By Kenneth C. Vincent, Featured Contributor
According to the statistics, the US has more lawyers per population than any other country in the world. Why is that? Do we have more lawyers because Americans are prone to sue each other, or do we have more law suits because we have more lawyers? While I can’t answer that question, I do know that lawyers love hotels. Why do they love hotels? Well for starters a mid sized hotel will have tens of thousands of people going through it’s building in a year. Many of them are distracted, and some do dumb things. They fall down stairs, trip over carpets, get into fights in your bar, and all manner of other things. To add to that there are several hundred employees handling food, caustic chemicals, and running around kitchens with sharp knives. They are intermittently fending off sexual advances by guests and each other. Some days they are running from rattle snakes or an African lion. Safe work environment suits!
I’ve been sued 157 times. Well, that isn’t quite true. I’ve only been sued 156 times. The other case I filed against a judge that ruled against me and had him disbarred. So let me tell you what I know about lawyers and law suits.
First, not all lawyers are created equal. No, I don’t mean that some are good and some are not. Of course like in any profession that is true, but what I mean is not even a good lawyer is good at all aspects of law. You don’t want the lawyer that handled your last divorce or updated your will to defend you in a sex discrimination suit. Like doctors, lawyers specialize.
Second, you always need a couple of good lawyers at the ready. How do you find a good lawyer. Well, you can start by calling the American Bar Association for a list of defense lawyers near you. Then you interview them just like you would if hiring a new employee. See if they are a good fit for you. Examine their history of wins and losses. See if they know anything at all about your type of business. Lawyers are expensive and you don’t want to pay $400+ per hour to educate them in how your type of business functions. Of course the best way to find a lawyer is often to get a referral from a lawyer that you have used successfully in the past.
Third is that when a suit is filed against you, the prosecuting attorney will sue everyone in sight. Anyone that can be remotely connected to the issue will be named.
Now, what can you be sued for? Well, almost anything. Of course trips and falls, theft of belongings, and even sexual abuse are common. (It just takes one off hand comment by one of your department heads to land you in the courthouse.) But, you can be sued for things that you would never in your worst nightmare expect. How about a guest suing you because his wife divorced him? Here is the story one that one.
“My housekeeper called one day to advise me that a couple had checked out, leaving a flimsy nightgown in the room. I had her send it to their home. I got a call in a few days from the man’s wife, informing me that it was not hers. After their subsequent divorce, the husband sued me.” (Excerpt from “So Many Hotels, So Little Time”). Not all good deeds go unpunished.
Now I know that someone will say, “I have liability insurance, so it is the insurance company’s problem.” It has been my experience that even the best insurance policy doesn’t cover every potential problem. Your insurance company will first look for a reason that the issue isn’t covered. Then, insurance companies are often prone to settle rather than defend you, and that isn’t always in your best interest. A suit for food poisoning may not be one that you want swept under the carpet if it is already public knowledge.
One final note for your consideration. If your lawyer tells you that you have a 50/50 chance of winning, toss in the towel and run for the nearest exit. What that usually means in layman talk is we are going to lose this case, but I’m going to make a bundle dragging it out.
Now, if a lawyer reads this please don’t sue me. I’m not giving legal advice here, just relating my opinions and experiences, and my lawyers tell me that is not a punishable offense.
So what have you been sued for this week?