The Foreign Service Journal, November 2015

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