I think that one of the most overlooked roles of an attorney is taking the time to have open and honest conversations with your client and answer any questions he or she may have. I always make it a point to regularly ask my clients “What questions do you have?”
I was recently hired by a young woman client who was seriously injured due to some defective stairs at an apartment complex. I had asked her what questions she had and she asked me “Am I a bad person for bringing a claim against the complex?” I had never been asked a question like this before, and I want to share with you the answer that I gave her.
My job to my clients is to represent them and make sure that they are compensated fairly for what happened to them. However, while the law entitles a personal injury victim to be compensated, I believe that there is another issue at stake as well, and that is promoting safety.
If there are no consequences to our actions, then people will often just do whatever is in their best interest, without concern for others. This is exactly why we have to punish our children when they misbehave, so they will learn the consequences of their actions and learn to act properly. In the case of the young woman in my office, the apartment complex should have fixed the defective stairs, but that would have cost money. So, if the apartment complex knows that they won’t be held responsible for not fixing the stairs if someone gets hurt, they might very well decide just not to pay to fix the stairs.
Accordingly, while my job is to represent my individual clients, I also see myself as promoting safety for everyone, so that the defective stairs at another complex do get repaired and so there hopefully won’t be another incident just like this down the road. In what was obviously a rhetorical question, I asked her how she would feel if she found out that someone else had fallen on the same stairs but decided not to do anything about it, so the complex never fixed the stairs like they should have.
I also mentioned to the client that apartment complexes will always have insurance policies, and that the purpose of insurance is to compensate people who have been injured. That’s why the insurance premiums were paid in the first place. So, if your concern is that the apartment complex will have to pay you and won’t be able to afford to fix the stairs, for example, that won’t be the case since the money would come from an insurance company, and not from the apartment complex.
Now, I realize that it would be easy to be cynical and say that I’m just saying this because I make my living representing victims. To that I would respond, “No, I represent victims because I believe everything I just said.” I believe not only in helping victims themselves, but in promoting safety for everyone. I have a family and if a member of my family is the next person who happens to walk onto the grounds of that apartment complex, I want to make sure that those stairs have been fixed. I would never commit this much time and this much effort to my job if I didn’t believe in it.
So, my answer to her, as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, is “No, you are most certainly not a bad person.”