Ron Miller at Maryland Personal Injury thinks the filing of suits only days after an event like the Long Island Wal-Mart trampling, at a point when key facts relevant to the nature and extent of liability have yet to be brought out, “don’t help the clients and also don’t help the general public perception of personal injury lawyers or their clients.” There are, of course, numerous tactical reasons for a race to the courthouse in various legal situations, particularly in likely class actions where lawyers who file early may seize control of the management of a collective suit. Where class action handling of cases is unlikely, however, as in the trampling case, I’ve long suspected that the main reason for the race to the courthouse is that it enables the lawyer to get his own name in the papers, thus pulling in other claimants, including some who might otherwise have signed up with less noisy lawyers.
Bill Childs at TortsProf speculates that another reason is to obtain discovery immediately before memories fade or evidence becomes unavailable in some other way. Again, I’m sure there are some cases where this factor is at work, but I also suspect there are many where the lawyer does not follow up on the hasty filing by plunging into discovery as rapidly as is practicable.
P.S. Some new reporting out on the events leading up to the shopper crush that morning, and a blog roundup from Carolyn Elefant. At “Freakonomics”, Ian Ayres: “To say that the low prices were a but-for cause of this man’s death is not to say that Wal-Mart should be legally or morally culpable for low prices.” Further thoughts from White Coat Rants. And from commenter “Dan”, below, a naughty suggestion for how to treat the claims from not-especially-injured crowd members:
…how about this idea. Everyone who self-identifies as being in the trampling crowd so they can share a jackpot for the psychological horror of it also gets put on the list of people included in a share of a manslaughter charge. Seems like a good trade; a coupon for $10 off your next Wal-Mart purchase in exchange for a few years in prison. Any takers?
P.P.S.: Eric Turkewitz advances an alternative motivation for haste, in that it might encourage potential witnesses to get in touch with the lawyer; yet another possibility, he says, is that the plaintiff family might have demanded haste.