Two True Stories
As a member of my high school newspaper journalism class, I was invited to go on a tour of the “Sunday Visitor”, a Catholic weekly which was located 20 miles southeast of town on U.S.24. This was several months after I obtained my first car. It was a Oldsmobile Rocket 88 Holiday Coupe. I am sure you remember your first car and how excited you were to have the freedom of the road and independence, heretofore unknown.
For $29.99, I had my car transformed from “taxicab” yellow to a very sharp burgundy color and installed brand new tires and new leaf springs. Those springs gave it a “raked” appearance. Even by today’s standards, it looked pretty good! Like you, I was very proud of my acquisition!
The Rocket 88 had a large V8 engine. The first times I took it on the highway, I opened it up to see what it would do praying the whole time that it would hold together. To my surprise, I could “bury” the speedometer needle all the way to the top speed it could register, 120 mph! It didn’t get there very fast, but it got there.
Since I obtained my drivers license before most of my other close friends, I offered to drive three of them to the Sunday Visitor plant as it gave me a chance to show off my new car. After touring the newspaper, my three friends and I got in my car and headed back to Fort Wayne on U.S. 24. On the way back to town, I bragged that I could “bury the speedometer” in my Rocket 88. One of my friends dared me to prove it. Testosterone on tap, off we went as I pushed the accelerator to the floor. We all watched as the speedometer climbed past 65 (the speed limit) to 75, as they all called off in unison, “90”, “100”, “110”, and as it approach 120 mph, I cleared a small rise in the roadway. An Indiana State Trooper was perfectly positioned on the other side of the rise to see me rapidly closing in on him.
I stomped on the brake and got my speed down to 65 as I passed the Trooper and watched my rear view mirror. My buddies watched the back window as we got some distance between my car and the State Trooper. One of them said, “the light is not on” when one second later, another of my passengers said, “it’s on!”
The officer gave me a stern lecture about endangering my friends. He said he had clocked me at 110 mph and breaking fast. He cited me for “20 over” and said he would give me a break, but never to do that again. I promised I would not. I went straight to the magistrate in Roanoke which was on my way into town and paid the ticket. I hoped that would be the last of it. My girlfriend’s father heard of the incident because it was all over the high school the next day and told me I couldn’t take her in my car for a month. But, I didn’t breathe a work of that incident to anyone in my family, not even my older brother.
The Sunday after the incident, I went to church with my dad. My dad and I walked home like we normally did. As we walked along, the priest’s sermon moved me and I felt a pang of guilt. So I told my dad what I had done. He scolded me and told me that I couldn’t drive for a month and told me he hoped I had learned my lesson. I assured him that I had.
That evening, my uncle Ronny, who happened to live in Roanoke called my dad to say, “Hey, your son is famous!” In their local weekly paper, my name that figured prominently in the “Police Arrest” section as one who had been ticketed for speeding. Needless to say, I thanked the Lord above for moving me to tell my father about my ticket in advance of my uncle’s phone call. I can’t imagine how my dad would have reacted under those circumstances.
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience usually comes from bad judgment. – Anonymous
Another True Story
Several years ago, one of my students called me and said, “I think I committed malpractice. She explained that she was helping a client apply for Medicaid benefits and in the process, she transferred a number of financial accounts into forms of assets that were exempt for Medicaid eligibility purposes. In fact, it had taken several months to get the client’s affairs in order before she could submit the client’s application. Finally she submitted her application and it was rejected because the client had her primary residence titled to her revocable living trust.
She reflected on the fact that, in my class, she had heard me tell her that that was a barrier to eligibility, but that she simply overlooked it and she knew that this was something she should have caught – failure to do so would cost her client about $6,500. She wanted to know what to do.
I told her to call her malpractice carrier immediately and explain the situation and that she would probably be instructed to tell the client the whole truth and find out what it would take to rectify the situation. She did this and called me a few weeks later to report that the client was so satisfied with all the work she had done thus far that he told her to refile and not to worry about it.
As a practicing attorney there are several lessons you should take from this. One is that you don’t exceed the speed limit – that is, don’t take on something that you are not qualified to do. The second is that we all make and will make mistakes. When you do, it is far better to fess up than to have someone else discover a mistake that you have tried to hide. The reason you should carry malpractice insurance is to back you up and allow you to recover from your mistakes. It is a cost of doing business as much as marketing or paying your taxes. And if it happens that you need to recover, often your fears will be far greater than the reality of recovery.