A Daycare’s Disregard for Safety Forever Changes a Little Girl’s Life

It’s every parent’s nightmare: an accident that leaves a small child physically and emotionally maimed.

When we send our children to a daycare center, we trust that the teachers and administrators in charge have taken the necessary precautions to ensure the safety and well-being of the precious little people we place in their care.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way. When an accident happens, the parents’ first concern is for the child to receive medical attention. But when the injury is serious and permanent—and when negligence is a contributing factor—the parents’ next concern is to protect the child’s future to the extent that the law provides. With so much at stake, it’s best to enlist the professional strength and support of personal injury attorneys who will fight out of a shared commitment to improve the child’s chances of experiencing a normal and healthy future.

That was the case for Jessica Edwards* and her 3-year-old daughter, Addy*.

Personal injury from a device intended for safety

The morning of the accident, Jessica dropped Addy off at her daycare center just as she did every day. But while she was at work, Jessica got the call that every parent dreads: there had been an accident; Addy was injured; please come immediately.

Jessica’s distress grew steadily and rapidly as she drove to the school. But what she discovered when she got there was worse than she could have imagined.

The children had been lining up to go outside when a large fire extinguisher was bumped off its wall hook and landed on Addy’s hand. The impact crushed one of Addy’s fingers and severed another one from her hand. The severed digit was saved on ice for possible reattachment, and Addy was rushed to the nearest emergency room.

Child injury: a lifetime of repercussions

Addy suffered great physical pain, and the damage to her hand turned out to be permanent. The physicians tried to reattach her finger, but ultimately the procedure unsuccessful.

The pain and trauma affected Addy emotionally and developmentally, transforming her from a happy, well-adjusted youngster into an anxious little girl. Following the accident, her family noticed she was acting withdrawn, and (not surprisingly) deathly afraid of fire extinguishers and ambulances.

The real source of her suffering: negligence

Jessica and Addy became our clients. And Addy’s future became, in many respects, our responsibility as child injury attorneys.

As we researched the case and filed public records requests with various governmental agencies, it became apparent that the accident and its damage should never have happened in the first place. The fire extinguisher that injured Addy had been carelessly hung on a simple J-hook. As such, it was susceptible to being dislodged without much effort or force. A heavy fire extinguisher in a daycare center should be attached, at minimum, with a strap. Or, for even more security, it should be encased in a cabinet mounted on the wall. Either of these precautions would have prevented Addy’s injury.

We spoke with fire system experts who confirmed that these additional safety precautions were relatively inexpensive. We also confirmed that the same daycare franchise had branches in other states that kept fire extinguishers encased in secure cabinets. So, why did this facility fail to practice the same safety measures? As it turned out, there was no good reason.

Personal injury attorneys seek justice and more

Determining fair compensation for damages is always a challenge for personal injury cases involving young children. How do you adequately determine the damage (and its future implications) for a life that is only beginning to unfold?

In Addy’s situation, physical rehabilitation was only the beginning of the costs that would need to be covered. Having experienced such an intense trauma at a young age, it was vital that she receive whatever therapy would be necessary throughout her development. We were able to reach a settlement with the daycare system, one that would accommodate Addy’s immediate and future needs.

Addy’s family wanted the satisfaction of knowing steps would be taken to prevent a tragedy such as Addy’s from ever being repeated. As part of the resolution, the daycare committed to a review of its fire extinguishers nationwide.  Such conditions are available only in negotiated agreements, as opposed to jury verdicts, which can only award monetary compensation. The impact of these types of commitments is widespread and ensures that something like this doesn’t happen to anyone else.

If you find yourself or a family member in a personal injury situation that calls for civil litigation, don’t hesitate to reach out to the experienced Ohio personal injury lawyers at Cooper & Elliott for legal assistance. We’re here to help.

 *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.

Tips for Finding the Right Civil Litigation Attorney

Most people who find themselves in need of a civil litigation attorney have one thing in common: they are overwhelmed. In addition to facing immediate financial burdens as a result of malpractice, personal injury, or losing a loved one, they are engulfed in feelings of fear and uncertainty, or even intense grief.

Amid all that anguish, victims are expected to find an attorney who will guide them through the intricacies of the legal process to achieve their objectives. But where do they begin? What criteria make one lawyer not only better than another, but better suited for a particular client in a particular situation?

