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Why I’m speaking out in the No Fault insurance reform debate

Me, an ambulance chasing lawyer? Really?

Steven Gursten, personal injury lawyer, Michigan Auto Law

Below is a comment from one of my not-so-biggest fans in response to my recent guest editorial in the Detroit Free Press: Profits, not medical claims, drive up the cost of auto insurance in Michigan:

“Stephen M. Gursten, the writer of this article, is an ambulance chasing lawyer…”

Do you know I am now actually getting my own “hate mail?” I’ve been speaking out against the insurance industry’s push to change No Fault insurance in Michigan.  And as a result, I’ve received some rather nasty comments posted in the Detroit Free Press, on Facebook and in response to my blogs.  I’ve even received my own hate mail.

The comments seem to be coming from two different groups:

  1. The first is people from the insurance industry who are angry that I’m calling them out on the lies they are spreading about No Fault reform, such as the one lately about insurance companies losing money in Michigan (they are actually amazingly profitable).
  2. The second group are the internet trolls and haters out there. These are people who hide behind the anonymity of the internet and do not engage in substantive discussion. They just leave nasty comments.  These are the people leaving the comments about me being an ambulance chaser, but they don’t say it very nicely.

An ambulance chaser? Moi?

It is certainly interesting  to be called names like “ambulance chasing lawyer” by people who don’t know anything about me or  my law practice.  It is hard to understand how I can be an ambulance chaser when my law firm does no TV, does no Yellow Pages advertising, does not appear on billboards or on buses.  Almost all of my cases are referred to me, mostly from other Michigan personal injury lawyers.

I’ve also been one of  the leading proponents of raising the standard for attorney ethics in this state – even having been asked to speak before the Michigan Legislature – on the scandal of other Michigan personal injury lawyers soliciting accident victims at home and why this must be stopped.

If I were an ambulance chasing personal injury lawyer, I must be the most incompetent ambulance chaser ever. But that’s really beside the point.

Thank you Seth Godin, thank you New York Times

Yet there have been a few moments, I must confess, when I’ve wondered if it’s worth it to be putting myself out there and taking this abuse.  I’ve wondered if it is worth all the time and energy I’m expending fighting to protect the people of this state who would be hurt by what the insurance companies want to do. The people who desperately need the legal protections afforded by our No Fault insurance laws.

And let’s clear up something right now: If I were only pursuing my own naked self-interests (yes, as a personal injury lawyer), I would be in favor of these No Fault caps.  The lower the caps, the better.

I could make a lot more money.

If the Republicans and the insurance companies have their way, caps on No Fault insurance would be great for the insurance companies and for the trial lawyers.  But it’s everyone else who gets hurt — all the people who have been so catastrophically injured in car accidents, many of whom I’ve helped throughout the years and who are still such a huge part of my life today — that cause me to speak out against this.

If it were just a matter of maximizing my own personal self-interest and putting the most dollars in my own pocket, I wouldn’t be taking the stand against this that I have.

I mention all of this because on Saturday morning I read something that reminded me of how important it is to continue to speak out for what I believe is right.

The first was a blog  from Seth Godin. Seth Godin is one of my favorite writers, and he’s a wonderful source of inspiration and ideas.

Seth wrote a blog named “It’s Thomas Midgeley day.” It is about a man responsible for millions of deaths that he indirectly caused by lying about a dangerous product, so he and his bosses could get rich.  They knew it was dangerous.  And they continued to lie and call it safe.

Seth writes:

“Does this sound familiar? An entrenched industry needs the public and its government to ignore what they’re doing so they can defend the status quo and extract the maximum value from their assets.  They sow seeds of doubt, and remind themselves (and us) of the profits and the money…people…actively lie as they engage in PR campaigns aimed at belittling or undermining those that are brave enough to point out just how damaging the status quo is.”

That same day, I read an article in the New York Times, “Learning from Litigation,” that refutes the common belief that it is the injury lawyers filing tort lawsuits that drive up costs. To the contrary, the story explains how it is those “ambulance chasing trial lawyers” – and the threat of lawsuits that lawyers file – that provide an enormous but mostly uncalculated benefit to society.

It turns out it is those pesky injury lawyers and “ambulance chasers” lead to fewer mistakes.  That, in turn, saves countless lives. Personal injury lawyers are responsible for making  many of the ordinary things that we take for granted,  from infant pajamas and cribs to cars, safer for us all.

In short, it is often only the threat of lawsuits that stop the modern-day Thomas Midgeleys, who would otherwise lie and knowingly endanger the public to maximize their own profits.

It is the threat of lawyers holding these modern-day Thomas Midgeleys, the  people who would lie to pursue profits at the expense of our safety, that provides an enormous (albeit indirect and harder to calculate) economic benefit to us all.

So go ahead, all of you Thomas Midgeleys out there. Go ahead, you propagandists and lobbyists and shills hired by the insurance companies. And all of you internet trolls and haters out there, you can keep calling me all of those terrible names.  Keep calling me an ambulance chaser.

It won’t stop me from speaking out against what is right.

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