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I know what you’re thinking, who would sue me? Well believe me there are plenty of folks out there that would sue you given half a chance. But don’t worry there are very simple approaches you can employ to make yourself an unsuitable target for a hungry attorney. Why should being sued concern you? Why would you ever get sued? Here’s why it has been estimated that 50,000 lawsuits are filed in this country every day of the week. It’s also been calculated that your odds of ending up as a defendant in one of these suits is about 1 in 3.
The reality of our legal system is that people are named as defendants in lawsuits not because of their degree of fault but because of their ability to pay. I know this sounds backward but when an attorney is approached by a potential client who is claiming injury or economic loss, the attorney will consider whether a theory of liability can be developed against someone who can pay a judgment; someone like you. This is called the search for the “Deep Pocket Defendant.” The Deep Pocket Defendant will have substantial insurance coverage and or personal assets that are not protected and can be seized in a suit.
Here is an example. Mr. Woodrow is driving in his car. Mr. Johnson runs through a stop sign at an intersection smashing into Woodrow’s car and causing Mr. Woodrow severe bodily injury. From his hospital bed Mr. Woodrow looks through the Yellow Pages and calls the first law firm he sees. The lawyer he speaks with is Dewey Cheatem from the offices of Dewey Cheatem and Howe.
Mr. Cheatem is what is known as a “Contingent Fee ” lawyer. He will work for a percentage of the ultimate recovery. He determines whether to invest his time and money in a case based upon what his expected return will be. Since the time and expense of preparing for litigation can be considerable an attorney cannot afford to take a case that is not likely to pay off. You have probably seen these guys on television. They characterize themselves in friendly glowing terms, “The Tough Smart Lawyer”, “He Brought Flowers To My Hospital Room”, “e rough Flowers to myHospital RoomNo Recovery-No Fee” or something similar. The deal they cut with the injured party is usually that the attorney will advance all costs and expenses of the suit in exchange for cost recovery plus 30% to 50% or more of any amounts which he can get from the Defendant.
Accordingly, before Mr. Cheatem decides to take Mr. Woodrow’s case, he will want to do some investigation. He will want to know whether Mr. Johnson has insurance and or if any of his assets that can be attached in order to make the case worthwhile. Now if it’s determined that Mr. Johnson does have insurance and assets and those assets are unprotected the case against Mr. Johnson will move forward but for right now let’s assume that Mr. Cheatem quickly determines that Mr. Johnson has no insurance and no assets. What happens then? Is that the end of the case? For Mr. Johnson it probably is the end of the case. Mr. Cheatem is not going to waste his time suing someone who can’t pay or who has no assets. But Mr. Cheatem is not going to give up so easily. He has a client with substantial injuries and that means “Big Bucks” if he can just find a defendant. He has to find someone to blame and someone who can pay. And that means that he is looking for someone like you! How can you be dragged into this seemingly cut and dried injury case? Well first Mr. Cheatem will analyze the deep pocket options. Here are some examples:
1. Was Mr. Johnson on an errand for his employer at the time of the crash? If so maybe he can sue the employer.
2. Did Mr. Johnson have any alcohol in his system? Possible case against the restaurant that served him.
3. Was Mr. Johnson on any medication. If yes then there is a possible case against a pharmacy, pharmacist or drug company for an inadequate warning label.
4. The stop sign Mr. Johnson ran through was in a residential neighborhood in front of someone’s house. Check to see whether the homeowner’s foliage obstructed the view of the stop sign. If so there is a possible case against homeowner for negligence.
5. The driver’s side door of Mr. Woodrow’s car collapsed on impact. Possible case against the manufacturer for not making a more crash resistant frame. And on and on…
Do you see how far we are moving away from Mr. Johnson the person responsible for the accident? We are moving out in an effort to try and tie in a Deep Pocket Defendant. The example given here is taken from a real Texas case. As absurd as this sounds the unlucky defendant ended up being Mr. Johnson’s’ 92 year old, widowed great aunt. How did she get dragged into this? As it turned out she had purchased the car for Mr. Johnson as a gift. She was ultimately found liable on a theory called “Negligent Entrustment.” The jury found that she should not have bought the car for her grand-nephew because she should have known he would cause an accident. The verdict was for $932,000, and Mr. Johnson’s’ great aunt lost everything she owned. That’s right; one lawsuit and she was penniless!
Is this justice? Of course not. But again these types of lawsuits have nothing to do with justice. The point of all this is that the foundation of every lawsuit is a defendant who can pay, period. Once such a defendant is located it is easy enough to construct a theory on why that defendant should be responsible. Judges and juries act on their emotions, not on the law. And when the contest is between an injured and sympathetic plaintiff against a defendant with assets the plaintiff will win virtually every time regardless of the defendant’s actual degree of fault.
As a result of this legal reality, the plaintiff’s attorney will always search for a party or parties who can pay a hefty judgment no matter how remotely connected they are to the case. In the old days it was said that ” He who has the gold makes the rules.” Now the saying goes in legal circles” He who has the gold pays the plaintiff.” The fact is that no matter how obscure your connection to an injury, if you have even modest unprotected assets, an attorney for an injured client will attempt to show that you are somehow legally at fault and you will be named as a defendant.
How can you defeat this insanity? It’s simple really. But first it’s important to understand this, so it bears repeating. If you have any assets at all a retirement nest egg, land, rent property, stocks, savings etc. you have probably done absolutely nothing to insulate them from lawsuits. Attorneys know this. Attorneys also know you are a potential meal ticket. You are literally a defendant waiting for a lawsuit to be filed against you. Everything you have can be attached in a judgement. All the attorney has to do is tie you to the case and name you as a defendant. And as you have seen here it’s easy to be named a defendant, lose, be held liable and forfeit everything you have.
However, this does not have to happen to you. If you are the potential target of a lawsuit you will never be named as a defendant if you just take some simple steps to protect yourself and your property. Those steps are to never own anything in your name. You can control vast amounts of money, land and property but on paper those assets are not owned by you. This simple trick was learned by the richest men on this planet hundreds of years ago. Once this is accomplished all your assets are protected and having your assets protected means you are no longer someones meal ticket. An attorney will not waste his time and resources going after you as a “Deep Pocket Defendant” if he can not attach a judgement against any of your money or property. If you are judgement proof he will move on to easier prey.
© Richard Woodling 2013