To be fair, most plaintiffs’ attorneys would never dream of capitalizing on a tragedy like the Sandy Hook massacre for publicity or financial gain. But while Irving Pinsky’s $100 million lawsuit against the state of Connecticut does not aptly represent the profession, it does highlight an increasingly essential element of every plaintiffs’ attorneys’ practice. Few of them chase ambulances anymore; but nearly all of them chase the cameras when one seems nearby.
The fact that Mr. Pinsky quickly withdrew his misguided lawsuit does little to substantiate his claim that he filed it to prevent a similar attack in the future. When one considers all that Sandy Hook Principal Dawn Hochsprung and other heroic teachers and administrators did to strengthen security at the school prior to the attack, it’s clear that Mr. Pinsky’s allegations are unfair and unfounded. At the same time, it’s hard to see Mr. Pinsky as financially-motivated, given the high probability that his case would be thrown out long before ever it reached settlement or trial.
No, this threatened lawsuit was about publicity, plain and simple. In that regard, Mr. Pinsky got exactly what he wanted from CNN and other national news outlets that put him front and center in recent news cycles.
Many plaintiffs’ attorneys seek to leverage the promotional and marketing opportunities that accompany major events just as aggressively as they pursue the big awards that can come with courtroom victories. To highlight just one example, we need look no further than the Gloria Alreds of the world to see just how valuable it is for plaintiffs’ attorneys to keep themselves in front of the cameras as often as possible.
The problem for companies, government agencies, hospitals, schools and other institutions is that these plaintiffs’ attorneys cannot win publicity for themselves without first winning publicity for their cases. Too often that means dragging defendants’ otherwise good names through the mud in as many venues as possible. For those organizations caught in the crosshairs, Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen provided an ideal response template when he defined Mr. Pinsky’s case as misguided and clearly stated that a legislative response would be far more appropriate than legal action.
Clearly, Mr. Jepsen was prepared for the eventuality that a plaintiffs’ attorney might attempt to win media coverage from the tragedy. That enabled to him to articulate a rapid, measured response that achieved the dual goals of denying culpability and remaining sensitive to the emotionally-charged atmosphere. Juxtaposed with Mr. Pinsky, Mr. Jepsen seemed calm, collected, in control, and – above all – in the right.
It’s a sad reality that all leaders of organizations can find themselves in the same uncomfortable position of being targeted by opportunistic plaintiffs’ attorneys with no real case. But with sound planning, careful preparation and timely delivery of credible messages, they should all feel confident that they can make their critics look just as silly as Mr. Pinsky looks today.
Gene Grabowski is an Executive Vice President at LEVICK and a contributing author to LEVICK Daily.