When your livelihood involves seeking justice for living, breathing people, you tend to dig a little deeper into a case, even when the facts seem bleak. You listen to your instincts. You follow up on hunches you might otherwise ignore. And you realize it can completely change the outcome of a case.
A troubled family, a fatal accident
When Diane Baker* came to our office seeking an Ohio auto accident attorney, we had our doubts. Not about Diane — we really liked her, and we could tell she and her family needed help — but about the case itself. It was a case many law firms probably wouldn’t take.
It stemmed from the death of her ex-husband, Jordan*, who had been struck by a car while riding his bike one morning.
A little background: Jordan had had a drinking problem. About a year before the car accident, his drinking had caused him to lose his high-level supervisor job. It had also resulted in the end of his marriage, and in his moving out of his family’s home. Those had been tough times, both for Jordan and for his family.
But Jordan wanted a better life, especially for his two kids. He wanted to contribute to the family again. So he went to rehab, got a new job, and began turning his life back around. The family was on the mend. They had all gone through a pretty rough divorce, but now the kids were starting to rekindle relations with their father.
One night, however, Jordan apparently had a relapse with his drinking. Part of his normal exercise routine had been to ride his bike around 5:00 a.m., and that morning he tried go bike-riding like he normally did, perhaps to work off the alcohol.
He traveled in a bike lane, but it was in an area with hills and curves. He was struck from behind by a car going 55 miles per hour. He survived for a couple of hours, but ultimately died.
Overcoming difficulties: Strategies of an Ohio auto accident attorney
This looked to be a tough case. Jordan had been intoxicated, and his bike didn’t have any reflectors. Defense counsel was claiming Jordan’s clothing had been too dark to wear on a pitch-black morning.
But we had a hunch. We hired an accident reconstruction expert to recreate the exact conditions leading up to the car accident and Jordan’s death. The expert, along with one of our attorneys, went out to the site at 5:00 a.m. To determine where the car had been, where the bicycle had been, what the contour of the land was, how much daylight there had been precisely at the moment of impact, and what the lighting conditions had been like.
Here again, we chose a path other law firms might not have taken. Hiring an accident reconstruction expert is an expensive proposition, especially given some of the other challenges surrounding the case.
But our gut told us this would be the best direction, and we were right. After reconstructing and recreating the tragic scene, the expert came to a powerful conclusion: The conditions would have allowed the driver to see Jordan. Driver negligence had in fact been responsible for the accident that killed him.
Interestingly, there was something else that we did that bolstered our case. Because one of our attorneys had been to the site that morning and actually witnessed the expert’s evaluation firsthand (something many attorneys probably wouldn’t do), he was able to authoritatively counter any criticisms mediators brought up about the expert’s report.
Based upon that report, and our vigorous defense of it, the defendants ultimately settled with Diane and her family.
A settlement and its intangibles
The settlement was a big deal to Diane’s family, but not necessarily for obvious reasons. Yes, Diane could now pay for her kids’ school activities and whatever else it took to provide them with as normal a life as could be hoped for after this tragedy. And a trust created from the settlement ensured that the kids would have assistance when they were ready for college.
But there were potent human intangibles also at work. First, think of Jordan. Here was somebody who’d made some mistakes, who’d let his family down, and who’d been working hard to earn back their trust and create a better life for all of them.
True, he stumbled, but that didn’t excuse the driver negligence that ended his life. Establishing the driver’s fault helped defend Jordan’s memory in his family’s eyes. We’d like to believe that winning the settlement helped him in a small way provide for his family, which was something he’d hoped to do as he was putting his life back together.
Then there were the children. These kids would never have time with their dad again. We wanted their last impressions of their father to be as positive as possible. The last thing they needed was for a prolonged trial, with the defense harshly characterizing their father and his alcoholism. So there was a sense of satisfaction, as well as relief, that we could end with settlement.
Trusting instincts and digging deep
Good instincts and the willingness to follow through on hunches — it’s a big advantage for us as attorneys.
It drove us to hire an expensive accident reconstruction expert, in spite of obvious challenges to the case, and accompany that expert during 5:00 a.m. tests. It led to proving that Jordan’s death was caused by driver negligence, not Jordan himself.
But those sorts of successes pale in comparison to the real value of being aware of your feelings: understanding your clients. Being able to walk in their shoes. Trying to feel what they feel, so you can provide them with what they need during a crisis in their life, whether it’s justice, validation, moral support, compensation, or something else.
That sort of awareness guided us to take on Diane’s case so we could help her and her family. And it motivated us to do everything we could to get a settlement, both to honor Jordan’s wishes of becoming a positive influence for his family again, and to protect his children’s memories of their father.
It’s probably not something people consider much when they’re thinking about attorneys, but it works for us. And it definitely works for our clients.
*Names in this article have been changed to protect our clients’ privacy.
The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.