Cooper & Elliott Blog

Botulism Outbreak Leads to Need for Civil Litigation

Posted on Thu, Oct 11, 2018 @ 1:39 PM

The decision to sue after personal injury sometimes involves a complex internal struggle. Even when the damage is obvious, and the negligence and responsibility are reasonably clear, victims may still face questions about whether civil litigation is the right path to take.

What should one do when negligence leads to a life-long debilitation? And how should one approach the matter when the party responsible for the damages is a church?

A friendly gathering turns nearly deadly

Mitchell and his wife, Gwen*, had recently joined a new church and were looking forward to attending a potluck it was organizing. One church member brought potato salad, which she made from home-canned potatoes. Unfortunately, she hadn’t done the canning properly, and the potatoes were contaminated with Clostridium botulinum—a bacteria that causes botulism.

Mitchell and several others ate the potato salad. Mitchell never considered that with each bite he was exposing himself to the deadly botulism toxin.

The next day, he woke up with a headache and dizziness. His vision was blurred, and he could barely walk in a straight line. He went to work, thinking the nausea and dizziness would pass. But the symptoms grew worse throughout the day, and he went home with what he thought was the flu.

A neighbor, who happened to be related to the church pastor, came by and told Gwen to take Mitchell to the hospital immediately because others who had attended the potluck had demonstrated similar severe symptoms. When Gwen and Mitchell arrived at the hospital, they saw a row of ambulances at the emergency entrance. The potluck had resulted in the largest outbreak of botulism in the last 40 years.

Personal injury from a foodborne illness

Most of us associate a foodborne illness as a passing, though painful, stomach ache. But food poisoning caused by a botulism contamination can be much more serious. The symptoms can appear within 18 to 36 hours after ingesting the contaminated food. Beyond nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps, victims of foodborne botulism can develop paralysis, dry mouth, have difficulty swallowing or speaking, and experience blurred or double vision.

As the infection progresses down in the body, victims can have trouble breathing as muscle paralysis caused by the toxin sets in. The spread of the infection can be stopped with antitoxins, but the damage is irreversible.

Mitchell learned that the hard way. He received the antitoxin within the prescribed 24-hour time frame, but the damage had already been done. After an extended period in the hospital, Mitchell’s vision remained so impaired that he could no longer drive. He had trouble maintaining his balance and found it difficult to do simple chores like mowing the lawn. Brief periods of exertion simply exhausted him.

A food poisoning lawsuit creates a dilemma of conscience

When Mitchell reached out to us for help, we knew this case would involve several litigants, and that it would be in the best interests of all the victims to collaborate with each other. But there was one other complication peculiar to this case: the defendant was the client’s church.

Clearly, negligence was at the root of Mitchell’s illness (as well as that of more than a dozen other church members). And while one woman prepared the potato salad that caused the food poisoning, the church was ultimately responsible for ensuring the safety of those who attended its event.

Fortunately for all the victims, the church accepted responsibility for the epidemic and was open to resolving the civil litigation lawsuits of several different parties through mediation.

Doing the right thing for everyone

The impact of civil litigation extends beyond victims’ damages. It sends a message about negligence and responsibility, a message about protecting the welfare of society. Every restaurant, grocery store or business selling perishable food must take precautions to prevent foodborne illnesses by following regulatory guidelines established to protect consumers. The recent outbreak of food poisoning at a Chipotle restaurant reaffirmed that the threat of foodborne toxins is real whenever proper food-handling guidelines are not strictly followed.

Those same guidelines apply to any organization sponsoring an event where food is served.  Pursuing litigation when negligence leads to food poisoning is one way of reinforcing those guidelines and protecting others from future outbreaks.

The long-term health of the victim depends on quick diagnosis and treatment when foodborne illness is suspected. It’s also important to get the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) involved quickly to isolate the source of the food poisoning.

If you become the victim of food poisoning, seek medical attention immediately. And if you have questions about seeking compensation afterward, give us a call.

Connect with us—we’re here to help.

*Names in this article have been changed to protect our client’s privacy. 

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

 

Topics: , , ,

Connect with us

Arbitration: A Valuable Tool for Business Dispute Resolution

Posted on Tue, Oct 9, 2018 @ 1:58 PM

Each victim’s case comes with a unique set of circumstances. Those circumstances dictate which method of resolution is best suited to achieve the desired results for both parties. In some personal injury and wrongful death cases for example, the dynamics are such that a settlement can achieve a better outcome for victims than a jury trial.

