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Fairbanks, Alaska

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Ward Merdes
Ward Merdes
Attorney • (866) 452-3741

What’s “Negligence”? [Hint: It’s Just Being Stupid]

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For the last 20+ years, I’ve been a personal injury attorney in Alaska. My phone rings every day with people who have had bad things happen to them. Nobody wants to call me. They only call me when they must. They call because they got run over by a drunk. They call because their spouse’s plane crashed. They call because their doctor got drunk before their surgery. In every phone call, something ugly happened.

BOTTOM LINE: Nobody calls me because they had a good day. I sometimes feel like a dentist.

Every hard-luck phone call has common threads. Here’s what’s going on in my head, as I listen to these callers:

1. Did somebody do something stupid?;

2. Was the caller actually hurt by the stupidity?; and

3. Does the stupid person have insurance or assets to help the injured caller?

I need all three of these before I can do the caller any good. Let’s examine them in order.

First: "Did somebody do something stupid?" This is called "Negligence." It does NOT mean that the person is bad, or belongs in jail. It simply means that the person did something stupid. [I’m negligent every day … and so are you. Every time we drive 56 in a 55 – every time we don’t pay close attention and slide our cars on ice – every time we don’t act carefully – we are "stupid" and hence "Negligent."]

Second: "Was the caller actually hurt by the stupidity?" Because each of us does stupid things EVERY day, the key is determining whether that stupidity actually hurt the caller. For example, if the other person was driving 90 MPH in a 40 MPH zone, slid sideways and crushed the caller, that would be a pretty obvious causation situation. On the other hand, if the person drove 120 MPH in a 15 MPH school zone, but (thank god) missed all the kids, there was no actual injury. Hence, you can be stupid (negligent) and still get lucky by not hurting anybody. God takes care of some idiots.

Third: "Does the stupid person have insurance or assets to help the injured caller?" This is called the "Deep Pocket" rule. Face it, if there is no insurance or if the stupid person has no assets, he/she most likely won’t be held responsible for their stupidity/negligence. Rush Limbaugh makes fun of the "Deep Pocket" rule. I’m a bit more reserved. Think about it: As an attorney, would I be doing my client (the injured caller) a bit of good if I suggested that he/she jump head-first into hiring me for a claim and lawsuit, if I knew the stupid person had no insurance and no assets? What kind of fool attorney would suggest to an injured person that he/she spend enormous time/effort fighting a battle like that? I only fight where I have some chance of helping my client with medical bills, lost wages, and pain/suffering.

Of course, it’s more complicated than this, but the nut of a good personal injury attorney’s analysis is set forth above. I hope this helps. For more information, go to www.SlowDownAlaska.org where I explain this, again. Actually, I hope you never need to call a personal injury attorney. But if you do – read this carefully.

I also hope that this short blog stops the few folks who call me wanting "money because I was hurt in an accident" – only to discover that they (themselves) drunkenly ran their car into a tree and hurt themselves.

Seriously. YOU ONLY HAVE A CLAIM IF SOMEBODY ELSE’S STUPIDITY HURT YOU. That’s how the civil justices system works. Our goal is to hold stupid people accountable for their stupidity. If we hold stupid people accountable – making them pay for every dollar of every problem they cause, maybe stupid people will smarten up a bit. Maybe they will slow down and stop drinking/driving. Maybe you will make it home alive.

The civil justice system works. It is sometimes slow and difficult, but it works. Think about it before you buy any more of Limbaugh’s hogwash about “Deep Pockets” and "The System is Broken." It’s not.