Seismic shift in law firm ownership?

November 9, 2021

Seismic shift in law firm ownership?

Seismic shift in law firm ownership?

Your monthly legal news update from by Attorney Jeff Keiser.

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Holiday Safety

As we enter the 2021 holiday season, safety should be on all of our minds. American roads are more dangerous and deadly than ever, and beyond the importance of our work and our clients is our own personal safety. So be careful out there. We have mentioned the current state of MVAs in the law before, and recently, a report was published that shows just how dangerous things are now.

Worst Since 2006

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released their report on the first 6-months of 2021, and things are not great.1 The US experienced more than 20,000 traffic deaths from January through June 2021. This is the worst report since 2006, more than 18% higher than just a year ago. The report blames these high numbers of fatalities on a combination of increased drug/alcohol use, a lack of safety constraint use, and more speeding due to there being fewer cars on the road. Behavioral research from March through June found more people were flouting the speed limit and fewer people were using seat belts. Specifically, New York City has seen a 26% increase in traffic deaths from 2020, leading city officials to discuss a first-in-the-nation congestion pricing plan, similar to one used in London.

Should Have Settled

When handling MVA cases, most lawyers try to work out a settlement agreement with the insurer. It’s the normal course of business. But we need to be careful when negotiating these things, and we should never take ‘yes’ for an answer. In Georgia, following an MVA with injuries, plaintiff’s counsel offered to settle the case for $50,000. As the insurer held firm at their $29,000 valuation, they rejected the offer and went to trial. The jury came back with an award of $456,000, including more than $130,000 in attorney’s fees and $9,000 in pre-judgment interest.2 We’ve all lost a settlement negotiation with an insurer before. Sometimes, they lose too.

STD’s Covered By Car Insurance?

In Missouri, one case has caught the eye of many commentators. A woman is suing GEICO after contracting an STD in a car covered by its policy.3 After contracting HPV, the plaintiff sought more than $1 million in damages. GEICO’s response was a logical one, saying that they did not cover any injuries that had nothing to do with the ownership or use of a car. We’ll have to see what the courts say, but even this plaintiff’s attorney thinks that the insurer has a point.

Alternative Business Structures

More seriously, Arizona has recently opened the door to alternative business structures for law firms, striking the traditional requirement that a firm can only be owned by lawyers.4 LegalZoom has already established itself in Arizona, where they can now offer limited legal advice through their online portal. Utah is following suit. How much of a trend this becomes remains to be seen, but it could show a seismic shift in how law firms are owned and operated.

More “Speed Filter” Controversy

The 9th Circuit opened the door to suing social networks when they encourage dangerous behavior through their apps.5 As the 17-year-old behind the wheel accelerated to 123 miles per hour, one of the passengers opened Snapchat. His parents say their son wanted to capture the experience using an app feature — the controversial “speed filter” — that documents real-life speed, hoping for engagement and attention from followers on the messaging app. The trial court dismissed based on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. On appeal, the Court reversed, based on a design defect of the app theory. This increases the chances of the Supreme Court hearing a Section 230 case.

Who is in the Drivers Seat?

And finally, we’ve written before about issues surrounding self-driving cars. Tesla is currently involved in a trial seeking damages following a crash.6 Metrics from the car indicated that the driver was in the driver’s seat, but eyewitness testimony contradicted those reports. The NTSB said that the driver had floored the gas pedal, which again contradicted eyewitness reports. This trial may be just the beginning for this kind of lawsuit, but of 187 reports of autonomous vehicles accidents, only two could be attributed to the poor performance of the systems.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. We’ll be back next month with more interesting info about MVA and PI law in December.

Craig H. Alinder, Vice President

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