Smaller Case Blues: Justice for 20.080 and PIP Claims

I just had lunch with a 30-year-old lawyer. He does great work. He’s got three or four years experience, and he’s smart, eager, and a good lawyer. At first I was shocked when he told me that he’s never heard of a 20.080 case, or a PIP case. But the more I thought about it, the less shocked I became.

ORS 20.080 is a law that protects injured Oregonians from greedy insurance companies. So a 20.080 case is a case that a lawyer brings once an insurance company has denied a claim for under $10,000. A PIP case is a claim against a person’s own insurance for denying PIP (personal injury protection) benefits after a car accident.

These two types of cases are unique in a few ways:

1) They probably help many more injured Oregonians than regular personal injury cases do. Small claims like these are just much more common –these are the small rear-end whiplash cases, for example, that make a person’s life difficult but aren’t worth more than $10,000.

2) Both PIP cases and 20.080 cases force the insurance company to pay the injured person’s attorney fees, if it can be shown that the insurance company did not pay bills they should have paid. (In a regular case, the injured person has to pay their own legal fees, usually with a contingency fee agreement with their attorney.)

3) No lawyer is ever going to get rich or famous taking these cases.

It may seem that the second and third one contradict each other. If 20.080 cases and PIP cases can make the insurance company pay the legal fees for the injured person, then isn’t that lawyer going to make a lot of money? Surprisingly, no. The lawyer will make a living, but it’s not great money. The reason is that the lawyer only gets paid when he or she wins. And also, there is no possibility of a really big payment – the insurance companies only pay hourly fees, not contingency fees, so it’s just regular hourly work.

That’s why this newer lawyer has never heard of 20.080 cases or PIP cases. They’re not glamorous. They’re not “big money” cases. They don’t make the news. They’re cases usually worth under $10,000. Which is a lot of money to most people, but it’s pretty far away from being a million dollar case.

It’s a shame, because these smaller PIP and 20.080 cases affect many more injured Oregonians than the bigger cases. I suspect that thousands of injured Oregonians go without any hope of justice every year because they have trouble finding a lawyer who will take this sort of case. 

Which, as I say, is a shame. Because everyone deserves justice, not just people with cases that will make the evening news.