

As some of you may know, I am a lawyer. I practice almost exclusively complex commercial and corporate litigation and do some ancillary corporate work for clients who trust me and think I can't possibly screw up their work as badly as the last lawyer who got them into all the trouble they needed me to solve through litigation. Is that a ringing endorsement, or what? I got a referral for a personal injury claim the other day. I don't do PI work. Not my specialty. But, as a courtesy, I listened to the fellow's problem and agreed, at the end of his presentation, that he had a claim. I was about to type the details of his claim, but thought better of it. Even if he did not retain me, I would feel wrong about going into detail. Suffice it to say his wife was injured at a hotel they were staying at. I asked this fellow, at the conclusion of our chat, did anyone at the hotel offer to waive the bill, reverse the charges for the service than injured her, or even apologize. And he said, no, not a thing. This brings me to tort reform. I am beginning to think that a lot of tort cases are brought because the defendant acted like an asshole. If the manager of the hotel had acted like a gentleman, I doubt this fellow would have been on the phone to me looking for compensation.

Maybe this post isn't about tort reform at all, now that I re-read my scribbles to this point, maybe it's really just a continuation of the discussion we've been having about moderates and courtesy. Maybe the real point is not that we need tort reform but that we need courtesy reform. Stop treating each other like idiots, apologize promptly when something's your fault, be sincere, and I am willing to bet the number of lawsuits would go down.

I know that someone might comment, if they feel moved to do so, that the manager of the hotel could not have apologized because it would be seen as an admission of responsibility and an invitation to a suit. I disagree and I'll explain why. If the manager were my client, I'd advise him that he was going to get sued anyway since it took place in his hotel and due to actions by his employees who were acting within the course and scope of their duties as employees. Of course the hotel is a target and saying you're sorry will not make it any less of a target. So, I would counsel the manager to apologize promptly, send flowers, comp them to the room, pick up the medical bills, and make whatever other nice gesture he could think of. At best, he might just avoid a suit and pick up some nice good will out of it. At worst, well, he's probably going to get sued anyway. But, by not apologizing, the idiot has absolutely bought himself an all expenses paid visit from the process server.

So, my personal experience leads me to think: more courtesy, fewer law suits!

Posted by Random Penseur at July 9, 2004 09:29 AM
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