While doing research for our billboard project, I intentionally paid very close attention to the ads featured along Florida’s highways. I wanted to see what type of messaging was effective, was there a more popular layout and what tried and tested design ideas we should use. What I discovered intrigued me. It seemed that half the ads out there are from personal injury attorneys.
I always considered accidents to be a bad thing. An unexpected tragedy. By definition, an accident is an unfortunate incident resulting in harm. But the billboards were of a different tone. A smiling woman holding fanned out hundreds with the tagline “My Lawyer Got me $300,000!!!”. And cutesy slogans such as “after 911, call 411”. The radio ads have very cheery jingles and the billboards have become as prevalent in the Florida landscape as palm trees.
I looked at the stats… as of 2022, the personal injury lawyer market size is $53.1 billion and has grown 6.4% this year. That’s a huge number and a huge increase. Nowadays, instead of “crunch”, people involved in accidents are hearing the words “ca-ching!”, and one has to question whether a significant number of fender benders that would have been no big deal a decade ago, have now turned into cash windfalls because in this industry, the insurance companies would sooner pay out $20,000 for a worthless claim than $25,000 to defend and win.
So before I transition into how this relates to the registry, let me start by explaining that auto accidents are tragedies. The number of traffic fatalities is unacceptable and those injured or killed in an accident that was not their fault are certainly entitled to compensation for their loss. There are factors much greater than personal injury attorneys that contribute to this tragedy, such as drivers distracted by cellphones and consumer demand for manufacturers to build cars capable of 500+ horsepower that would be primary. However, if we examine the problem: Too many people are getting hurt or injured in auto accidents, we should explore all factors that contribute to the problem and instead of having a $53.1 billion market for lawyers capitalizing on these cases, what if we put caps on contingency fees and marketing budgets so that more money can go to the victims (who need the compensation in the first place), less money can go towards selling the financial benefit of being in an accident, and contributing a portion of each victory to measures that will make streets safer?
And here’s the transition… This year New York passed a law that opened a one year window for adult survivors of sexual assault to file lawsuits against their perpetrators. Previously, people might have been too ashamed or afraid to come forward, so they did nothing and the statute of limitations passed. Since the #metoo movement many have stepped up and the State wanted to give those (and all other victims) a chance to sue.
But instead of victims racing forward, the first ones to the starting line are the lawyers, with ads such as, “If you are an adult survivor of child sexual abuse, you may be entitled to compensation, Call…”,
Sexual abuse is unacceptable and victims of sexual abuse are certainly entitled to compensation for their harm. That goes without saying. But if we really examine the problem, is creating a new legal niche going to solve that problem? More specifically, is the money getting paid to attorney’s (33.3-40% plus costs is a pretty standard contingency fee) going to repair that harm or are there other ideas, such as restorative justice, counseling, education, prevention, or support services that would serve the victims directly a better idea? Would a non-profit, victim-centered, results focused organization be the best advocates in this case, or should it be the ambulance chasers?
As I drive down the the roadways and see all these creative personal injury attorney ads and cutesy jingles, I try to empathize with the audience. What if I were hurt in an accident or the relative of someone killed in one. Would all these reminders of my trauma be constant triggers of something painful or welcome opportunities? What if I was in an accident that was not so bad? Would I consider calling the number to see if I can somehow get something out of it (I’m sure a decent percentage of the responders are opportunists – but we’ll set that thought aside and lets not address that in the comments).
Similarly, what if I were the victim of a sexual assault or a family member? Would all these ads reopen old wounds or would they offer solace? Will we start hearing insensitive upbeat jingles such as, “if your teacher touched your breast, our firm will get you more than the rest. Dirty uncle touched my crotch, so my lawyer got me this brand new watch!” (Clearly this is tasteless to suggest, but so are some of the accident injury ads).
With the amount of advertising dollars that are spent, this legal niches are very lucrative for the attorneys, but is it really benefiting victims or reducing the instances of car accidents or sexual assaults? This is all great for the attorneys, but shouldn’t the bar associations be thinking about the clients?