The other morning, as I was getting ready for work, I was besieged by the usual television ads for personal injury lawyers in Charleston, SC. In one ad, a runner for the law firm was engaged in parkour (doing flips, jumping over benches and obstacles, etc.) as he delivered checks for large sums of money to very happy and upbeat “victims” of catastrophic injuries. In another ad, smiling and seemingly uninjured clients gave brief “testimonials” about how easy it was for them to get hundreds of thousands of dollars for their injuries. Then in another ad, a lawyer pulled oversized hundred dollars bills out of the front-end of a wrecked vehicle and told folks that if they call the firm, they’ll get huge bucks too. In these ads, it seems that all they are doing is writing huge checks for their clients each day because the insurance companies cower at the mention of their names. All of these ads got me thinking about the subject of “personal injury mills.”

Personal Injury Settlement Mills – Quantity Over Quality?

Essentially, a personal injury mill is a law firm that advertises A LOT for personal injury cases, and handles an exceptionally high volume of claims. If a law firm emphasizes quantity of cases instead of quality of results, then they could cause insurance companies to low-ball settlement offers for every potential personal injury claimant. In other words, a personal injury settlement mill may grind down the meaning of real justice for many personal injury victims. Here is an insightful article written in 2011 by Nora Freeman Engstrom, Esq. and published in the New York University Law Review in which Ms. Engstrom details her investigation into several examples of personal injury law firm “settlement mills.”  Please read Ms. Engstrom’s article here.

Real-Life Stories

Once, during a settlement discussion I had with an insurance adjuster, the adjuster offered my client an amount that seemed too little to compensation my client for their injuries. During our discussion, the adjust actually said to me, “I just settled a claim just like this one with

[major TV advertising personal injury firm] for this amount, so what makes you think your client deserves more.” I responded by saying, “Because that’s not good enough for my client.”

Recently, this is what one former insurance claims adjuster had to say about personal injury settlement mills:

All “mill firm” attorneys can expect is a hard line taken by the insurance carriers, ie., low settlement offers, or go to trial. Attorneys that take cases to trial make it on the “A” list, wherein adjusters have more leeway as they know if offers aren’t in line, the case will be trial prepped and tried. Those that don’t take cases to trial are on the “B” list. Those attorneys, usually of the mill variety, take shortcuts and settle out before money is spent on experts and/or doctor reports. Insurance companies will settle for more money for cases that are trial ready at an early stage. Insurance companies still rank their exposure based on jury verdicts, but if they know an [attorney] does not try cases, [they] will jam them with crappy offers. ~ Jim S.

Just Because Lawyers Advertise Doesn’t Mean They’re Running a Mill

Please don’t get me wrong. I believe that lawyers should have the right to market themselves on television or otherwise. I know some of the lawyers who advertise on TV in the Charleston area for personal injury, and they are good lawyers. In law school, I clerked for a firm that argued before the South Carolina Supreme and won the right for lawyers to advertise in this state. That firm still advertises (tastefully in my opinion). At that firm, I worked with some of the best personal injury attorneys I know, and these lawyers worked one-on-one with each client. If there was no settlement, these lawyers were ready, willing, and able to take their clients’ claims before a jury. My point isn’t to say that lawyers shouldn’t advertise. Instead, my point is to remember that what you see on television is advertising. When you hire a personal injury lawyer in Charleston, South Carolina, you don’t just get a check by making a phone call or find that justice somehow comes in the form of large bills rolling out of the front-end of a wrecked sedan. In all the years that I have handled personal injury claims in Charleston, most clients don’t act like a grinning fool when they receive a settlement or verdict. For most clients, settlements or awards by juries are bitter-sweet. Although they are thankful for the work we’ve done, they’d rather live pain and disability-free, or share the life of the family member they lost due to negligence, than mug for a camera over the settlement check they received from their lawyer.

What Can Be Done?

Any personal injury lawyer in Charleston or elsewhere in South Carolina is ethically prohibited from taking on more work than they can handle. So how many is too many? That depends on the lawyer’s abilities, how simple or complex their cases are, whether they have sufficient support staff, and the clients’ needs. Having said that, when a lawyer is handling hundreds of cases simultaneously, it becomes challenging to give each client the quality of attention each one of them deserves. So here are some questions you need answers to before you decide which personal in lawyer to hire:

1) How many cases are you (the lawyer) handling? This is a fair question, If the lawyer won’t answer or hedges around the answer, move on to your next choice in lawyers.

2) How many lawsuits has the lawyer filed in the last 12 months? Not all cases settle, and that’s certainly true of personal injury claims. If there answer is “none” or just a few, then ask the next question:

3) How many personal injury cases have you tried in your career? At the end of the day, you need a personal injury lawyer who knows how to take a case to trial if the case doesn’t settle.

4) Who will be working on my case? You need to know whether the personal injury attorney you are dealing with is going to handle the case one-on-one or pass you off to someone else in the firm such as a paralegal.

5) If my case doesn’t settle, will you file a lawsuit? The answer should be “Yes.” You want a lawyer who is going to see your case through from start to finish.  

Charleston Personal Injury Lawyer

If you need a lawyer for a personal injury claim in Charleston, SC, you can call Futeral & Nelson, LLC for a free case evaluation.

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Need a personal injury attorney in Charleston?

Call Futeral & Nelson, LLC today for a FREE consultation. 843-284-5500.
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