Arbitration is an alternative litigation option that we believe works particularly well for business dispute resolution—the perks being that arbitration can be more efficient and, in most cases, more confidential than a public trial.

What is arbitration?

Unless the parties agree otherwise, arbitrators’ decisions are definitive and binding like a jury’s verdict—and, they are rarely overturned on appeal. But what happens in an arbitration hearing differs in many ways from the procedures involved in a jury trial.

In arbitration, both parties present their cases to an arbitrator—or in some cases, a panel of arbitrators. The panel consists of experienced attorneys and it serves as both judge and jury for the case. Arbitrators render their decisions based on the evidence and arguments presented by both parties involved in the dispute.

There is no voir dire process in arbitration like there is in a trial. Nor is there a need to shape the presentation of a case to connect with the supposed values and attitudes of the jurors. Being familiar with the law, arbitrators are more likely to be swayed by evidence than emotional appeal.

There are some similarities between trials and arbitration as well. In both, motions can be filed, discovery is conducted, depositions are taken and presented, and expert witnesses can be brought to the hearing to testify.

Arbitration benefits for business dispute resolution

In a personal injury or wrongful death case, litigation can be part of a victim’s healing process. The public nature of a courtroom trial serves as an opportunity for victims to express their grief or anger, and to have their stories heard and decided on by their peers.

Privacy, on the other hand, can be preferred by both parties in business, shareholder or high-level employment disputes. Arbitration provides a legal forum for reaching a resolution without violating confidentiality. In most business cases, a contract has been broken or unfulfilled, and the arbitrators must determine whether genuine harm resulted and how the victim should be compensated. These types of cases frequently revolve around complex, intricate details. There may be proprietary or financial information involved that both sides would prefer to keep private.

Timeliness of arbitration

The other advantage of resolving a business dispute through arbitration is that it can bring the parties to resolution quickly. Courtroom judges are likely to have multiple court-related issues to handle in a given day, in addition to what’s on their court docket. It’s rare to have the judge’s availability for a full day, and this can extend the number of days needed to complete a trial. In an arbitration, the arbitrators booked for a hearing have no similar conflicts to disrupt the course of the hearing.

Because arbitrators are practicing attorneys or judges, there is less need for attorneys to devise complex presentations like those needed to demonstrate points to jurors who are less familiar with legal concepts. Arbitrators know the difference between hearsay and evidence, between showmanship and fact. This allows attorneys to get to the point and get through the case faster.

The value of knowing which method is best

Civil litigation attorneys must be adept at using all the tools available to them. They should be as skilled in arbitration and settlement negotiation as they are in the courtroom. Knowing which litigation method is most likely to meet the needs of the client and the circumstances of the case is key.

Connect with us—we’re here to help

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

Topics: , ,

Connect with us

Reclaiming One Man’s Future through Shareholder Dispute Resolution

Posted on Thu, Sep 20, 2018 @ 6:01 PM

Business thrives on promises made with good intentions and integrity. When those promises are committed to signed documents, they become contractual obligations that compel the parties to live up to their promises even though good intentions and integrity may wane.

When promises made in good faith are subsequently discarded in the wake of ego and personal conflict, it’s likely that business disputes will arise. Sometimes those disputes can be resolved with calm reasoning, but often, litigation is needed instead.

Promises lead to shareholder dispute

James* was a young and successful corporate counsel when he was recruited by a fledgling beauty-services franchise company. At first, James was hesitant to leave his corporate position (and take a salary cut in doing so), but the promise of partial ownership was enough to lure him into taking a chance.

James’s primary job was to attract new investors, and he did his job well. Within his first year, James attracted several new investors and the franchise opened a half-dozen new outlets. Sam*, the company’s founder and majority owner, was so impressed with James’s performance that he increased the ownership incentive from three to five percent. As prospects exponentially grew, the franchise took off.

During this time, Sam was in dispute with the company’s former owner, and assured James that they would complete the proper ownership paperwork once that dispute was resolved. Being young and eager to succeed in his role, James trusted Sam’s word.

Then one day, out of the blue, James was fired—and he was denied any percentage of ownership for his contributions to the company’s growth.

He hired us to represent him in this business dispute resolution.

Promises and paperwork

Sam denied James the ownership share he had earned based on the claim that he had not signed a “unit grant agreement,” a document that would have set forth a vesting schedule for James’s units. Without that signed document, Sam contended, James had no rights of ownership.

