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'Personal-Injury Justice'

January 24, 1986

If ignorance is bliss, Wiebe must be ecstatic.

He asserts that personal-injury attorneys "roll the dice" in hopes for a "big payday" from the jury. No sane attorney risks tens of thousands of his own dollars and spends hundreds of hard-fought and stressful hours to take a chance on a never-wholly predictable jury verdict--if the insurance company has made a reasonable offer to settle the case. Every large verdict is a direct result of an insurance company making a stingy offer, hoping to buy out cheap. Then, when the plaintiff is forced to trial, and a jury (after hearing all the evidence) decides for the plaintiff, the insurance company cries "foul."

Wiebe also claims that the contingency fee system creates a conflict of interest between attorney and client. The opposite is true. This system makes the attorney and client "partners" in the outcome of the case. Limiting fees to 10% on any amount over $200,000 creates a conflict of interest. Given the costs, risks, expenses, delays and overhead, no plaintiff's firm can survive on a 10% fee. The insurance company frequently offers $200,000 to settle a case where medical expenses alone are twice that amount. This callously puts the plaintiff's attorney in a cruel dilemma: Sell the client down the river by undersettling, or fight for the full value for no additional fee. This is an intolerable conflict, which the insurance companies exploit to their advantage--and the injured victim suffers.

Now, Wiebe and his cohorts want to expand this law to all areas of civil justice. This is nothing short of a blatant attack on the right to civil trial by jury. Our constitutional system guarantees that the individual, the little guy, can take on the big corporations, the major manufacturers, and the doctors on equal footing. The insurance companies don't like this system. They hate a fair fight.

RUSSELL S. KUSSMAN

Beverly Hills

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