By Peter Fischetti
If you watch much TV, particularly the commercials attached to news programs, you are aware that Bay County in the famous Florida Panhandle is one of the most injury-prone areas in the country. I don’t know if it’s because we’re careless, unlucky or just spastic. It doesn’t really matter, particularly to the injury attorneys—formerly known as ambulance chasers—who fill the airwaves. Our bad luck is their good luck.
Personal injury attorneys scare me. For years, I was paranoid about having an accident, and I even avoided power tools because I really like finger food. I worried about being bit by a pit bull so I stopped playing golf at courses with dogleg holes. And years ago in California, when I was still working, I walked to the office instead of driving on those crazy freeways. It did help, of course, that I had a home-based business.
But back to those commercials. They vary in tone as well as message. Some remind us that insurance companies are staffed with miserable people who could care less whether you wake up in the morning. “They didn’t get rich being generous to their clients. You need someone as tough as them to get what you deserve.” That approach was very popular following Hurricane Michael; the blue tarps still covering roofs are testament to the frustration many homeowners feel as they await reimbursement for damages.
Some commercials emphasize a “Father Knows Best” theme. “Hey Dad, why did you want to be an attorney?” Junior asks. Well, good old Dad could say, “To pay for your college so you can get out of the house.” Or, “To pay off a huge gambling debt at the dog races.” But no, it’s because he wants to help people and “treat them like family.” Ah.
A series of commercials focuses on people injured in auto accidents. Their insurance company offered $10,000 to make it right, and the client accepted it. “What a mistake,” she tells us. “I found out later my case was worth a hundred thousand.” Yes, but that was only if she had an attorney to fight for her. And you can be sure that it would have been a contingency case that would greatly diminish the actual cash in her pocket.
You may be familiar with the well-dressed, distinguished-looking attorney who himself had a run-in with the Florida Bar some years ago over a questionable client relationship. He’s still around and, interestingly, his message is about client referrals. And have you seen those law partners with their motorcycles, reminding us that they worship and pay taxes here. Well, so do I.
There was a time—more than 40 years ago—when attorneys were prohibited from advertising. Then, as you know, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the ban in the Bates vs. State Bar of Arizona case. Today, some personal injury attorneys spend hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on TV advertising and those giant billboards that no doubt have caused plenty of auto accidents. Hmm.
You have to wonder how they recoup that expense. Actually, you don’t have to wonder. Like the old joke, they make it up in volume. I imagine they take case after case on contingency if they can settle quickly without going to court. Who has time for court? Chances are, the only personal injury attorneys you know are the ones on TV, so if you’re in an accident, you’ll call one of them. And that’s how they make money.
The other day, as I was returning home from a flossing demonstration in town, I drove by the Law Offices of Al Dente and Cousin, a firm whose clients are mostly owners of expensive vehicles with serious body damage. I thought it was odd to see a woman in front of the building spraying oil on to 23rd Street. It turns out she was Micara Dente, Al’s cousin. As you might expect, her actions caused a four-car pileup. Micara rushed out into the street to help, handing out business cards and quoting huge amounts of money the victims could collect from the careless city.
Later that day, I called Dente’s office to complain about the firm’s approach to attracting clients. Instead of reaching someone, I got a recording: “You’ve reached Al Dente and Cousin. We hope you’re having a bad day…”
Peter Fischetti is a retired journalist from Southern California, which he hopes you won’t hold against him. He lives in Panama City Beach.