So should Pennsylvanians care?
Here's why we have to be concerned about what the Chamber of Commerce is complaining about in West Virginia. There is a nasty legislative fight going on there concerning a piece of legislation that would require insurance carriers to provide the amount of their insured's bodily injury policy limits to personal injury claimants and their attorneys before suit is filed. Proponents of the bill, such as West Virginia House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, take the position that the objective of the bill is to reduce litigation. Getting policy limits information pre-suit is relevant information that is typically not disclosed by insurance companies until suit is filed. In other words, why force a lawsuit just to obtain the information?
I agree with Miley and here's why.
In Pennsylvania, if I represent someone injured in a car accident , as in West Virginia, the opposing insurance company is not required to disclose their insured's policy limits unless and until suit is filed by me on behalf of my client. In reality, obtaining the amount of the defendant's coverage is largely dependent on a number of factors, including:
- Which insurance company is involved;
- The level of experience or lack thereof, of the insurance representative assigned to the claim;
- The degree of injuries sustained by the plaintiff;
- The amount of unpaid medical bills incurred by the plaintiff;
- The amount of wage loss incurred by the plaintiff;
- The county where suit will be filed.
State Farm and Allstate will rarely if ever disclose policy limits pre-suit. American Independent invariably only writes polices for the minimum amount of coverage, $15,000. If it's a Chubb Insurance Company policy and the defendant lives on the Main Line, more than likely it's not a $15,000 policy, but rather a much larger policy. If the defendant is a business, there will be a commercial policy with at least $1,000,000 in coverage.
So, some things we know going in, whether or not suit is eventually filed.
There are many cases where I am forced to file suit, only to receive a telephone call from the defense attorney assigned to the case immediately after the lawsuit is served on the defendant, and he or she will tell me the amount of the defendant's policy limits. They have to at that point. It is discoverable information under the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure. There's no reason to hide that information any more.
Does holding back the amount of an insured's bodily injury limits accomplish anything? No, it does not.
The Chamber and their political cohorts see it differently. The Chamber goes out of its way to oppose anything pro-consumer. And, as succinctly stated by Max Kennerly in his recent blog post, Chamber of Commerce Swings And Misses At Plaintiffs' Lawyer Advertising:
Don’t kid yourself that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce cares the slightest bit about small business. The Chamber is the most anti-free-market lobbying group in the country, an organization dedicated to ensuring the biggest corporations in the country stay that way, squashing small businesses and regular people alike.
Max's post points out that the Chamber essentially posits that lawyer advertising should be limited, restricted, monitored more so than other businesses. He criticizes, correctly so, a recent "study" by the Chamber's research arm, The Institute For Legal Reform which stated:
The plaintiffs’ bar contributes to the commercialization of the legal profession by using a sophisticated and complex combination of paid search advertising and high organic search optimization of websites to generate site traffic – all with the goal of collecting the personal contact information of potential plaintiffs.Plaintiffs’ firms are devoting millions of dollars to the creation and maintenance of websites, Facebook pages, Twitter handles, blogs and YouTube channels.
No doubt Plaintiff's attorneys are spending money on online marketing. So are other attorneys. So are other businesses!
The Chamber's position is that lawyers should not be as free to market online as other businesses. Guess what? Lawyer advertising is restricted already. How we advertise, what we say, and how we say it is already controlled and restricted by the Bar in each individual state. No other business is restricted in how they advertise, but lawyers are.
As far as I am concerned, the more information that is available to the consumer the better. I am much more concerned about someone who lets their personal injury claim lapse because of lack of knowledge of the statute of limitations (the kind of information freely and readily supplied on my website as well as on other plaintiff lawyer websites) than of lawyers spending money to create an online presence.
The Chamber doesn't view things that way. The less information the public has, the better positioned big business is to prevent the filing of lawsuits seeking compensation for legitimate claims for damages.