When Pain Doesn't Get You Money

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I was recently watching TV when a commercial came on for a law firm with the slogan:

If You Have Pain, You Need Law

My jaw dropped. I was really bothered.

First, at the law firm. And then at society at large. Because this commercial, sadly, reflected a growing and in my mind somewhat perverse expectation (at least in the U.S.) that if you get hurt someone’s gotta pay…even if it was nobody else’s fault

Even if it was YOUR fault!

Whatever happened to personal responsibility?

I’ve even seen this mindset justified by people arguing, “hey, nobody gets hurt, it’s just the insurance company that’s paying and they’ve got billions.”

Wrong on two levels. One, where do you think all those billions came from? Uh…you and me. And the one of the big reasons our insurance fees are so high are because so many people will sue at the drop of a dime in the mistaken belief that nobody gets hurt when an insurance company pays. We all pay in the form of higher personal, health, product liability and business insurance. And, on the consumer side, a portion of those costs are often then passed on as higher service and product fees.

Two, it’s not supposed to work this way, but in the U.S., you can leverage the system to more or less coerce a person or company to pay “something” in order to avoid the fees associated with a full-blown law suit. It’s a simple cost benefit analysis and a lot of litigants and their representatives know this. Happens all the time. Puts money in your pocket when you feel pain without much reference to fault.

But, just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s right.

I’ve seen small businesses created by moms and dads trying to put food on their tables crushed because someone decided the system would let them get something for nothing. I’ve seen caring, compassionate OB/GYNs who love bringing babies into the world drop the OB part of their practice, because they can’t afford the insane malpractice insurance.

FYI – This doesn’t happen in a lot of other places because the rule of law in many other locales is “loser pays,” meaning the loser not only pays their own fees, but the fees of the winner, too. This drastically lessens the number of “lightly supported” law suits.

Am I saying “if you feel pain, you should NEVER need law or dollars?” Of course not.

The same laws that allow for people to claim pain and cash without merit also protect those who’ve genuinely been wronged and are rightly entitled to compensation. But, the notion that pain automatically entitled you to legal recourse and money…that’s just wrong.

Life happens. Pain happens. Accidents happen.

But, liability doesn’t automatically flow.

Curious what you think…

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12 responses

12 responses to “When Pain Doesn't Get You Money”

  1. Pace says:

    I totally agree, Jonathan.

    I think that society is teaching us to be less and less responsible for our own actions. We’re giving up our personal power to “them”, whether “they” are the government, the lawyers, the police, or what have you.

    It creates a vicious circle; a downward spiral of disempowerment. When people feel disempowered, they create a culture of can’t. Then it’s harder for others to feel empowered because “That’s not the way the world works.”

    I mean, how many people you know look at you like you’re a freak just for being an entrepreneur, not to mention all the other things you’ve accomplished? And even worse in a way, how many people look up to you like you’re a rock star, while in the same breath saying “I could never be like that.”

    Entitlement is the opposite of empowerment.
    .-= Pace´s last blog ..Community Update #7: Kyeli broke her foot! =-.

  2. Being a Canadian that lived in the US (and still spends a significant amount of time there), I’ve felt the shock and distress at seeing personal injury commercials like the one mentioned here.

    I often heard claims such as “Americans are just more litigious,” but if you spend about 30 seconds studying the American legal system you realize that the litigious culture comes from a good intention going down a slippery slope.

    American courts started awarding bigger dollar amounts and making the barrier for entry for a claim lower so that the little guy could stand a chance in a fight against the big guy. They were trying to give David a slingshot to fight Goliath. Unfortunately, after a few too many cases that went lopsided in favour of David, we ended up with a whole lot of people walking around with slingshots, just itching to use them.

    The US might lead the way in these kinds of cases, but other countries like Canada and certain European countries are slowly moving in the same direction. The only way to turn this around is through a concerted societal shift. The courts don’t take orders from the politicians, so no single elected official is going to change this. The courts do, however, seem to take cues from society at large.

    Maybe that should tell us something.
    .-= Adam Di Stefano´s last blog ..Modern Influences =-.

