Cooper & Elliott Blog

Touching Lives: The Human Inspiration for Us as Personal Injury Attorneys

Posted on Thu, Dec 11, 2014 @ 4:13 PM

If you ask personal injury attorneys what motivates them in their profession, chances are you’ll hear a range of responses, from the pursuit of justice to winning big settlements. But one of our most compelling reasons for doing this kind of work is the genuine desire to help people in need—to help a person put his or her life back on track after a devastating event. Here’s one of those stories.

David: In Need of a Personal Injury Attorney

A few years ago, David* had a lawsuit pending in Federal Court, and he urgently needed a new attorney.

His case, involving police misconduct, was shocking. He had suffered a spinal injury from officers who mistreated him while he was in handcuffs. Temporarily unable to use his arms or legs, he had literally been dragged into a jail cell by the police as he yelled for help, telling them that his neck was broken. Eventually a civilian employee at the jail, breaking down in tears, convinced a supervisor to bring in medical help. David was transported to a hospital, where a neurosurgeon was able to preserve his ability to use his legs and arms—but only partially. Because of this incident, David suffered permanent nerve damage that would limit full use of his limbs for the rest of his life.

As troubling as this story was, we wanted to take David’s case only if we could make a difference. Deadlines were approaching very quickly, and court orders said that his case would soon be dismissed. But we also realized that, through no fault of his own, David wasn’t getting adequate representation. His personal injury attorney at the time, while very knowledgeable in general, simply didn’t have experience in this area of law. We did, so we jumped in with both feet.

Experience Makes the Difference

Once we got involved, we quickly went to work on a number of fronts:

  • We obtained more time. We approached the court to arrange for more time so we could identify experts and comply with the court’s order. Extra time would be crucial for us to address and present the merits of David’s case properly. Fortunately, the court agreed.
  • We located experts. Because of our experience in this area, we knew of well-respected national experts who could assist us in what looked to be a technically-challenging case. We needed medical experts. We needed people with expertise in determining how much force is considered excessive for the purposes of law enforcement. So we lined up specialists capable of providing valuable, authoritative testimony.
  • We took police testimony. When we took the case, no testimony had been taken from any police officers. Based on our experience, we knew what questions had to be asked and what answers had to be obtained in order to hold the right people responsible for David’ injuries. Having control over that gave us a considerable advantage when preparing for trial.
  • We researched the case thoroughly. Even in areas of case law in which we have vast experience, we prefer to go back to the books, research the cases, and ensure that we’re fully up to date so that when we do take testimony from witnesses, we’re asking the questions we know the court or jury would ask.    
  • We understood the full extent of damages. We prepared to address some very sophisticated legal arguments: How is excessive force defined? Was excessive force used in David’s case? If so, what are the right damages? A personal injury attorney has only one opportunity to get this right. It’s critical to know the full extent of a client’s harm and, most importantly, how much it’s going to cost to care for our client for the rest of his or her life.

David: Not Just a Case

We also helped David in a less tangible, but perhaps even more meaningful, way: we treated him like a human being and not just a ‘case’.

David was a fairly young man with few family members to support him, disabled by the police, and worried about how he would care for his children. His life had taken a dramatic negative turn. That’s a scary place to be, and something no person should have to manage alone.

Throughout his case, and even afterward, we became David’s closest confidantes —friends, sounding boards, people he could trust. That extended to our entire firm as well, with David becoming a part of our family throughout the course of the lawsuit.

Sure, talking to experts and writing briefs is important, but often our job is also about spending hours counseling our clients, offering compassion, and just helping them navigate a terrible chapter in their lives.

Fortunately, our involvement brought a happy outcome. We successfully reshaped David’s case and got it ready for trial. Literally days before the trial was scheduled to start, the police department asked to settle the case for an amount that ensured David could care for himself and his children for the rest of his life. 

Bending the Arc of Justice

It was gratifying to know we had helped bring some form of justice — or at least accountability — in the wake of David’s mistreatment. But consider where he would be now without having had experienced representation. What would his life be like? What would life be like for his children?

We took a case that had literally been on the brink of failure and turned it into a multimillion-dollar recovery that’s being used to care for a person who was severely and permanently injured. That’s what motivates us most as personal injury attorneys. For all the legal victories, it’s the important human stories behind them that inspire us most.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Sometimes we have to pound like heck on that arc just to get it to bend even a little. But it’s awfully gratifying when you know you’ve played a role in pointing it in the right direction.

*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.

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