Whether you’re currently in a situation that requires civil litigation or are just the kind of person who likes to be prepared, we have some suggestions on how to select the right attorney.

Look for civil litigation attorneys who genuinely listen

The first step in the civil litigation process is usually the same: you meet with an attorney, discuss the details of the case, and the attorney does an evaluation on whether litigation would be successful.

In that initial meeting, you, as the prospective client, should do most of the talking. The attorney’s role is to ask questions and listen.

Most attorneys will offer an initial consultation at no charge (if they insist on charging for that initial meeting, you should probably move on). That consultation may require only 15 minutes or so, but to fully understand your case and needs, it could take an hour or more of careful listening. Essentially, the meeting should last as long as it needs to.

After that first session, ask yourself these questions: The attorney might have been “hearing” me, but was he or she really listening? Was the attorney genuinely engaged in what I was saying? Was the attorney taking notes and probing for more details? Was the attorney’s focus on me and my needs, or on the clock?

The answers to those questions can say a lot. It’s been our experience that attorneys who listen and invest their attention in prospective clients are far more likely to stay attentive throughout the life of your case.

Look for civil litigation attorneys who will go the extra mile

Cases are as different and individual as people. Some are tougher than others. Some are more complicated and demanding. As a result, sometimes lawyers can’t accurately project how many hours and resources will be needed.

That’s why you want an attorney who is willing to go wherever the case leads and won’t simply follow the path of least resistance (for a quick settlement). Ask the prospective attorney about cases that turned out to be more complex than initially anticipated. Ask for examples where the attorney demanded more from obstinate defendants, or had to find a “creative” approach to win over a jury or convince the defendant to agree to more equitable compensation.

Look for civil litigation attorneys who know when to say ‘no’

There is something to be learned by asking attorneys which cases they don’t take on. Will they take on types of cases they’re not experienced in? (Our Ohio civil litigation attorneys are experienced in in wrongful death, personal injury, business, and legal and medical malpractice cases.) Will they decline a case because it doesn’t look easy or lucrative enough? Or do they turn nothing down?

That last one could actually be a red flag for prospective clients. It often isn’t in the best interest of clients to pursue cases that, for one reason or another, have little chance of succeeding, or don’t really involve civil litigation issues. For example, we recently met with a woman whose adult son died from head injuries sustained when he fell off the back of a pickup truck. The death was ruled accidental, but the mother felt strongly that the police investigation hadn’t been properly conducted. We understood her pain and anger, but it wasn’t a case that could be resolved by civil litigation. In this instance, we referred her to more appropriate resources that could potentially help her pursue her suspicions.

That’s what responsible attorneys should do. Whether through providing referrals or offering a sympathetic ear, we aim to help people who approach us, even if the answer isn’t litigation.

Look for civil litigation attorneys who understand the need for healing

Lastly, there are attorneys who look at a case almost exclusively in terms of the potential size of a monetary settlement. But for many victims, money isn’t enough to compensate for the damages they’ve incurred. Often the victims or survivors want to find answers and meaning in a tragedy that should never have happened. To that end, ask prospective attorneys whether they’ve ever successfully negotiated settlements that, beyond financial compensation, involved policy changes. Were they willing to negotiate for changes that would help correct the conditions that caused their client’s injury?

Civil litigation is about beginning the healing process. Attorneys who care about advancing that process tend to listen better and go further for their clients. If your initial consultation suggests to you that an attorney can’t meet those basic obligations, you have every reason to continue your search.

If you find yourself in a situation that involves malpractice, personal injury, or a wrongful death, don’t hesitate to reach out to 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.

An Uninsured Auto Dealer Is Held Accountable for Personal Injury

The purpose of test driving a car is to discover the truth about it before you make a purchase. In the case of this fateful test drive, multiple truths were revealed about the unscrupulous business practices of one Columbus auto dealer.

One day, a small, independent auto dealer sent a prospective buyer on a test drive. While out on that test drive, the driver T-boned another car, seriously injuring a young woman named Crysta*, a backseat passenger. Crysta sustained multiple injuries that required an extended hospital stay, months of physical rehabilitation, and resulted in significant medical bills. Her plans of soon starting school were dashed—as were any expectations for enjoying her early adult years in a normal fashion. Crysta came to us for help.