  3. jurgen wolff says:

    Good point. I know of one case personally where an off-duty police officer decided to chase a suspect through a back yard. The tenants had put out an old sofa and the officer fell over it in the dark and (he says) sustained a back injury. Who was sued? Not the suspect, not the tenants, but the landlord, who wasn’t even aware that the tenants had put the sofa out. The police officer got $600,000. The insurance company doctors said his back was one of the healthiest they’d ever seen, but back injuries can’t be disproved.

  4. John says:

    I honestly think people should be more conditioned to the idea that they should take responsibility for their own actions. Some people in society just want easy money for pain. As a result, we pay more for these blunders and lives are crushed because of it. Thanks for bringing this out in the open, Jon.
    .-= John´s last blog ..Do You Recognize the Problem With Instant Gratification? =-.

  5. andrei says:

    I agree with the part of responsability…..BUT are you really serios when you say that insurance companies loose money???? At least that is what you sugest. Did you forget that insurance business is most profitable and the BIGEST SCAM EVER??!?!

  6. Jonathan, this is a timely post.

    I also practiced law like you did. I did it for 20 years and I just could not align myself any longer with the constant “risk assessment” and for many of the reasons you gave in this post.

    We lawyers are the reason for this. Our profession is undergoing a change and those that are still in the profession are finding creative ways to cope.

    Iyabo Asani
    .-= Iyabo Asani, The Authentic Change Coach´s last blog ..Experience Heart-Swell =-.

  7. Jonathan, I fully agree with you. I’ve to point out that shifting of personal responsibility happens everywhere where people have their locus of control shifted on the outside. In different societies, these people express that through different ways. So in Singapore where I live, such people will express that through complaining and blaming on others (it’s associated as part of the natural culture) , while in America it seems people proactively leverage on the legal system. I’ve heard about court cases of people suing tobacco companies for causing lung cancer or suing McDonald’s for making them fat, and actually winning the cases – which thoroughly amazed me.
    .-= Celes | The Personal Excellence Blog´s last blog ..Update: 21-Day Exercise Trial, Latest Interviews, Guest Posts =-.

  8. Jonathan Fields says:

    Great comments as always, gang. It’s so interesting to me that you guys are writing in from all over the world. Helps provide better context for how self interest unfolds across different countries and cultures.

    And, hey, i’m realistic to know that self-interest is just a part of life. It’s just the way that people weave self interest with a sense of justice or fairness and whatever local business or legal mechanisms are available that sometimes bugs me,

    Plus, as a number of you have shared, there are so many people looking to step away from responsibility for their own actions and cast blame, then make innocent people/entities pay. It’s less about whether you believe insurance companies are the Dark Side, it’s about us stepping up and saying, “just because you CAN game the system, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.”

  9. Couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve lived in 6 countries, was Born in South Africa and spent 6 years in London before moving to NYC. I worked on Wall Street, 2 blocks from my apartment, each day I would have to pass this office with a TV screen in the window advertising “Had an accident, We can help”. Never have I seen that type of help advertised in such a blatant way, It still blows me away!
    Yay for people like you! Thank you
    .-= Tanya Monteiro´s last blog ..Inspired by Ken Robinson =-.

  10. Terry Heath says:

    I know someone who has been trying to sue the city because she fell on the road. She was directing traffic, which she had no business doing in the first place, and wasn’t paying attention when she slipped in some gravel. Let’s see . . . so the argument is, “I fell, so you have to pay me.” That logic is amazing to me.
    .-= Terry Heath´s last blog ..“The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” à la Gilbert and Sullivan =-.

  11. Interesting post Jonathan…. and I agree, this is one of the issues that I wish could be entered into the current Health Care debate. Where is personal responsibility in terms of our health. Health care should be readily available to all, but the kicker is that if there were no cigarettes, Alcohol, or drugs, the hospitals would be fairly boring places…
    .-= Doug Sandquist´s last blog ..Leadership and Self-Deception – a Book Worth Reading =-.

  12. Jim Vickers says:

    How did we get to the place where these kinds of advertising appeals work rather than repulse? It’s this kind of greedy attitude underlying our skyrocketing health costs today. And sorry to say, it’s not just the law firms trying to cash in at someone else’s expense. It’s the public, the insurance companies, the hospitals, the docters and just about everyone involved.