We disagreed. James had signed an operating agreement when he first joined the company, and he had met the performance criteria to be granted five-percent ownership.

We began with a demand letter, seeking only to negotiate a reasonable settlement. The owner essentially told us to go fly a kite.

Shareholder dispute requires arbitration

The case involved years of arbitration. Sam and his franchise group did everything they could to deny James’s right to ownership.

The case became more complicated when the company was purchased by a private equity firm. No portion of the sale was designated to James, who should have received five percent of the asset sale in cash or stock.

In 2010, we filed for arbitration that didn’t begin until 2015, and then took two years to complete. The case required extensive discovery on our part, including tracking down the company’s prior attorneys and getting testimony from them supporting the claim that the promise of ownership had, in fact, been extended to James.

Ultimately, the arbitrators agreed with our position and granted James a cash equivalent of five percent of the asset purchase, plus court and attorney fees. It was vindication for the work James had done for the company—and fulfillment of the promises that had been made to him.

Years could have been saved with a signature

In the end, James won his case and received the equity value he had earned. But it came at a steep personal price. For five years James struggled to find employment, as his reputation had been extensively damaged by his former partner. Having left a secure job for this opportunity, he faced the challenge of having to reevaluate his career path.

Had a unit grant agreement been completed and executed prior to James joining the company, he very well could have avoided the civil litigation that was necessary for him to be awarded his promised share.

New partnerships often come with the glow of optimism, opportunity, and trust. Unfortunately, that glow can fade with time and with the intrusion of personality conflicts, sometimes driven by greed or jealousy. The best protection against broken promises is to be sure to get all the necessary documents signed before entering into an employment or a business arrangement.

If issues arise regarding a business or shareholder dispute and you suspect that you may have been victimized, contact the Ohio civil litigation attorneys at Cooper & Elliott. We are here to help.

*Names in this article have been changed to protect our client’s privacy. 

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

Topics: , , ,

Connect with us

In Criminal Cases, Innocence Is Rarely Enough

Posted on Thu, Sep 13, 2018 @ 9:16 PM

Our society is complex. Our legal system mirrors that complexity.

With so many demands on our lives, getting things done takes knowing how to get things done. It means being smart and diligent and having adequate experience. The challenges are similar in criminal law. It’s about being familiar with the legal landscape and all its ins and outs.

In criminal law, the stakes—for defendants—are a whole lot higher. And when the legal work isn’t at a high standard, the result can be wrongful imprisonment.

Genuine innocence v. wrongful imprisonment

The simple truth is that defendants are at a disadvantage in criminal law. While our legal system is intended to treat all citizens fairly and presume innocence unless proven guilty, it doesn’t always work that way.

No juror brings absolute objectivity to the courtroom. Jurors are people who, at their best, are both fair and flawed. Try as they might, they can be only so objective.

And someone’s personal liberty hangs in the balance.

The presumption of guilt

It’s not supposed to be this way, but it is common for jurors to walk into the courtroom with the presumption that the defendant in a criminal trial is guilty to some degree. They are inclined to believe that prosecutors are not going to bring a case to trial unless there is some evidence of the defendant’s guilt.

Experienced defense attorneys know that, too. That is why criminal cases are much more likely to be resolved with a plea bargain than with a jury’s verdict.

Good attorneys will anticipate that disadvantage. They know ways to overcome it, primarily by challenging the admissibility of evidence and the credibility of witnesses. Lacking an iron-clad alibi, the grunt work of discovery and pretrial motions to have evidence barred from trial, as well as the persuasive powers of the defendant’s legal team, count for more than mere innocence.

How civil litigation attorneys can make right a wrongful imprisonment

It’s important for criminal defense attorneys to be on top of their game. The defendant’s continued personal freedom depends on it. And what happens if the defense attorney isn’t up to the challenge of neutralizing the defendant’s disadvantage in a criminal case?

The result is incarceration. And when the defendant is found guilty but isn’t, it could become wrongful imprisonment. Imagine knowing you are innocent but are forced to relinquish your freedom, livelihood, and way of life simply due to the failings of a negligent defense attorney.

This is where we come in. As civil litigation attorneys, we don’t handle criminal cases. But we have been able to overturn wrongful criminal verdicts in cases that have been severely mishandled by defense attorneys.