Because the driver was on a test drive, the liability issues became more complicated.  Normally, this kind of crash would involve negotiating with the driver and auto dealer’s insurance company. As the victim’s personal injury attorneys, we would soon learn that this case wouldn’t be that simple to resolve.

The dealer had been quietly operating without insurance.

Unethical practices lead to personal injury

There were many obstacles to getting just compensation for Crysta, who was dealing with a wave of medical bills she shouldn’t have to pay.

Not only was the dealership operating without insurance, but it had loaned out the automobile for the test drive without verifying if the prospective customer had a valid driver’s license (he didn’t). The immoral behavior didn’t stop there. After the accident, an employee of the dealership suspiciously whisked the driver away from the scene. Later, the dealership produced papers falsely documenting that the car had been sold prior to the accident, in an attempt to avoid liability.

After hearing testimony in a damages hearing, the Court entered a significant judgment against the dealer and the driver. However, the dealership was operating out of a trailer along with several other small auto dealerships. There were no real assets to pursue.

While we were able to reach a settlement with the driver, which was a start, it didn’t begin to cover the medical costs and economic losses Crysta had suffered.

A rare legal remedy for a personal injury victim

It felt wrong to end things there, with our client having suffered so much and the dealership having paid nothing for its actions. So we worked harder.

We dug further into Ohio law to find a meaningful path to justice for our client. Ultimately, we uncovered a possible remedy: an existing statute that was rarely invoked (and, to our knowledge, had never been applied successfully in court). The statute requires used motor vehicle dealers in Ohio operating in the same location to agree to be jointly and severally liable for any damages arising from the actions of any one of the dealerships.

The various dealerships in this case were legally bound to file certificates of compliance with the state, acknowledging and accepting their intertwined legal relationship. On behalf of our client, we sued all the dealerships operating at that location, as well as the individual members of the LLCs who owned them.

It turned out that none of the other dealerships had insurance either. The individual owners, however, had assets and businesses they wanted to protect. We therefore were able to negotiate a settlement (in lieu of going to trial) from multiple individual contributors.

Personal injury attorneys know where there’s a law, there’s a way

There are two points to this story.

Point #1: The law is full of remedies. Sometimes they are obvious. Other times, hard work and perseverance are required to discover an acceptable solution.

Point #2: Creativity should be part of a civil litigation attorney’s arsenal, both in the courtroom and outside of it. Sometimes that means finding a statute, however obscure, that provides the best possible remedy for a case.

The settlement has helped Crysta get out from under the mountain of debt and move on with her life. She has been able to resume her education and is on her way to recovering the quality of life that had been taken away from her.

If you or someone you know requires the legal assistance of a creative and determined team of personal injury attorneys, don’t hesitate to reach out to 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.

The Boundaries of Civil Litigation: What Attorneys Can and Can’t Do

All civil litigation starts with a victim, one who has suffered due to another’s misjudgment, malice, or negligence. It’s the job of civil litigation attorneys to facilitate the victim’s healing, physically and emotionally, through compensation, which may or may not involve a monetary settlement.

Due to certain limitations of the legal system, there are some things civil litigation attorneys can’t do to achieve compensation for the clients they represent. When people come to us as victims of a wrongful death or personal injury, they don’t necessarily know or care about such restrictions. They simply want justice. And of course, we do all we can to help them achieve the justice they deserve.

Here, then, is a quick overview of what Ohio civil litigation attorneys can do for their clients, as well as some limits to our advocacy.

Civil litigation versus criminal prosecution

Many times, clients come to us with the belief that what was done to them was a criminal act. That may in fact have been the case, but civil litigation attorneys cannot bring criminal charges against anyone. Only a public prosecutor can do that.

If clients believe that a crime has been committed, the proper path for justice is to report the incident to the police and then let the criminal justice system follow its process of investigating, indicting, and prosecuting the offenders.

Civil litigation attorneys have no direct role in that process, but there is something we can do (and have done): We can support our clients through the criminal process. If clients need support while they’re attending a criminal trial, or simply would like us to serve as a liaison between them and police investigators or the prosecutor’s office, we’re there for them.

Lawyers are not physicians

Though we regularly interact with medical professionals, we’re not doctors. We can’t make medical decisions for our clients. Any decisions regarding medical care must be between our clients and their medical providers.

