White-Collar Criminal: The Offender in Business and the Professions

By Gilbert Geis | Go to book overview

16
AMBULANCE CHASING: A CASE STUDY OF
DEVIATION AND CONTROL WITHIN
THE LEGAL PROFESSION

Kenneth J. Reichstein

Today, a large proportion of the lawsuits filed in courts throughout the country are personal injury suits. They are the result of the high rates of costly accidents to persons and property that are a significant by-product of mass methods of production and transportation common to a modern industrial society. These suits are a form of institutionalized conflict to determine both the responsibility for and the amount of damages.

The plaintiff's side of the conflict consists of the injured claimant and his lawyer. Their relationship is based upon a contingent-fee arrangement, closely tying the lawyer's interest to the client's. This arrangement differs from that common to other areas of law, where the fee is roughly proportional to the amount of time and energy expended on the case. Since the latter method is prohibitive for most personal injury victims, who have limited financial resources, the contingent fee is a means for surmounting this economic barrier. The fee is contingent upon the amount of damages the lawyer can obtain for his client (customarily one-third), either through an out-of-court settlement or an in-court award. Thus, it contains an element of risk for the lawyer, because he can lose the case and receive

____________________
Reprinted from Social Problems, 13 ( Summer, 1965), pp. 6-17.

-219-

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