Ask the Judge

Judge Frank R. Bayger

Judge Frank R. Bayger


Are billboard lawyers fishing for big injuries with big insurance coverage only?

Dear Judge Bayger;

I want to thank you for providing a forum where people who have concerns can get their questions answered.

My car was recently hit by a car driven by a college student from the University of Buffalo and I suffered an injury; [not life threatening injury but serious enough].

The student who was driving was totally at fault.

I talked to a certain attorney and he seemed really interested but when he learned that there was only $25,000 insurance he lost interest.

My question is this: Suppose two separate accidents occur with similar injuries and in accident A the at-fault driver has $1 million in insurance and in accident B the at-fault driver has $25,000 in insurance.

Does the victim who was “lucky” enough to have been hit by the driver with $1 million insurance coverage get to collect one million dollars and the other victim who was unlucky enough to be hit by the driver with only $25,000 only get $25,000?

If I had a serious injury worth one million dollars the fact that the other driver had only $25,000 coverage limits me to collecting only $25,000? Do these billboard lawyers [with their smiley faces] ONLY seek people with serious injuries who get hit by drivers with A LOT of insurance?

When they have these big billboards with the word “injured?” don’t they really mean “Injured by someone with a lot of insurance?”

Sorry for the long questions, Your Honor, but you seem to be the only one who is really willing to tell it like it is.



Dear Melissa:

Thank you for a very intriguing question. You make a number of interesting points, but I would like to put it all in perspective. Choosing a lawyer off of a billboard is generally a mistake; it is too important of a decision to make without doing a little research into the qualifications, education and experience of the attorney. If someone is in a serious auto accident, I’m sure they wouldn’t select a doctor from a billboard or TV commercial, they would want the best medical treatment they could get. Why should getting an attorney be any different?

A one-million-dollar award is not like winning the lottery. There is a great deal of pain and suffering that goes into acquiring that sum. We have monetary awards for serious injuries because it is the only remedy that we can offer to compensate for the loss. But in reality, the vast majority of those injured would much rather get their normal life back than live a pained, dulled existence with a few bucks in their pocket.

When you look at it from the perspective of your hypothetical Accident A and Accident B, it shouldn’t matter to you who has how much insurance; what counts is the kind of life you had after the accident. Insurance is about protecting the person paying the premiums, not benefiting the victim. Just because someone has one-million-dollars in coverage does not mean the injured party will receive one-million-dollars

Under the New York Insurance Law, a plaintiff must prove basic economic loss exceeding $50,000 arising from the negligent operation of a motor vehicle, or have sustained a serious injury. According to the New York Insurance Law Section 5102 (d), “Serious injury” means a personal injury which results in death; dismemberment; significant disfigurement; a fracture; loss of a fetus; permanent loss of use of a body organ, member, function or system; . . . or a medically determined injury or impairment of a non-permanent nature which prevents the injured person from performing substantially all of the material acts which constitute such person’s usual and customary daily activities for not less than ninety days during the one hundred eighty days immediately following the occurrence of the injury or impairment.

Juries award multi-million dollar verdicts to compensate for losses sustained to one’s life after the accident. The money is meant to address lost wages, continuing medical expenses, and future pain and suffering. If you get a verdict that exceeds the insurance policy limit, you would have a judgment against the insured person for the remainder. Unfortunately, if that person has no assets, that judgment may never be satisfied.

For the attorneys involved, proving the value of a serious injury can be a costly affair as well. Independent medical examinations, MRIs, expert witnesses and hours of research all factor into establishing the existence and the value of the injury. Million dollar verdicts don’t just happen; they are earned. While the attorney may put in a great deal of sweat equity into the case, it pales in comparison to the pain and suffering that put the injured party there in the first place. As strange as it may seem, do not envy the million-dollar verdict. It truly symbolizes more tragedy than triumph.

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