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Lawless in LA: Judges Cave, Justice Crumbles

In a recent courtroom showdown that could rival the plot twists of a legal thriller, the Los Angeles County Superior Court sent shockwaves through the legal community by disregarding a cornerstone of democracy: attorney-client privilege. Just a few weeks ago, an LA judge made an unprecedented demand, requiring an attorney to share confidential emails exchanged with their investigator. This move stripped away the protective cloak of secrecy and strategic planning that typically shields legal maneuvers and evidence. And the case? A personal injury lawsuit. Just one in a flood of cases inundating the court system, all represented by a subsection of personal injury attorneys resorting to less-than-savory tactics to clinch exorbitant settlements for their clients. Overwhelmed judges find themselves torn between upholding the law and succumbing to the weight of the caseload, and often, they’re caving.

Just take a drive down Los Angeles’ 710 and count the billboards advertising personal injury claim lawsuits. It’s impossible to ignore the surge. People see these ads as their ticket out of poverty, believing that their minor accidents will translate into hefty paydays. But these lawyers aren’t champions of the people; their tactics jeopardize the very concept of fair justice.

As the lead investigator at Paramount Investigative Services, I’m right in the thick of it, working with attorneys who are on the right side of justice and witnessing firsthand the seismic tremors hitting the U.S. justice system because of this phenomenon. In the case at hand, the confidential emails swapped between me, and the defense attorney ripped the veil off our entire strategy, leaving us reeling from the impact.

Throughout my 25 years in investigations, we’ve always relied on the sanctity of attorney-client privilege and work product privileges. However, in California over the past five years, personal injury attorneys have become increasingly audacious, subpoenaing us and our records with alarming frequency.

These privileges have been our shield, granting us the freedom to strategize, hash out investigation tactics, and candidly discuss our findings. Now, with our emails laid bare, we’re left exposed, our discussions about past and present surveillance, along with details about witnesses and their potential testimony, laid bare for all to see. There’s a touch of embarrassment too, as our personal opinions regarding the character of the injured party and their family are now out in the open.

Yet, zooming out to a broader perspective, this move, which tramples on the sanctity of attorney-client privilege, is the tip of the iceberg in a disturbing shift in the justice landscape. It blurs the distinction between negotiation and surrender, establishing a perilous precedent where aggressive tactics trump established legal norms. The swift erosion of these norms imperils the equitable dispensation of justice, especially for everyday citizens navigating the legal maze in search of fairness. Congeniality is today’s losing strategy!

It seems that being congenial in the courtroom is now a surefire way to lose your case. What we’re witnessing is a dangerous precedent where the louder and more unreasonable the attorney, the quicker justice crumbles as judges give in.

The erosion of attorney-client privilege not only undermines the integrity of legal proceedings but also poses a grave threat to justice itself. When privileged information is no longer safeguarded, it’s the average citizen who suffers the most, as their ability to seek fair representation and protection diminishes.

Looking beyond the immediate fallout of this case and the erosion of attorney-client privilege, it’s just one thread in a larger noose dangling around the neck of justice. The exploitation of loopholes and systemic manipulation isn’t just eroding the bedrock of justice; it’s also stoking inflationary pressures. Enter the micro-nuclear verdict, a new phenomenon that’s reshaping the insurance landscape. The same personal injury attorneys demanding privileged emails have caught wind that by aggressively hammering into the system, they can toss justice out the window and prompt judges to dish out massive verdicts just to quiet the barking dog.

What used to be a simple fender bender, typically resulting in repairs and minimal time off work, has now morphed into settlements ranging from $100,000 to an eye-popping $10 million. These numbers stand in stark contrast to the modest verdicts of around $20,000 seen in previous years for similar claims. Yet, as attorneys continue to devise ways to skirt policy limits, these claims now soar beyond previous boundaries. The strategy employed deftly circumvents policy limits using exploitative practices and legal loopholes. The sheer deluge of these cases flooding the courts magnifies their impact, perpetuating a cycle of inflation and unsettling the very bedrock of the legal system.

These verdicts are reshaping the legal and insurance landscapes, pushing car insurance inflation to its highest point in 47 years. With underwriting losses hitting $33.1 billion in 2022 and average claim costs skyrocketing by 11%, with the majority of those hikes being felt by middle to lower income motorists, the average consumers are left bearing the brunt of the financial burden with soaring premiums. Meanwhile personal injury attorneys and complicit doctors’ line their pockets with their piece of a $53 billion a year industry. I’ve heard of “ambulance chasers,” but this is a new breed, and to watch this all unfold feels a lot like being seated in the front passenger seat of a self-driving car careening through the streets, blatantly disregarding red lights along the way.

So, what’s being learned is that there is little to lose by adopting unreasonable and disruptive tactics. This calculated strategy backs judges into a corner, as they struggle to strike a middle ground. However, in their pursuit of a middle ground, judges inadvertently raise the bar for what constitutes that middle ground, gutting justice safeguards from the inside out. It’s a classic case of the squeaky wheel getting the grease.

In my perspective, those perpetrating these abuses will persist until there’s a collective, industry-wide push for change. It’s only through safeguarding attorney-client privilege and decisively addressing systemic abuses that we can truly guarantee equal access to justice for all. Until then, the very foundation of a fair and equitable society hangs in the balance.

The post Lawless in LA: Judges Cave, Justice Crumbles appeared first on Attorney at Law Magazine.

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