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20

NOVEMBER 2015

|

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

SPEAKING OUT

The Trouble with the Lawyers List

BY JAMES EHRMAN

L

ike many Foreign Service offi-

cers, I began my career doing

consular work. But as time went

on, I had contact with ordinary

American citizen problems only while

serving as duty officer. Retirement

changed little. We routinely spent sum-

mers abroad but, aside from mailing

an absentee ballot, had limited need

to contact the American embassy for

assistance.

Summer 2014 was different. On Aug.

8, while crossing a street in Rome, I was

hit by a car and taken by ambulance to a

hospital. X-rays revealed three fractures

to my leg and ankle. This led to two

operations, a month of hospitalization

and multiple weeks of rehab.

That experience was unpleasant but

not devastating. We have access to an

apartment in Rome, so I had a place to

go (plus friends who came to visit) after

leaving the hospital. Nor was surgery

traumatic. Orthopedic and hospital staff

members were friendly and professional

and, in Italy, public health services are,

for the most part, free.

The several thousand dollars of

expenses that followed arose from my

need to hire a caretaker; rent or pur-

chase a wheelchair, crutches and other

recovery-related equipment; and pay

for the ambulance rides

James Ehrman is a retired political officer who served in Paris, Rome, Lisbon, Lima,

Bangkok, São Paulo, NewDelhi and Manila. His wife, Sylvana Mancuso, headed

Embassy Rome’s visa section during their second tour there.

that took me to and from the hospi-

tal for follow-up visits and physical

therapy.

In Italy these expenses are by law

the responsibility (ex post facto) of the

insurance company of the driver who

hit me. The monthslong delay before

reimbursement arrives is grating but, as

I discovered, that’s not half the prob-

lem. One doesn’t deal directly with an

insurance company; one hires a lawyer.

And where does one find a lawyer? Call

the U.S. embassy, of course!

Enter the Listed Lawyer

My daughter called the embassy

while I was hospitalized, so it was she

who took “Mr. Z’s” name from the con-

sular section’s “Lawyers and Notaries

List.” Mr. Z readily accepted and came

to the apartment to discuss matters.

He seemed well-informed, outlined

When I informed the consulate and asked

that Mr. Z be removed from its lawyers list,

I learned that, though sympathetic with

my plight, the consulate could not comply

with my request.

procedures and said his standard initial

fee (just under 3,000 euros) could be

paid in two installments, a month apart.

I signed the document and made the

initial payment. And also the second.

In between, the bills for recovery-

related care and equipment mounted

while available euro resources were

depleting. The uncertainty of my pre-

dicament took an added toll. Couldn’t

there be an advance, I asked, from the

insurance company? They, after all,

must pay when a final tally is made. Mr. Z

was sympathetic. He would see what he

could do.

Shortly thereafter he shared the good

news: His efforts had been fruitful and

the insurance company, in an excep-

tion to its usual policy (and given the

special circumstances of my case—a

foreigner hit while within a crosswalk),

would provide an advance that would

approximate “half” the anticipated final

payment.

My joy was short-lived. It wasn’t the

surprisingly small “ half” (2,000 euros