But again, we can support our clients and answer questions regarding who should be guiding those medical decisions. And we can provide a valuable legal perspective, by sitting in on meetings or phone calls with physicians while also providing emotional and communications support. This gives our clients added confidence to make the right decisions—not just for the case at hand, but for the sake of their long-term well-being.

Courts can’t compel an apology

It’s not unusual for clients to want an apology from the defendants who have victimized them. Such requests are understandable as an important step for achieving closure. However, the civil justice system—and civil litigation attorneys, by extension—cannot compel a defendant to issue a formal apology to the victim. In court, even though we can prove to a jury that the defendant committed wrongdoing or negligence and win the case for the client, defendants can still maintain their innocence and simply disagree with the jury’s decision.

One way around that limitation is to agree on a settlement, which avoids a jury trial. With a settlement, we have more flexibility and can negotiate to include conditions such as a formal apology or admission of wrongdoing, as well as other potential conditions that are in the best interest of the client but not possible through a trial.

Helping victims of personal injury, wrongful death, and negligence

Victims of wrongful death or personal injury come to us distraught and uncertain. They face a long and difficult recovery process. And they don’t necessarily know what we can do for them or even, sometimes, what they really want.

It’s our job to listen carefully to their needs, to understand their situation, and to guide them through their legal options. Once they truly understand what can and can’t be done, then it’s time for us to do what we do best: represent them zealously, and with compassion.

If you find yourself in a situation that involves personal injury or a wrongful death, don’t hesitate to reach out to 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.

How Malingering Claims Affect Genuine Personal Injury Victims

In most sports, football especially, you’ll hear coaches and analysts say, “The best defense is a good offense.” In the courtroom, you’ll find attorneys applying a similar strategy: going on the offensive to defend their clients.

In football, that maxim means that when your team dominates play, it keeps the opponent’s offense off the field where they can’t rack up points.

In the courtroom, a “good” offense means attacking the character and credibility of a plaintiff and in so doing, devaluing the extent to which their lives have been damaged. It’s not about proving the correctness of the defendants’ actions, but tearing down the victims’ plight.

What is truth and what is malingering?

One of the most pernicious ways defense attorneys try to disparage a personal injury claim is by accusing the victim of malingering. It’s a tactic that doesn’t rely heavily on evidence, but that doesn’t mean it won’t sway a jury.

When the defense brings up malingering, it is claiming that the plaintiff is either feigning an injury altogether or exaggerating its consequences.

The defense may trot out a doctor—normally a physician or a psychologist—who will testify that, according to his or her experience, there is no physical reason why the victim should be continuing to suffer from acute pain or disability resulting from the “accident” for which the defendant bears some responsibility.

The expert may even have examined the victim—physically or psychologically—and, based on the results of the testing and the expert’s own analysis of those results, claim to have “evidence” that indicates malingering is likely.

There is good reason to be skeptical of such claims: While it’s true that malingering is an accepted psychiatric diagnosis, there is no definitive method to test for it, physically or psychologically. The results are subjective at best, and the tests are just another example of what we call “junk science” in the courtroom.

Essentially, the defense’s medical expert is accusing the plaintiff of lying, without specifically using that language. In fact, in most cases, medical experts carefully avoid using the word “lying,” because such accusations, made openly, can make jurors more sympathetic to the victim. So instead, he or she calls it a case of malingering.

It’s a subtle and devious way of insinuating to the jury that the plaintiff doesn’t deserve compensation because their pain and suffering are not as bad as he or she would have people believe.

Such accusations can be devastating to a plaintiff’s case, unless the plaintiff’s attorney is ready to counter them—which, we always are.

Putting the defense on the defensive

As personal injury attorneys, we see this type of junk science far too often. And while we may not be able to dispute medical experts’ credentials, we can hold them accountable for their words.

We press them to explain themselves. What do they really mean by using the term “malingering”? How do they distinguish malingering from lying? Where is the medical evidence for malingering? What are the witness’ credentials for making a psychological—rather than purely medical—evaluation of the plaintiff’s condition?

Just because a doctor can’t find a medical cause for pain doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

And, regrettably, it’s not unheard of for medical experts to manipulate the results of a psychological test in favor of the defendant. The questions are sometimes asked repeatedly, until the defense gets the answers it needs. Even the way in which the results are interpreted can be used to sway the jury into believing what can’t be proven with valid evidence.