In such cases (and they are relatively few), one recourse is through a legal malpractice lawsuit. We have been able to reverse injustices by presenting (and sometimes uncovering) evidence in favor of clients that, for whatever reason, didn’t find its way into the original criminal trials.

Our practice exists to find justice for those who have been harmed. In most cases, that means representing victims of personal injury or wrongful death, or helping individuals and businesses recover financially after being victimized by some form of legal malpractice.

When that malpractice extends to criminal cases, the victims pay a price that dramatically exceeds the penalties in a civil lawsuit. When we work with malpractice victims in criminal cases, we’re looking to help them restore their reputation, their self-respect and their personal freedom.

If you have been injured through legal malpractice that calls for civil litigation, don’t hesitate to give us a call. We’re here to help.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

Topics: , ,

Connect with us

Where’s the Real Crime? The Injustice of Criminal Defense Malpractice

Posted on Thu, Sep 6, 2018 @ 8:41 PM

Imagine being accused of assault. You know that, at the time, you were miles away with several witnesses. Nothing to worry about, right? But months later, you find yourself convicted and incarcerated.

This kind of personal calamity is an example of what can happen to a person’s life when he or she becomes a victim of criminal defense malpractice.

The criminal side of legal malpractice

We’ve discussed what constitutes legal malpractice and why civil litigation attorneys should not shy away from these cases. We’ve detailed the impact on the victims of civil cases where justice has been derailed by legal malpractice.

However, the legal risks for the defendant are amplified when legal malpractice occurs in criminal law. In civil litigation, the outcome usually centers around financial compensation for damages (though civil litigation cases, when settled without a trial,  may include conditions that are not financial).

The outcome of a criminal case is likely to involve something more precious than money. What’s potentially at stake, for the defendant, is his or her liberty, and often, drastic reputational harm. When a defendant is convicted in a criminal case through neglected evidence or attorney inexperience, there are options for recourse through civil litigation.

Oversight leads to criminal defense malpractice

The case cited above was real—it involved our client.

In this case, the accused, George Hamilton* encountered the drunken complainant (a boyfriend of one of George’s employees) in a parking lot around midnight.  There was no fight and no assault.  Hours later, in a separate incident, the boyfriend was assaulted in his apartment by several individuals. George was indicted for the assault. Multiple witnesses could have provided an unimpeachable alibi for George, but they weren’t called to testify—or even interviewed—by his criminal defense attorney. Worse, at trial the defense attorney became confused and questioned George repeatedly about the parking lot encounter, and the jury convicted him for that (even though it wasn’t mentioned in the indictment).

Because of the defense attorney’s mishandling of the case, George was imprisoned for three years for a crime he could not have committed and for which he was never legally charged.  Fortunately, his conviction was eventually overturned, and he was released from prison.  He came to us for justice and we sued the criminal defense attorney and obtained a substantial jury verdict in his favor.

In this case, the defendant was wrongfully imprisoned—not as a result of criminal actions, but because of criminal defense malpractice. If you have been injured through legal malpractice that calls for civil litigation, give us a call. We’re here to help.

*Names in this article have been changed to protect our client’s privacy.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case

Topics: , ,

Connect with us

How Patent Legal Malpractice Can Devastate a Business

Posted on Thu, Aug 30, 2018 @ 5:00 PM

As a business owner, one of the most valuable things you can get from an attorney is a sound opinion, one based on facts and knowledge of the law. That opinion doesn’t guarantee your success, but it should assure you that there are no legal impediments that will keep you from moving your business forward.

A legal opinion should reflect careful crafting and thorough research. Opinions bandied around the water cooler are free, but an attorney’s opinion comes at a price and if he or she makes a mistake out of ignorance or a lack of due diligence, it’s too often more than just an “oops.” A faulty legal opinion can be devastating to a business and to the all the lives connected to it, from the owner to the investors to all the employees and their families.

 We’ve talked about the issue of legal malpractice, and how its victims are just as deserving of legal representation and fair compensation as the victims of personal injury or wrongful death. The question that must be asked before pursuing a legal malpractice case is, “Did the attorney, in this case, meet the minimum ‘standard of care?’” If not, there may be grounds for a lawsuit.

Ohio civil litigation attorneys address a patent oversight

A recent case provides—unfortunately—a clear example of legal malpractice in business law. The client, Xpansion, Inc.*, was looking to bring an exciting new product to the market. Xpansion had hired a patent law firm to get its product patented and, thereby, gain the exclusive right to sell it. The company was charged a hefty fee by the firm to conduct the patent search and file the necessary paperwork.

