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Need A Lawyer? Don’t Believe Everything You Read On A Website! (Updated Developments)

Last month, I published a post about a local DUI law firm that suddenly started advertising for personal injury and wrongful death cases. Suddenly, billboards for that firm appeared along major Huntsville area roads. I’ve written many times that I would never hire a billboard lawyer for a serious case. I’ve seen many skilled courtroom lawyers and legal scholars during the two decades I’ve practiced personal injury work. None of them advertise on billboards.

Attorney ads are everywhere. It’s simple – You pay a marketer. You pose for a photograph. You claim expertise. You can even purchase some fake awards to bolster your credentials. Most lawyers receive daily junk mail offers to sell them plaques. The opportunities to buy vanity awards are endless.

In my last post, I asked “What about websites?” I believe websites should provide good educational material for legal consumers. I think the purposes should be (1) to provide educational information; and, (2) to convey the authenticity of your business. That’s why I wrote the legal articles on my website. I’m sure my articles contain a few grammatical errors. Maybe a professional content writer would write them differently. When you hire a lawyer (or any other professional) it’s personal. We want consumers to know the real firm (the person they are actually hiring), not what a ghostwriter says. We also want to provide skilled information for people who need help. I write about areas of the law I’ve studied and practiced for years. I don’t write about other areas of the law where I lack expertise. Nor do I try to market for clients in those other specialties. I don’t think it’s right to do so. People with legal issues deserve better.

I feel strongly about the issue. Because of that, I took issue with a local DUI firm advertising for personal injury and car accident cases while putting a “Disclaimer” on its website. Yes, a fine print disclaimer at the bottom of its website pages for personal injury, car accident and wrongful death cases.

What is their disclaimer? The billboard law firm is going to sign you as a client but “may” retain another firm (a real injury trial firm) to handle the case. What does that mean? Lawyers who actually prepare personal injury cases for trial don’t advertise with disclaimers saying they refer most cases to an outside lawyer. If you are hurt, who do you want to hire as a personal injury attorney?

In addition to the fine print “Disclaimer,” the billboard firm also had an interesting “Wrongful Death” page. On that page, the firm actually listed the types of “compensation to offset costs” it would work to obtain. It then listed items like suffering, loss of consortium, and medical bills. The Problem – These are compensatory damages and NOT recoverable in an Alabama wrongful death case. That’s a big problem. In my prior post, I quote their false promises of compensation.

Alabama law allows for the recovery of ONLY punitive damages in wrongful death cases. That’s a key part of our law. It impacts everything in a wrongful death case. I’ve prepared wrongful death cases for over two decades and can tell you – the entire legal strategy of an Alabama wrongful death case must consider that only punitive damages are recoverable. That’s something any lawyer who regularly handles these cases would know.

The damages issue is essential in preparing and recovering for a wrongful death claim. Beyond that, it’s also essential in keeping the money recovered. What do I mean? Consider medical liens by health insurers for example. In a normal personal injury case, they are a significant issue. Here’s a common personal injury scenario – You have a car accident. You are hurt. You see doctors for medical care. If you have health coverage like Blue Cross or Medicare, they pay your bills. But, they also have certain rights to subrogation or reimbursement if you recover money in your personal injury case.

In wrongful death cases, the law does not allow a recovery for compensatory damages like medical bills. No recovery means no reimbursement. That’s a big deal to clients. For more information, you can read a prior article I wrote titled — Wrongful Death And Medical Reimbursement In Alabama. Many lawyers don’t understand the impact. Clearly, a lawyer who does not know what damages are recoverable will not understand the issue. As a consumer, the lawyer’s ignorance can cost you tremendously.

The damages issue is key to these cases. I could talk at length about it. I have discussed many of these issues in past blog posts. At this point, you may be asking why I’m updating my prior post on this topic? After writing my prior post, the advertising DUI firm removed the references to compensatory damage items from its website wrongful death page. That’s a positive development. Consumers need correct information.

Yet, the “Disclaimer” remains. Many Huntsville area attorneys know the truth – this DUI firm has a deal with a specific area law firm to refer those cases for a fee. The consumer does not get the firm he or she hired. The consumer gets a different lawyer that he or she did not research or choose. That type of advertising is still a problem for many attorneys who want to deliver transparent and reliable professional services. As a profession, we should be open and transparent about our services.