The malingering defense is not fair to victims, but it’s a defense tactic used with alarming frequency in personal injury cases. It’s an example of how even further injustice can be inflicted in the courtroom, and it is part of the reason why we’re fully committed to protecting our clients.

We give juries good reason to be skeptical of a defendant who relies on accusations of malingering, and we want jurors to see the malingering defense for what it really is: an insult without evidence. If you suspect that you have been a victim of negligence resulting in personal injury or a wrongful death, please give us a call.

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.

Construction Errors, Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, and the Death of an Unborn Child

Few things in life are more joyous than the arrival of a healthy newborn baby. But that feeling of joy quickly dissipates when parents learn the awaited day of birth will never arrive.

In this case, our clients experienced that grief firsthand. Their despair was only compounded when they learned there was evidence—strong evidence—that the loss of their unborn child was likely caused by external conditions that could have been avoided.

How were they to react upon learning the loss of their child may not have been caused by a natural miscarriage? That the child could be alive if not for someone else’s negligence?

As Ohio wrongful death attorneys, we look at the facts of a case objectively and root out what happened and why. We then do what it takes to help our clients follow a path of legal action that can ease their suffering and repair their loss—and do it without amplifying their suffering.

A hidden threat to one family’s security

Mark* and Stephanie* were excited about moving into their brand-new home with their one-and-a-half-year-old son. Mark was a police officer and Stephanie was a nurse. Their future was bright.

When construction was completed, the family moved in to their new home. Shortly after that, Stephanie discovered she was pregnant with their second child. They were elated about their growing family, and particularly delighted when they learned the baby would be a boy. Ten weeks into the pregnancy, visits to the doctor confirmed the pregnancy was progressing normally. The baby Stephanie was carrying was healthy and growing.

This was in the fall of 2015. As the days turned colder, Mark and Stephanie noticed something odd was happening in their new house. A fine soot was accumulating on the walls and on the tops of cabinets. They would clean it only to have it reappear in a few days. With the windows of the house closed, they didn’t know how the dirt was getting in.

A nuisance turns fatal

Around that same time, their toddler became chronically cranky and stopped sleeping through the night. At first, they suspected a normal childhood malady such as an ear infection. Their doctor ruled out that diagnosis, but he wasn’t sure what was wrong. He prescribed antibiotics, but medication brought no improvement.

Stephanie was getting frequent headaches and experiencing bouts of nausea. She couldn’t understand the reason for her sudden discomfort. After all, she was nearly through the first trimester of her pregnancy. Why the nausea now?

A checkup at 11 weeks confirmed that everything was fine with the pregnancy. But at the 13-week checkup, Stephanie’s doctor couldn’t find a heartbeat for the baby.

A few days later, Stephanie underwent a painful surgery to remove the remains of the baby she and her family had already come to love.

The cause of a wrongful death

Mark contacted the construction company about the continuing soot buildup. An inspection of the premises revealed the problem: An air shutter valve in the gas fireplace had been installed improperly. The result was that the fireplace (which the family had been running in the colder months) produced an excess carbon residue that accounted for the “soot” accumulating in the house.

But the faulty valve had a much more serious consequence. It was leaking carbon monoxide into the house—at levels low enough to avoid setting off the carbon monoxide detectors or to be immediately fatal, but high enough to gradually poison the family.

And enough to lead to the death of their unborn son.

Seeking justice outside the courtroom

The improper installation of the air shutter valve was clearly a failure on the part of the construction company. And through Stephanie’s medical records, and research about the effects of carbon monoxide on infants in utero, we were convinced the miscarriage had been a direct result of the construction company’s negligence.

But Mark and Stephanie were reluctant to pursue a lawsuit. Stephanie had suffered enough trauma from the miscarriage and the surgery that followed it, and didn’t want to relive it in a legal proceeding. They agreed it wasn’t right for the contractors to get away with such negligence, but they didn’t want to bring public attention to their personal family tragedy through litigation, either. We understood.

The construction company’s insurance adjuster initially treated the incident as if it were a nuisance to be brushed aside. He offered a settlement amount that didn’t begin to address the family’s suffering. So we waited to respond and continued to gather convincing medical evidence as if we were going to court.

Finally, we were contacted by the insurance adjuster. We told him, in effect, that if he was anxious to close out this case (which he was), he would have to make a serious offer. We presented our evidence, and after several volleys of offers and counteroffers, the adjuster finally came back with a proposal that we felt was appropriate. The final offer was than seven times his initial offer.

