I have to wonder if any of these people has ever been injured in a car accident or had to enlist the services of a personal injury lawyer.
(Photo: Caiaimage/Trevor Adeline via Getty Images)
Having been an accident victim myself, it is an ordeal I would never wish on someone else. However, I find it hard to think if anyone had been through what I -- and many others -- have experienced, the rosy view of contingency fees some have might be blurred.
The notion that personal injury lawyers are taking a big risk because they won't win every case diminishes the risk that victims are taking. They are often putting their recovery and their families' futures in the hands of their lawyer. Let's remember what settlement money is for, after all. It is meant to allow people who have been seriously injured to carry on with their lives, find a measure of financial security and put their minds at ease. Victims have so much riding on these cases; it is not unreasonable for them to be assured that if they are awarded a settlement, they will have some left for themselves.
There is nothing just about putting your faith in someone in a time of need and having them take advantage of you instead.
In her National Post column, Marni Soupcoff gives the example of a $20,000 fee on a $100,000 settlement. That is a perfectly reasonable arrangement, but far from a typical one.
Mike Colle didn't bring forth his private member's bill because of people paying 20 per cent of their settlement to their lawyers. He took on this issue because of case after case of lawyers taking half of victims' settlements -- and sometimes even more!
Ms. Soupcoff suggests that a cap would mean lawyers taking fewer cases. What if instead it meant lawyers cleared the ones they had faster? My own case dragged on for years, at times as a direct result of my own lawyer. Maybe if he knew he was only going to get 15 per cent instead of 50, he may have been a bit more motivated to reach a resolution sooner.
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In British Columbia there is already a cap on contingency fees, and a quick Google search suggests that there are still personal injury lawyers finding a way to make a living in the province. Their cap is higher than the one proposed by Colle, but lawyers and their lobbyists are not suggesting that a cap is fine but the amount is wrong. If that cap was 20 per cent, lawyers would fight it; if it was 30, no doubt that would be a legal travesty as well.
Their problem isn't the number. They are opposed to any regulation that might force them to treat accident victims as people and not simply as paycheques.
Maintaining access to justice for accident victims is critical. We all agree on that. However, we have to make sure it is truly justice that they have access to. There is nothing just about putting your faith in someone in a time of need and having them take advantage of you instead.
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