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“Just how serious is a whiplash injury?” Bertha asked. “I have heard they can do a lot of damage.”
“They can,” Breckinridge admitted. “Of course, you get a whiplash injury when the head is violently thrown back causing severe damage to the nerves in the neck.
“These injuries usually take place when a person is setting in an automobile and someone hits from behind, pushing the automobile forward before the occupant can tighten his neck muscles sufficiently to keep the head from being thrown back, with perhaps resulting damage to the cervical vertebrae, the cranial nerves and—”
Bertha made an impatient gesture by way of interruption. “We know all about how whiplash injuries occur,” she said, “but what I wanted to find out was how they were regarded by insurance people and just what could happen once a whiplash injury has been established.”
Breckinridge sighed and said, “From an insurance standpoint, Mrs. Cool, once a whiplash injury has been established, almost anything can happen.”
Breckinridge turned to me and said, “This is where you come in, Lam.”
I said, “Don’t you fellows have a pretty good system for exposing malingerers?”
“Of course we do, and you are going to be part of it.”
I dropped into a chair and settled back.
Breckinridge said, “When one of these malingerers gets in front of a jury, he’s sick; he’s oh, so sick; he moans and groans; he looks wan and pathetic; his eloquent attorney draws charts, and a jury awards lots of damages on the theory that, after all, the insurance company charges ample premiums for its policies and can well afford the liability.
“Experience has shown, however, that even in the worst of these cases, after we make a settlement with the injured, there is nearly always a remarkable recovery; particularly, with nervous injuries. In some instances the recovery is simply miraculous. People who have the sworn testimony of doctors that they are permanently injured go out on a camping trip within twenty-four hours after the settlement is made or take an excursion on a boat, where they become the life of the party.
“Now, of course, this rat race is not entirely one-sided. We have worked out a technique of our own. We trap these people into a situation where it is to their advantage to become active and alert, then we get motion pictures of them. In court, after a man has testified that he can hardly lift his hands as high as his shoulders, that he can only walk by taking short, faltering steps, we show pictures of him diving off a springboard, playing tennis, and swinging golf clubs.
“Now obviously, that takes some doing and, strangely enough, juries don’t like it.”
“What do you mean they don’t like it?” Bertha asked.
“They feel we’ve been spying on the guy, intruding on his privacy— Good heavens, why shouldn’t we intrude on his privacy or do anything else that is required under the circumstances?”
“But the juries don’t like it?” I reminded him.
He stroked the angle of his chin, let the tips of his fingers smooth his stubby mustache and said, “They don’t like the entrapment.”
There was a moment of silence.
“You don’t mean you’ve given up taking these motion pictures?” I asked.
“Not at all. Not at all,” he said. “We’ve simply decided to change the approach so that we appear to a little better advantage in front of a jury.
“Now, that is where you come in, Lam.
“To take the pictures, we usually have had a camper body mounted on a pickup, or a van with apertures cut in the sides. We trap a man into playing golf, for instance, and have a concealed camera where we can get pictures of him making practice swings, and things like that.
“Then when he says he can’t use his arms without pain, we show motion pictures of him whipping a golf club in an arc.
“Well, the jurors don’t like it. They feel we’ve trapped the fellow. They’ll cut their verdicts down all right, but they are left with a feeling of antagonism toward the insurance carrier.
“So now we have worked out certain refinements which we feel will improve our public relations.”
“Go ahead,” Bertha said.
“Well now, for instance, we’ll start with Helmann Bruno,” Breckinridge said. “He’s married but has no children. He has his own business, a manufacturer’s agency, which keeps him on the road quite a bit of the time.
“So we laid a trap for Mr. Helmann Bruno, because our adjuster sized him up as a phoney right from the start.”
“What did you do?” Bertha asked.
“This, of course, is confidential,” Breckinridge said.
Bertha’s diamonds glittered as she swept her hand in an inclusive circular gesture. “Within the four walls of the office,” she promised.
“Well,” Breckinridge said, “we had some circulars printed about a so-called contest. The contest is so absurdly easy a man can’t resist taking a fling. He is supposed to tell in fifty words or less why he likes a certain product. We send a printed business envelope and a blank so that all the man has to do when he receives our letter is sit there for a moment, write fifty words, stick the message in the envelope and the envelope in the mail. He can’t possibly lose anything and he stands a chance of winning all sorts of glittering prizes.”
“Who pays for this contest and who judges it?” Bertha asked.
Breckinridge grinned. “The contest has a very limited mailing list, Mrs. Cool. Actually, we send it out only to persons who are making false claims against the company and every one of those persons who replies wins a prize.”
Bertha’s eyebrows came up.
“The prize which the man wins,” Breckinridge said, “will always be the same. We’ll send him to the Butte Valley Guest Ranch at Tucson, Arizona.”
“Why this particular dude ranch?” I asked.
“Because the hostess, Dolores Ferrol, is under retainer from us; because the routine is such that a person who doesn’t go horseback riding is very much out of things during the morning, and if he doesn’t swim, play golf or volleyball in the afternoon, he’s not going to enjoy himself.
“The ‘dudes’ return from a morning horseback ride tired and dusty; the swimming pool is cool and inviting; lunch is served by the pool.
“Now then, we had originally planned to have our detectives all ready to entice this malingerer into the communal activities.
“Jurors won’t like that. We’d have to put our man on the stand and ask him his name and his occupation and he’d say he was in our employ as a detective and then go on and tell what had happened and show motion pictures of the guy doing high dives, playing golf and riding horseback.
“Then the attorney for the plaintiff would take him on cross-examination and some of those attorneys are remarkably clever. They couldn’t talk much about their client because the photographs would show that we had the deadwood on him, but they’d start talking about the witness. They’d say, ‘You are in the employ of the All Purpose Insurance Company?’
“ ‘That’s right.’
“ ‘And you went down there with the deliberate intention of luring this plaintiff into all sorts of physical activities so that he could be photographed?’
“ ‘Yes, sir.’
“‘And the insurance company paid all your expenses and paid you a salary to boot. And you expect they’re going to keep on paying you a salary as long as your services are satisfactory?’
“ ‘Yes, sir.’
“ ‘And you went down there intending to lure