Such a fee would normally be justified considering the time and effort involved in obtaining a patent—except in this case, the law firm failed do its job. It turned out that there was already “prior art” for this idea, meaning it was not free and clear to be patented. Xpansion’s attorneys should have caught this problem early on but didn’t. And, based on the faulty guidance it received, Xpansion revved up its manufacturing and distribution plans, investing millions of dollars in a product that ultimately couldn’t be patented.

It is the responsibility of a patent attorney to find instances of prior art in a preliminary patent search. With more than 300,000 patents granted in 2015 alone, it’s not unusual for a company or individual to come up with an idea that someone else has already patented, especially if that product doesn’t exist in the marketplace. If an idea can’t be patented, it’s best to know that before your company makes an enormous investment in its development and marketing. As you can see, there’s a lot riding on that attorney’s ability to correctly identify prior art.

Legal malpractice leads to civil litigation

Xpansion’s patent attorneys fell short of the “standard of care” in this case, and it nearly destroyed the company. It had to shut down for months and re-tool for the future. Hundreds of employees were laid off while the company regrouped.

Fortunately, instances of legal malpractice are relatively rare. But the effects can be enormous, financially and personally, to businesses and people alike. If you have been injured through legal or medical malpractice that calls for civil litigation, don’t hesitate to give us a call. We’re here to help.

*Names in this article have been changed to protect our client’s privacy.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

 

Topics: , ,

Connect with us

Why We Pursue Legal Malpractice Cases

Posted on Fri, Jul 27, 2018 @ 2:50 PM

When you see a physician for treatment, you’re going into that relationship with a lot of trust. You trust that the physician has the expertise you need or will refer you to a specialist who does. Above all, you must trust that your physician knows and meets the standard of care established by the medical profession. If a physician fails to meet the standard of care, and his or her patient is harmed as a result, it could constitute medical malpractice.

The same dynamic exists between attorneys and their clients who’ve been harmed by legal malpractice. Luckily, our legal system provides a recourse for both types of harm.

It’s called legal malpractice

When you hire an attorney, you come into the relationship with two things: a legal issue that needs resolved and a great deal of trust in the attorney you are hiring.

How “good” is the attorney you’ve hired? You may have referrals from friends or business associates, people you believe you can trust. When taking referrals, consider how many attorneys the referrer has worked with to form a reasonable benchmark for comparison. You might ask how many attorneys they have seen in action?

In fact, there is no quantifiable way of measuring how “good” an attorney is or how one attorney stands competitively against others, the way you could say that one runner is faster than others in a race.

Much like you can’t measure prosecuting attorneys by convictions versus acquittals, you can’t rate civil litigation attorneys by their “batting average” in winning cases. All cases are different and nearly every case is subject to unpredictable twists and turns that make the idea of certainty very subjective.

So how is a client to know, when a case turns sour, whether the problem was legal malpractice? The idea of “standard of care” applies here, just as a similar standard applies to physicians.

What is legal malpractice?

Whether in civil or criminal litigation, legal malpractice occurs when a lawyer’s performance falls below the standard of care. “Standard of care” defines an attorney’s legal and ethical boundaries. It’s a “rule book” of sorts that defines what attorneys can and can’t do to advocate for their clients and what they are expected to do to protect the trust their clients have invested in them—and in the justice system.

The legal standard of care is a standard for competency, not for quality. An attorney can be competent according to the standard of care—doing everything he or she is supposed to do for a client—and still not be as knowledgeable, thorough, and creative as an opposing attorney.

That’s not legal malpractice. There’s no law against not being as good as the other guy and losing a case does not mean that legal malpractice was the cause (in fact, it rarely is).

But there may well be a case of legal malpractice when an attorney:

  • Misses deadlines in filing critical documents through ignorance, procrastination, or laziness
  • Damages a client’s case due to fraud or conflict of interest
  • Carelessly loses essential documents
  • Withdraws from a client’s case improperly (such as doing so without informing the client or the court)
  • Fails to know or to apply the law

These are just some of the triggers. Frankly, many law firms won’t touch this kind of case, but we believe we have a duty to help clients who have been injured by legal malpractice.