Our clients accepted the offer—all without having to go through depositions and a public hearing.

Mark and Stephanie could use the settlement to repair and clean their home or seek out a new home. They could put the tragedy behind them and focus on their family’s future.

No two clients are alike

Whether a tragedy involves personal injury or a wrongful death, each family’s needs are different. Some need a trial and jury verdict to vindicate their suffering. Others, like Mark and Stephanie, simply want compensation that is just and discreet.

Legal counsel should be attuned to people’s individual needs. We believe that, to effectively represent our clients, we need to know not only the law and the facts of the case, but also where, for each client, healing begins.

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.

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

Keep the Jury Out: Why Settlements Are Often Better Than Verdicts

It’s a suspenseful moment. The jury members file into the jurors’ box. The judge asks the defendant to rise. And then the jury’s foreman reads the verdict. The revelation of the jury’s verdict has been a staple of television courtroom dramas from “Perry Mason” to “Law & Order.”

It can make for gripping television. But in the real world of civil litigation, where real people have suffered actual (often devastating) harm and seek just compensation, a jury verdict is not always the best outcome for our clients—even when that verdict is in our clients’ favor.

Why? Because, more often than not, what clients really want is to take something meaningful from a personal, professional, or family tragedy. A jury’s verdict cannot begin to match the healing potential of a carefully crafted settlement agreement.

Let’s give you some examples.

These three cases involving wrongful deaths show what settlement agreements can do that jury verdicts can’t. They also demonstrate how the impact of those agreements can reach beyond the victims’ families.

Ensuring proper testing of life-saving technology

One case involved the death of an elderly woman whose family had entrusted a senior living facility with her life. One night, the woman experienced a medical emergency and used her personal alert pendant to call for help. The alarm summoned an emergency medical squad, but sent them to the wrong address. Sadly, the woman was found dead hours later, still clutching the pendant that was supposed to help protect her.

None of the parties involved—the senior living facility, the company that made and installed the alarm system, or the company that monitored and responded to the system’s alarms—was willing to accept responsibility for the woman’s death. It took a lawsuit to sort it all out.

As part of the settlement agreement, the senior facility, at the family’s insistence, agreed to execute routine testing of the alarm systems in all its 300 nationwide facilities. The company agreed to provide signed and notarized certifications proving that testing had been completed.

The family wanted their mother’s death to mean something more than what financial compensation could provide. They wanted to ensure that such avoidable heartbreak would never be repeated.

Holding property management accountable for safety protocol

Another case involved the tragic death of a 4-year-old boy that could easily have been prevented. In his family’s apartment, the child tried to climb onto an electric stove, which tipped over and killed him.

The potential for this type of accident was known and could have been avoided easily had the apartment’s management company installed the recommended brackets that would have kept the stove from tipping over.

The case was resolved with a settlement that included a unique provision. Because their loss was so preventable, the family insisted that the property owners produce and broadcast a public service announcement to alert other property owners about the importance of using the anti-tip brackets. Again, they wanted their son’s death to have real meaning in helping to protect the lives of others.

Impacting legislation to prevent future wrongful death

One final example involved the death of a tow truck operator. He was hitching up a disabled vehicle on the side of the road at night. Even though all his warning lights were working as required, a passing car failed to change lanes and struck the operator. He was killed instantly.

To help the victim’s mother cope with her terrible loss, the settlement agreement in her case included the opportunity for her to meet with legislators. She lobbied for legislative changes in her state’s Move Over Law so that drivers would be required to change lanes not only for law enforcement vehicles, but also when seeing the flashing yellow lights of any emergency vehicle.

Turning grief to good is beyond the scope of juries

What all three of these cases have in common is that the surviving victims of the wrongful deaths were looking to take something meaningful—and even positive—out of their personal tragedies. That is not unusual.

Answers and assurance can provide healing that a monetary award cannot, and the litigation process helps produce both. Those remedies—and provisions for their enforcement—are simply not available in the courtroom. In civil litigation, juries have no power to compel specific actions on the part of any of the litigants. They can award compensation for damages, and that compensation is critical and necessary for the survivors. But it is also, too often, not enough.

That’s why settlements may provide a more appropriate resolution for clients. It gives survivors the best opportunity to make provisions that draw meaning from tragedy and, hopefully, accelerate the healing process.

