BIR: I have, yes.
MS: Sure. Most people have. Well, that was a very … That was brought about by a very tragic case. A little history on that, for 10 years, GM was settling cases out of court, without getting to a jury, and signing confidential settlements with the plaintiffs. And they kept it confidential because they didn’t want the word to get out, and they didn’t want to have to do that recall, because they did the economic calculation that it was cheaper to settle cases over the years out of court than it would have been for them to recall these vehicles. Well, for 10 years, this happened. And there were deaths linked to that. Several, you know, many people died because of it.
MS: And then a very brave lawyer in Atlanta, your hometown, took on a case involving one of these ignition switch problems. And his name is Lance Cooper, and Lance is a customer of ours. And Lance was able to get our assistance with funding this particular case. He had just himself and a paralegal. And he had to hire experts and engineers to go across the southeast United States and collect ignition switches from GM vehicles, from junkyards and lay them all out over time. And what he found was that, at a certain point in time, GM changed the ignition switch design; but they didn’t change the part number, and they didn’t tell anybody, because they wanted to keep it quiet; because they realized, “This is a defective ignition switch, but we’re going to keep it quiet. We’re going to change the design for new vehicles.”
MS: But what about all the vehicles already on the road? Well, they wanted to keep it quiet. And so he discovered this throughout his case. His case involved a young woman who had already taken her car to the dealer to be repaired once because she had been driving and her car shut off. That was the problem with those switches, they would just shut off. So she took it to the dealer. They looked at it and said, “There’s nothing wrong.” So about a week later, she was driving to her own birthday party to meet her parents. The ignition switch turned off. Now, when you’re driving a vehicle and the ignition shuts off, you lose your power breaks, your power steering, your airbags, and your seat belt tensioners. So you can imagine how horrible it would be to be going down the road, and suddenly, you can’t control your car. Well, that’s what happened to her. She crossed the centerline, crashed into another car, who had other occupants who were injured, and she was killed.
MS: So this is the kind of thing that had been happening for many years across the country. What Mr. Cooper discovered was that the engineers from GM actually lied; afterward, he discovered in the deposition. So now, they had signed a confidential settlement in this case. So what he did was go to NHTSA, the National Highway Transportation Safety Authority, and urged them, “Please, look into this matter. There are tens of millions of unsafe vehicles on the road, and people are getting injured and killed by them all the time.” And it was his work that got NHTSA to do that recall that we all heard about. So, long story short, this is a great example of how lawsuits make us all safer, because those 30 or 40 million vehicles have been repaired now, and are not driving around with those faulty ignition switches. Most folks don’t realize that. They don’t know that they were made safer, thanks to what Mr. Cooper did, and thanks to the recall. And I think that’s the kind of thing we really love helping with. And we’re all safer today, you and I, driving home from the office, because of that recall.
BIR: Well, when you mention cases like that, you know, those are the things that movies are made of. And we do hear about some of these things in the press, but there’s a lot of cases that go unseen because people don’t understand their rights. So what kind of problems do your clients have when it comes to that? Is there much of an education part to the business?
MS: Absolutely. So we provide education in a couple of areas. One of them is to help educate the public, through our employees and the other production work we do, about the truth about what plaintiff lawyers really do. So a plaintiff lawyer is the keys to the courtroom for you and I. You know, if you got hit by a drunk driver on the way home today and needed to hire a lawyer, most people can’t afford to hire a lawyer and pay them $500 an hour for two years to prosecute their case. They just don’t have the money for that.
MS: So along comes the plaintiff lawyer, who’s willing to take a case on a contingent basis. So the contingent-fee contract is crucial to bring the life to our seventh amendment rights. And under a contingent-fee contract, the law firm agrees to prosecute the case for as long as it takes. They agree to advance all the expenses necessary to prosecute the case. And they agree to only get paid if and when there’s an actual settlement or verdict paid. And then they normally get their expenses back. And then they split the award, typically, one-third to the law firm’s legal fees, and two-thirds to the plaintiff.
MS: So as important as the seventh amendment is, if there were not lawyers willing to take a case on a contingent-fee basis, the seventh amendment really wouldn’t mean much to most of us; because yeah, the right’s there, but how do you get to the courtroom? You need a lawyer, and most people can’t afford to hire them. So thankfully, these lawyers are very brave. They’re very entrepreneurial, if you will. They take on great risk, because in a law firm, of course, you have employees, and payroll, insurance, and taxes, and utilities, and rent. Those all have to be paid. And yet, you’re signing up cases on which you’re not receiving hourly fees. You’re having to wait and get paid maybe 18 months, 24 months, three years later.