Injured in South Carolina? Beware of the Paper Tigers!

Woman injured in a south carolina car accident

By: Attorney Ken Harrell

Kenny Harrell is the managing partner of the Joye Law Firm. The Joye Law Firm has focused on handling South Carolina personal injury and workers’ compensation cases for over 50 years and has offices in Charleston, Columbia, Myrtle Beach and Clinton. Harrell has been recognized several times by Super Lawyers and by Best Lawyers as one of South Carolina’s top lawyers, both in the areas of workers’ compensation claimants’ and personal injury plaintiffs’ cases. Harrell formerly served as the president of the South Carolina Injured Workers’ Advocates organization and he has served as the co-chairman of this group’s legislative affairs committee for nearly 15 years.

Anyone who has been seriously injured due to someone else’s fault (especially if it was someone else’s idiocy, like driving drunk), is faced with the question of hiring the right lawyer to help them get their life back on track. This was never an easy decision. Long before lawyers inundated the T.V. airwaves with ads telling you how much bigger their recent settlement was than anyone else’s, the common way to find a lawyer was to ask a friend or a neighbor for a recommendation.  The problem with that was if you didn’t know any lawyers well, it’s pretty likely that the same thing was true of the circle you ran with. Even worse, suppose your neighbor’s brother was a lawyer. Guess who you would be referred to.

The Beginning of Legal Advertising

When lawyers who handle injury cases first started to advertise their services nearly 40 years ago, there was a firestorm within the profession about how tasteless this was. Lawyers who favored advertising argued that it would be a public service because it would educate people about their legal rights. Perhaps there was some merit to this early on as many people may not have realized that they could hire a lawyer on an injury case on a contingent fee basis four decades ago. Now, it would be hard not to know that when so many ads tell you, “we don’t get paid until you get paid.” Do understand that this promise is an empty one – that’s true of almost every lawyer who handles injury cases. Eventually, the United States Supreme Court upheld lawyers’ rights to advertise as a 1st amendment free speech right. From there, it was off to the races!

The problem that potential clients now have is how to choose a lawyer when there are so many options – and there’s so much information to try to digest. If you watch an hour of morning television, you’re likely to see a dozen law firm ads. So, what do you do?

What is a Paper Tiger And Why You Need an Experienced Attorney

One thing I would caution you about is to beware of the paper tigers. A “paper tiger” is defined as a “person or thing which appears threatening but is ineffectual.” Are there lawyers who fall into this category? You better believe there are. Just as most doctors aren’t capable of performing brain surgery, most lawyers are not capable of properly handling a wrongful death or catastrophic injury case. The easiest way for a lawyer to appear to be a Billy Bad Ass is to cut a T.V. commercial telling you how great he or she is. I should know. Since I joined the Joye Law Firm over 25 years ago, I have appeared in dozens of television commercials for our firm. I like to think that I’m a pretty darn good lawyer and I certainly have some accolades that would support that (lawyer awards is a topic for another article).

However, what I do know is that if you were seriously injured in a tractor-trailer collision, I would not be the best lawyer at the Joye Law Firm to handle that case.  I could do a pretty good job for you but I can think of four seasoned trial lawyers in my law firm who would do a better job (and if you’ve been seriously injured, do you want to settle for “pretty good”?) This same fact would be true of many of the law firms that advertise heavily on television. What many of their peers know is that many of these law firms rarely, if ever, have lawyers who actually try cases to a jury verdict.  Even if they do have lawyers who occasionally try cases, many marketing firms have zero track record of obtaining a big result in a courtroom and then collecting on it.