Serving justice by serving those wronged through legal malpractice

We’ve talked before about how to choose a civil litigation attorney. Doing that kind of basic research, either online or through the court system, can tell you a lot about an attorney. Face-to-face interviews—where you can learn what kinds of cases they have handled, how many, and what has made them successful—will go a long way to inform you about how they think, how they work, and how comfortable you will feel in extending your trust to them.

And though the process of vetting an attorney is well worth the effort when you consider what’s at stake, there is still no guarantee against legal malpractice.

When a client is injured by an attorney’s negligence, we feel strongly about taking on that case for the sake of the injured party. In a civil litigation case, justice may take the form of helping people get the compensation they need to rebuild their lives. In a criminal case, it may look more like making amends for months or years of a person’s life that’s been lost behind prison walls due to malicious prosecution or a neglectful defense.

If attorneys fail to perform to the minimum standard of care, don’t their clients still deserve justice? We think so. And we believe that others in our profession should be willing to step up and protect the integrity of the legal system we all depend on as well.

If you have been injured through legal or medical malpractice that calls for civil litigation, don’t hesitate to give us a call. We’re here to help.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

Topics: , ,

Connect with us

Fighting Legal Malpractice for Immigration Justice

Posted on Thu, Jul 19, 2018 @ 2:16 PM

Every case and every client comes with a unique, and often compelling, story. This one, we’re happy to report, comes with a happy ending. But, when we first began this journey with our client, there was nothing easy or certain about it.

When you talk about the “best and the brightest” emigrating to the United States, Sandeep Chaundhry* and his family met that standard in every way. A hard-working IT professional who came to America legally, Sandeep had arranged, through the attorney recommended to him by his company, to have his work visa extended as required by law.

Legal malpractice creates an immigration nightmare

A unique aspect of immigration law is that on some occasions, an immigration attorney can simultaneously represent the immigrant and the entity sponsoring his or her visa. In this case, Sandeep’s company was sponsoring his visa. So, as the applicant for the extension, his company hired an attorney who in turn came to represent Sandeep as well.

We want to point out that it’s relatively rare for an attorney to have such “dual representation.” The question is: what happens when the company and the immigrant have competing interests? Where should the attorney’s loyalties lie?

Sandeep did everything he was supposed to do to keep his status current. His attorney, unfortunately, did not. Because of the attorney’s missed deadlines, Sandeep and his wife were being threatened with deportation back to India. And to make matters worse, the couple could have been deported without their two young sons, who were both American citizens.

For Sandeep and his family, the American dream had spiraled into a legal and bureaucratic nightmare—one fueled by the lies and negligence of others.

Seeking protection and justice through Ohio civil litigation attorneys

This is when Sandeep came to us for help. He was forced into unemployment because of the uncertainty of his immigration status. Unable to work, and at the mercy of his attorney, he and his family depleted their savings account and were forced to charge basic living expenses to credit cards. He was exhausted from stress and gaunt from limiting himself to one meal a day to ensure his children would be fed.

We were certain that Sandeep had been the victim of legal malpractice. We also discovered evidence that his employer had been warned about his immigration status but had failed to alert him. Instead he consistently received lies and false assurances from his attorney and his company.

We initiated lawsuits against them both.

Two victories that changed everything

Both sides denied any complicity in the Chaundhry family’s woes and blamed the other party. But the evidence said otherwise. Ultimately, we were able to win significant settlements from both defendants.

The immigration attorney whose negligence set the whole thing in motion initially denied any wrongdoing. Eventually, that attorney agreed to provide a Lozada affidavit: an admission that the client had been diligent in his efforts to fully comply with immigration law and that he—the immigration attorney—had been responsible for the Chaundhry family’s problems with immigration authorities.

From Sandeep’s former employer, we sought a significant financial settlement, one that would not only compensate Sandeep for two years of unemployment but also for the significant loss of income that he would have to face by being forced to return to India.

Immigration law provides that, because he had failed to file properly for a legal extension and had overstayed his visa (on advice of his immigration attorney), Sandeep would be barred from returning to the United States for ten years. What he could earn in India was a fraction of his earning potential in the United States, and we built that difference—as well as the expenses associated with deportation—into the settlement we ultimately reached with the employer.

The settlement provided much-needed financial relief for the Chaundhry family, but it couldn’t prevent their deportation. We had been advised of that early on and openly shared that reality with Sandeep.

