Monday, March 31, 2008

Sue the Bastards!

I grew up in a far less litigious world than we all now occupy, and in a family that was not the litigious type.

It's not that my world was devoid of people who did sue - my father was forever making fun of some neighbors, who were actually pretty good friends of his, who had been involved in a couple of fender-benders and had gone after the "other party."

"Whiplash!" my father would sneer. "Can't prove anything, but you can't disprove anything. Whiplash! Hah!"

While my family was not litigious, we were not especially the roll-over-and-play dead type either.

One time, when my father was driving up Worcester's Main Street, some young fellows ("Puerto Rican punks!") jumped out in front of the car. This caused my father to slam on the brakes, causing my sister Trish, who was - in those bygone pre-seatbelt days - standing behind the front seat, to slam her adorable, much doted upon little baby of the family self into the seat back. Blood, tears, and shrieking ensued.

My father - by then well into his fifties, and in mortally ill health - took off after said Puerto Rican punks. Although my father had been quite an athlete, and was, illness and all, a still somewhat vigorous man, he was no match for young men in their late teens. Nor was he able to ignore my mother's clarion call to get back in the car.

Family lore also includes the saga of my father's prolonged efforts to get back the $25 or $50 he had loaned to an old Navy buddy, Vincent P. Egan.

The story was that Vincent P. Egan showed up in Worcester one day with some sort of tale of woe, and looked up my father, a very generous man and - for such a hard head - a notoriously soft touch.

Egan - speaking "Irishman to Irishman" asked to borrow some money.

No, my father insisted, I'll give it to you. No need to pay it back.

But Egan insisted that he would only take the money as a loan, and drew up the papers then and there.

Needless to say, Egan absconded with the dough, and made no effort whatsoever to pay my father back.

My father spent several years trying to track Vincent P. Egan down, with no luck.

In the late 1940's/early 1950's, a loan of the Egan magnitude was not insignificant in our family. My baby pictures were never purchased because my father had slipped the ten bucks that was going to pay for them to his ne'er do well brother. Thus, what exists of my studio baby pictures is a few shots of a perfectly adorable baby with the words "PROOF" stamped in purple ink across her face.

It was not, as my father explained again and again, the money. It was the fact that Egan had conned him out of it by insisting that it was a loan, by playing the "Irishman to Irishman" card.

But hire a lawyer to sue the bastard? What a bunch of malarkey!

Ah, but this is a different world, and even though I am genetically the non-litigious type, it did cross my mind to go after the hotel in which I tripped, fell, and broke my arm. It was there cleaners, after all, who had not put the rug back down, leaving it there for me to trip on....

Perhaps if a bone had been protruding through my skin, I might have given it more thought, but I got up, walked home, and - after an uncomfortable night during which the pain didn't wear off - figured out I'd really been hurt.

Still, I decided it wasn't worth it. Yes, they may have been liable, but it wasn't as if I would never walk-work-play the violin again, was it?

Which did not stop my health insurance company from contacting me to ask if I was suing, to see if they could recover my medical and PT costs from whatever damages I received.

I realize that they have to go through this formal step, but they're now after me for the second time to check and see whether I've lawyered up and whether the hotel has coughed up.

And here is the best thing about their position: The amount you reimburse XYZ Insurance will not be reduced by any attorney fees.

Now, I get that, if I was awarded damages, I would have to reimburse them for their costs. Fair enough.

But, even if I were the litigious type, what would be my incentive to hire (and pay) a lawyer? Maybe - but not necessarily - I'd get some money out of the deal. And then I'd have to turn around and perhaps give it all (including the amount I would have liked to pay the lawyer with) to my insurer.

We are not talking about huge amounts of money here: An ER visit. A few sets of X-Rays. A couple of follow-up MD visits. Non-trivial PT.

I haven't toted up the costs, but unless I have to hyper-extend the PT beyond the first 30 appointments - and they don't think I'll have to do so by many visits, given the progress I've made since switching from a namby-pamby hospital setting to kick-ass sports PT - we're talking about (maybe) $10K (not counting my deductibles, which will tack on another $1K).

Now, given that the hotel cleaning guys didn't deliberately trip me. And given that, while I was hurt, I haven't been devastated, what could I possibly expect to exact from a claim against the hotel?

Maybe $10K? Maybe a little more? Maybe enough to pay off my insurance company, but not my lawyer's fee, let alone my deductible? Not to mention my time and psychic energy.

This was an accident.

Sorry, but there are no bastards to sue here.

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