January 17, 2017 • By Dennis Beaver
“You have a reader on the phone who has a deposition scheduled for next week and cannot reach his lawyer. Apparently, they have never met in person.”
With that announcement from my paralegal, I immediately took the call, and spoke with Dean, who reads this column in the Kingsburg Recorder.
“Mr. Beaver, I just got notified by a paralegal that my deposition is being taken next week. I know they will ask me about what happened, but shouldn’t there be some preparation? I called the lawyer and left a message, but have not gotten a return call.
“In fact, I have never met Terry, my lawyer. I’m worried! What should I do?”
In February of 2016 Dean discovered that an angel was watching out for him when a drunk driver rear-ended his motorcycle. “The force of the collision sent me flying, but instead of crashing onto pavement, I landed in bushes, only breaking my arm, spending two days in the hospital,” he explained.
“Back at home, I saw a late-night TV commercial for a law firm promising to fight for the little guy and called them. The next day their investigator came over and signed me up, but since that time, I have only spoken with secretaries and paralegals.”
Upon giving me the name of the law firm, everything became clear: Dean’s angel went on vacation and he wound up hiring what is known as a “settlement mill.” These are lawyers who advertise like crazy, handling personal injury cases on an industrial scale — anything they can sign up. Then, rushing to settle, take whatever the insurance company will offer, rarely filing a lawsuit.
Settlement mills are factories, cranking out personal injury settlements in amounts that bear little relation to the real case value, often leaving their clients with thousands of dollars in unpaid medical bills.
As so few suits are filed, their lawyers are functionally incompetent when it comes to real litigation. They don’t practice law; they mal-practice law, and my reader was about to become one of their victims.
In what seemed a straightforward rear-end accident, why file a lawsuit? Also, which insurance company represents the driver? I asked our reader those questions, his answers made it clear why a suit had to be filed, and how doing well at his deposition would be critical.
“There were four witnesses, and one of them told the police that I cut off the driver, resulting in the accident. That’s the only thing I can think of,” Dean replied.
The driver’s insurance company — who run funny TV, radio and internet ads — has a reputation for denying perfectly valid claims on the thinnest of grounds, or no grounds.
In one case, their insured made a sudden, illegal U-turn in front of our reader. The claims adjuster stated, “Well, obviously he failed to keep a proper lookout and should have anticipated someone making a U-turn!” My reply was that he must have failed Mind Reading 101. That kind of reasoning is the very definition of insurance bad faith.
Dean was in trouble. In a few days his deposition — a potential make-or-break event — was about to take place.
At the least, it was obvious the deposition needed to be rescheduled. But our reader needed more. He needed a lawyer, a real lawyer, an experienced attorney and not a law firm cynically looking at clients as mere numbers.
Dean needed an attorney who places the clients interests first.
We know lawyers who can fill those shoes a 20 minute drive from his home, not four hours away in Los Angeles. But, first, we had to deal with the deposition.
The State Bar website revealed that Terry had been in practice for only one year. I got him on the line with us.
“Dean is facing an important deposition within days which must be rescheduled. He needs an experienced litigator who can prepare him for this depo, possibly trial, and no one can expect you to have these skills at this stage of your career.
“All of us starting out occasionally let dollar signs get in the way of our better judgment. Both of you are better off when Dean find a new lawyer. He really needs your help with that transition, but right now, that depo is the issue.”
And Terry’s reply?
“My God, I didn’t even know there was a deposition scheduled! I’ll get it re-set and will help Dean anyway I can. Dennis, thanks for your advice. You’re right. After the holidays, I’m getting out of this place!”
Dean’s angel was back on the job.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.