Every day, I work with clients who have lost loved ones or have themselves been seriously injured because of someone else’s negligence. And while I’m grateful our legal system allows me to help clients, I’d rather the injury or wrongful death didn’t happen in the first place.
That’s why I believe personal injury law isn’t just about serving my clients. Yes, my first priority is advocating for people who have been hurt and families who have lost loved ones. This is what Bob, Travis, and I focus on day to day. But from a big picture perspective, personal injury law exists to make the world safer.
Harry M. Philo, a famous trial lawyer who led many landmark cases in the 1970s, put it this way:
“The social purpose of tort law is accident and injury prevention. It is only when we fail in our initial purpose that we move to the secondary purpose, which is compensation for the injured person.”
Personal injury attorneys hold people and companies responsible for negligence. That gives everyone more reason to avoid careless actions, which can lead to injury or death. My fellow attorneys and I can also help bring attention to safety issues, everything from reckless driving to unsafe hospital protocols to dangerous roadway designs.
Take, for example, a case Bob recently litigated.1 Bob’s client suffered a catastrophic brain injury and two of her friends died after their car was hit by a train at a railroad crossing with obstructed views. The dangerous railroad crossing had only crossbucks, but no gates or lights to warn drivers. After suit was filed, gates and lights were installed at the crossing.
Our hope is that this case not only spares future drivers and passengers but also serves as a warning for roadway designers. Similarly, we hope every medical malpractice case makes hospitals safer for patients and every workplace injury case makes conditions safer for employees.
A lot of people think of personal injury law as reactive. Something bad happens, and we respond on behalf of our clients. I believe we can do more than that. We can—and should—be proactive advocates for safety. So can our clients, their families, and, well, really anyone.
When I meet with a client for the first time, I’m often asking him or her to tell me about the worst day of his or her life. And while I can’t go back and change that, I want to do whatever I can to keep the same thing from happening to someone else.
1 Bob served as co-counsel with Tony Patterson of Parr, Richey, Obremsky, Frandsen & Patterson.