A new Web site that offers real-time legal chat for the aggrieved has some critics questioning if WhoCanISue.com stands for justice or is merely a lawsuit manufacturing tool.
"The lawyers and entrepreneurs behind WhoCanISue.com are playing on a certain part of our population who don't have necessarily the best interest of the country's legal system in mind, but would rather fake an injury and dream up a frivolous lawsuit without working very hard," said Darren McKinney, director of communications for the American Tort Reform Association.
"They are playing to the worst elements of human nature and that ought to concern folks."
Besides the site's explicit name and the ease with which browsers can find out if they have a real case - "Click here to start" -- another argument against WhocanIsue.com is its use of real-time chat.
WhoCanISue.com lets attorneys who have paid an annual fee of $1,000 to wait for a client to appear in a chat room, then instantly make their case for why the potential client should hire them, and immediately begin preliminary casework.
The site allows visitors to search by legal topics including accidents, medical malpractice, nursing home, products liability, pharmaceutical - and more.
For victims of slip and fall accidents, an article on the site consoles:
"If you have been injured in a slip-fall, you might feel like you're the only person who is suffering. Since more than 8 million people in the United States alone are hurt in slip-fall injuries, your situation may be more common than you think."
Some attorneys say that such Web sites are essentially "runners," or are sources paid to find clients.
"As if there aren't enough lawyers out there inventing lawsuits, now we're going to invite the public to do so," seasoned Miami trial attorney Richard Sharpstein told Time.com.
"It encourages, if not creates lawsuits," Sharpstein was quoted as saying. "Our country's courts are clogged with unnecessary and frivolous lawsuits which delay, if not obstruct, the access to courts of people that really need to get there, that have serious legal grievances."
WhoCanISue.com founder Curtis A. Wolfe, in the same article responded that "his service can just as easily help someone realize he doesn't have a case ..."
A corporate attorney, Wolfe, of Miami, describes himself as "an entrepreneur at heart." His LinkedIn profile says that he is writing his first novel which should be published in 2010, and working on its screenplay.
McKinney said his "beef" with WhoCanISue.com is the notion that one can sue to get rich, as opposed to suing to right a wrong or injustice.
"If someone actually slips and falls in a store because cooking oil was spilled and the store was negligent in getting it cleaned up, then they should have the right to sue for any damages the customer incurred," McKinney said.
"But when you are featuring Web sites that say 'who can I sue?' it seems to me you are encouraging any number of folks to fraudulently declare injuries or whatever they can think of to bring lawsuits."
There are also lawyers who believe competition like that afforded on WhoCanISue.com allows smaller law firms, who must choose personalized service over the deep-pocket advertising budget of large firms, to reach a larger market.
For instance, Philip L. Franckel, president of 1-800-HURT-911 Inc., says on his Web site, "Lack of competition allows lawyers to be lazy and avoid time-consuming tasks which many lawyers would prefer to avoid, such as frequent communication with clients.
"Everyone advertises and lawyers always did ... Only the method, media and size of the audience is different now. If you don't advertise, it's impossible to get even one customer or client."