Internet Advertising

You might think that resorting to the internet to gather more information about a law firm is the answer to choosing the law firm that is right for you. Undoubtedly, the internet is a more effective tool for learning about a law firm than T.V. advertisements are. There’s simply no way to add much context to a 30-second ad. This is why I believe that so many T.V. ads touting a specific case result (“we settled a car wreck case for $600,000.00!”) are so misleading. If that case was worth $2 million, should a lawyer be bragging about a $600,000.00 settlement? How in the world would the potential client know what the case was actually worth? However, the web also offers potential pitfalls for a consumer, as there is often no way to know how truthful a law firm’s web content is. A few years ago, a Myrtle Beach personal injury lawyer ended up in serious ethical hot water with the South Carolina Supreme Court when the law firm’s website was found to include a number of outright lies (about everything from the results the firm had obtained, the types of cases the firm had experience handling, and even foreign language proficiency). This lawyer had enough of a high profile that a complaint was filed with the South Carolina Bar. I suspect there are many other cases where puffery has morphed into outright untruthfulness on lawyer websites. That said, I still think a law firm’s website can often be a valuable resource tool as it can give you details on the types of settlements and verdicts the firm has obtained (often with much more factual details than you’d get from a T.V. ad), the types of recognition the firm’s lawyers and the law firm have received, and professional leadership positions the firm’s lawyers have held.

Joye Law Firm’s Major Results in the Past Year

I have warned you to be careful about hiring a paper tiger for a serious legal fight (who wants an “ineffectual” advocate?)  I’d now like to tell you about why I’m confident that you will not have a paper tiger in your corner if you hire the Joye Law Firm for a South Carolina personal injury or workers’ compensation case. To do that, I want to focus on four trial VERDICTS (remember, any lawyer can settle your case – most lawyers cannot properly try your case) that our firm has obtained in the last year and a half.

Case #1 – Our client was working for the South Carolina Department of Transportation at a road construction site when a contractor on the same job negligently backed over him, crushing both of his legs. Our client was left with permanent injuries and he has been unable to return to work. As the federal court trial date approached, the highest offer made was $3.5 million. The offer was rejected, and the jury awarded $6 million. The verdict was paid within two weeks of the trial ending.

Case #2 – Our client was riding his bicycle on a sidewalk when a Goose Creek police officer pulled into his path. As a result of his fall, our client shattered his arm and ended up with tens of thousands of dollars in medical costs. The insurance company denied that the police officer was at fault. Before trial, the largest offer made was $20,000.00. A Berkeley County jury awarded $330,000.00. Within weeks of the trial, the case was settled for an amount just below $300,000.00.

Case #3 – Our clients were a Canadian father and his 18-month-old son. As they were returning from a Florida vacation on Interstate 95 in South Carolina, a tractor trailer driver ignored over 10 signs warning of slowed traffic ahead due to road repairs and plowed his truck into the back of our clients’ car at an estimated speed of 70 mph. The car exploded and both of our clients died in a gruesome and horrifying manner. During the trial, the insurance company’s top offer was $8.67 million. The jury awarded our clients $12 million and the verdict was paid within two months.

Case #4 – Our client was on his way to work for the small plumbing company he owns when a clearly distracted teen-aged girl (hmmm – wonder what she could have been doing?) smashed into the back of his pick-up truck. A customer of our client referred him to a neurosurgeon and our client eventually had to undergo a cervical fusion surgery. Through force of will and out of financial necessity, our client ended up only missing a few months of work. Before trial, the insurance company’s highest offer was $15,000.00. At trial, a Dorchester County jury awarded our client $2.2 million (this verdict is reported to be the second largest verdict ever made in Dorchester Country for a personal injury case). An appeal is pending in this case.

What are some of the traits that Joye Law Firm lawyers exhibited in obtaining these four results? Well, courage ranks at the top of the list. It takes a lot of cojones for a lawyer to counsel his or her client to turn down a $3.5 million or an $8.7 million offer. However, courage without ability can lead to disastrous results. In each of these cases, the Joye Law Firm found qualified and respected experts who could testify about the full extent of our clients’ damages. On top of that, outstanding trial advocacy is an art, and it’s becoming a vanishing art as fewer and fewer lawyers try cases, much less try cases and obtain these results. One thing is certain. No one who saw these trials would describe the Joye Law Firm as being “ineffectual”. You may have difficulty determining who the paper tigers are. Trust me, the insurance companies know who they are – and that can make all the difference when it comes to what sort of an offer is made on your case.