To India and back

The Chaundhry family (including, thankfully, the boys) were forced to return to India but maintained the hope of one day coming back to America. Sandeep loved this country and what it stands for. He appreciated the professional opportunities it offered him, and he wanted his sons to be raised and educated here.

A couple months after resettling in India, Sandeep wanted to begin the process of attempting to return to the United States. He went to the U.S. consulate and presented all the documentation from his case, including the Lozada affidavit.

Then he was stunned.

The consulate officials looked at his application and his evidence and stamped approval for his return to the U.S., waiving the ten-year waiting period. He found an employer who would sponsor him for a green card, giving him the right to permanent residence and, eventually, the opportunity for naturalization.

Sandeep is working again in the United States. His family is now living in Des Moines, Iowa and we keep in regular contact.

If you have been injured through legal or medical malpractice that calls for civil litigation, don’t hesitate to give us a call. We’re here to help.

*Names in this article have been changed to protect our client’s privacy.

 The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

Topics: , , , ,

Connect with us

Overcoming Uninsured/Underinsured Insurance Complexities and Legal Malpractice

Posted on Thu, Jul 5, 2018 @ 12:57 PM

For Robyn*, it was one spirit-crushing event after another: first, a traffic accident left her with tens of thousands of dollars in medical debt and physical scars she would carry with her for the rest of her life; then, soon after, the passing of her husband.

Because the motorist who struck her car was uninsured, Robyn needed strong representation from a civil litigation attorney. What she got from her first attorney was something considerably less.

Injured by an uninsured motorist

When a policeman observed a car running a stop sign, he pulled the car over and issued a citation. The driver explained that the traffic violation was out of his control, and that his brakes were failing. The driver was then instructed by the officer to drive directly home. If only he had.

Hours later, the driver’s faulty brakes allowed his car to careen, uncontrolled, into the car Robyn was driving. She suffered multiple neck injuries and would be scarred for life as a result. She would also start to pile up significant medical bills, with no way to pay them. To add insult to injury, she discovered that the driver was uninsured.

And just when it seemed things couldn’t get worse for Robyn—her husband passed away.

A victim of civil litigation neglect

Overwhelmed, Robyn hired a local attorney to help her manage the aftereffects of the accident. The attorney was a former county commissioner who, unknown to Robyn at the time, was under investigation for embezzlement. He would later be acquitted, but his involvement in the investigation and the subsequent trial were contributing factors to his neglect of Robyn’s case. We also discovered that he was battling alcoholism.

Whenever she inquired about her case, the attorney told her that everything was proceeding normally. After more than two years, Robyn grew tired of the delays (while her medical bills were mounting). She approached us to look at her case.

When we looked at the court docket, we found that almost nothing that should have been done on Robyn’s behalf had in fact been acted upon. Her attorney had repeatedly failed to file proper documentation, and deadlines had been missed without her having been notified—a lapse on the part of her attorney that was critically detrimental to her position. Robyn then fired her attorney and hired us to salvage her case.

Starting over to remedy legal malpractice

Her case had been so mishandled that we had no choice but to dismiss it entirely and start over. It took nearly a month to recover her file from her previous attorney, and we unearthed the fact that Robyn had been eligible for substantial uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage from her own insurance provider.

Though the deadline had passed for filing a claim with her provider, we pushed for filing anyway, alerting the insurer that her previous attorney had failed to provide her with proper notice of the filing deadlines. Persistence paid off (as it frequently does, especially when you are pushing for the right thing to be done). We also sued the other attorney for malpractice and won a settlement that, combined with the insurance settlement Robyn received, allowed her to pay her medical bills.

Looking out for personal injury victims

Our practice exists, in large part, due to the prevalence of neglect, which too often results in someone’s injury. It can come in many forms, from an automobile’s faulty braking system to somebody ignoring a police officer’s instructions—both of which contributed to Robyn’s injuries.

But neglect can also include harming somebody by failing to do what’s best—and what’s right. Robyn’s suffering started with the neglect of an uninsured motorist.  Her suffering was prolonged by the neglect of an attorney who failed to provide her with the most basic representation.  And, finally, her suffering continued because of an insurance company that promised coverage and then tried to deny it by hiding behind technicalities like filing deadlines.

The attorney and insurance provider should have had Robyn’s best interests as their first priority, yet it took legal pressure to compel them to do the right thing for a victim who deserved better.

We take legal malpractice very seriously. Attorneys should be held accountable for their actions and decisions, especially when they veer from the standards that are the foundation of our profession. By pursuing those who fail to uphold those standards, we protect not only our profession, but also our community as a whole.

If you suffer a personal injury that calls for civil litigation, don’t hesitate to reach out to the experienced Ohio trial lawyers at Cooper & Elliott for legal assistance. We’re here to help.

*Names in this article have been changed to protect our client’s privacy.

 The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

 

Topics: , , ,

Connect with us

Restoring a Young Girl’s Future After a Disfiguring Dog Attack

Posted on Mon, Jul 2, 2018 @ 4:12 PM

One family’s holiday get-together quickly turned into an emergency situation when a visitor’s dog attacked a young girl. It’s something that could happen anytime a dog is around an unfamiliar child—that much is easy enough to understand. What’s not so simple in a child injury or personal injury case, is determining how to assess the scope of the damage, and how to hold the responsible party accountable for it.

The dog bite and lasting scars

The Morrison* family—Mitchell, Gwen, and their 3-year-old daughter, Natalie—was looking forward to moving from South Carolina to northeast Ohio to live closer to family. They visited Ohio to stay with Gwen’s mother over the Christmas holiday season, but what should have been a time of celebration quickly turned tragic.

Also visiting Natalie’s grandmother were her aunt, her aunt’s boyfriend, Joe, and his dog. Like many little girls, Natalie loved dogs and asked Joe if she could pet his. Joe assured Natalie that his dog was friendly and it was safe to pet him. It turned out that he was sorely mistaken. Just as Natalie began to reach out, the dog lunged at her and bit her repeatedly.

Natalie was rushed to the hospital with serious wounds on her face, chest, shoulder, and side. More than 50 stitches were required to close the lacerations on her body.

Identifying responsibility for a personal injury

In some ways Natalie was fortunate. Despite the severity of the attack, doctors were confident that her facial lacerations would heal and leave little trace of the injury. Unfortunately, the prognosis was not as optimistic for the scars on her arm and torso, where there would be prominent disfigurement for the rest of her life.

It’s possible that the dog had a history of aggression, or he may simply have been startled, but one thing was clear: Even though the attack occurred on the grandmother’s property, it was Joe, the dog’s owner, who should be held responsible. Under Ohio law, if a dog injures someone, the dog’s owner is liable for that injury. So, after returning to South Carolina, the Morrisons hired a local attorney to pursue a personal injury action.

It just so happened that Joe held a homeowner’s insurance policy that clearly stated it would cover damage done by dogs, which qualify as property. His insurance company, not surprisingly, disagreed. It consistently thwarted any attempts made by the Morrison’s first attorney to recover on the policy. It simply refused to comply. Faced with daunting medical bills and feeling quite hopeless, the Morrisons reached out to us for help.

Ohio civil litigation attorneys succeed outside the courtroom

In this circumstance, we preferred to negotiate directly with Joe’s insurance company instead of resorting to a lawsuit and trial. Because Natalie was only 3, we did not want her to have to relive the details of the attack through depositions and courtroom testimony.

Being experienced in child injury cases, we took into consideration the special challenges that accompany this type of case: What is just compensation? How do you value the long-term effects of personal injury for someone so young? How could Natalie express—or, at her age, even be able to imagine—how such prominent body scars would impact her confidence and self-image as she grew older?

Restoring a disfigured girl’s future

Ultimately, we were able to persuade the insurance company that effects from the scars on Natalie’s body would have long-term effects that were more than just physical. We presented interviews from women who had suffered similar disfiguring injuries when they were young, to provide perspective on the emotional challenges Natalie might face as a teenager and adult. As a result, the insurance company agreed to a substantial settlement that covered Natalie’s medical expenses.

The compensation we achieved went beyond those medical expenses, as it should have. It also had to take into consideration the trauma of the event, a shock shared by the entire family, with unknown long-term effects. And because Natalie was so young, the settlement could be expected to grow substantially and provide a strong financial foundation as she approached adulthood.

In the end, we were happy to achieve results that will give Natalie and her family the best chance of healing from their experience as they navigate the effects of the attack going forward. Beyond that, we were able to send a message to the insurance company that it could and would be forced to honor the details of its policies.

If you require assistance with a child’s personal injury or wrongful death case, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Ohio civil litigation attorneys at Cooper & Elliott. We’re here to help.

*Names in this article have been changed to protect our client’s privacy.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

 

Topics: , , ,

Connect with us