If you find yourself in a situation involving personal injury or a wrongful death, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Ohio civil litigation attorneys at Cooper & Elliott for legal assistance. We’re here to help.

*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.

Seeing is Believing: The Benefits of Forensic Animation

In a personal injury or wrongful death case, the jury must understand the difference between what happened and what should have happened in order to deliver a just verdict. It’s our job to make sure jurors understand the evidence so they can sort out the truth about a case. Our success hinges on establishing a connection with jurors, and then effectively communicating to them the significance of the evidence we present.

We work with expert witnesses to help explain evidence. Sometimes the timing and physical nature of events in a case are complex, and demonstrative evidence, such as images and video, comes in handy. Visual evidentiary exhibits often have more power to communicate and can be more memorable than words alone. But static images and videos taken from a single point of view have limitations.

Enter forensic animation, an emerging technology in demonstrative evidence, which is playing an increasingly larger role in civil litigation.

How forensic animation brings a case to life

Video or photos taken at the scene of an event can only present facts from one perspective and therefore can’t always tell the whole story. Forensic animation, on the other hand, virtually recreates events—and can do so from multiple perspectives. In addition, it can slow down action or zoom in to reveal critical details.

Using full-motion computer graphics to recreate events, forensic animation can help jurors visualize a car crash or an assault crime, and it can even demonstrate a product failure that resulted in a personal injury or wrongful death.

Forensic animation relies on the same computer-driven technology used in action films and the same advanced forensic science used by law enforcement. The images are compiled from a variety of sources and perspectives: police officers, forensic experts, engineers, eyewitness statements, security and body cameras, even autopsies.

For a car crash, the simulation would include data gathered at the scene, details about the terrain, weather, and traffic conditions at the time of the accident, police photographs, and more.

In medical malpractice cases, computer-aided animation, or medically demonstrative technology, is used to explain medical conditions or injuries.

In other types of civil litigation cases, the goal is the same but the subject matter is different. Take an example from a few years ago. It involved a high-speed car chase in Cleveland that led to officers shooting a suspect. Because there was sufficient video of the chase and the shooting, from several perspectives, an animation was made that re-created the event in comprehensive detail—even to the point of following the paths of individual bullets. Forensic animation filled information gaps, leaving little doubt as to how the event played out.

There is usually a wealth of information available with which to build an animation if attorneys are willing to put in the effort to find it. (And, of course, we are.)

Demonstrative evidence provided, jurors decide the truth

Forensic animation likely never will replace other types of evidentiary exhibits in civil litigation cases. Nor will it replace expert testimony. But it is a powerful tool that enhances both. There will still be times when we want to use a good old-fashioned photograph, blown up, mounted on poster board, and placed in front of the jury for an extended period of time. We can’t do that with an animation.

Civil litigation attorneys can use these tools to support their respective cases, but at the end of the day, it’s up to the jury to determine the truth.

The key for us is knowing which demonstrative evidence tools to use, and when, in order to build our clients’ cases most effectively.

 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.

Catching Up with CSI: Medically Demonstrative Technology

We have tried many personal injury and wrongful death cases over the years, and there have been plenty of instances where we’ve asked medical experts to testify about what did or didn’t happen to the plaintiff. Jurors have enough information to process throughout a trial as it is, and expecting them to comprehend in just a few hours what might take medical professionals years to understand is asking a lot. Thanks to advancements in medically demonstrative technology, conveying information to a jury has become much more efficient.

Uses of medically demonstrative technology

In the past, expert witnesses have used anatomical models, illustrations, or photos to demonstrate medical conditions and injuries to judges and juries. Today, computer programs and applications have replaced some of those methods and offer experts more sophisticated tools for use in court.

Animation allows juries to see more accurate, real-time and to-scale representations of injuries or medical conditions. CT scans and MRIs not only offer more detailed visuals, they allow juries to see evidence of the plaintiff’s actual injuries instead of having to conceptualize them from a generic diagram or photograph. We once showed a jury an animation of how oxygenated blood moves from a mother to her baby before the baby is born. This was much easier to grasp than a static presentation with a lecture ever would have been.

Applications and programs

Innovative programs and apps represent further leaps forward in medically demonstrative technology. One of the latest lets a jury view specific parts of the body in detail. An expert or attorney can pull up the application on his or her iPad and view the human body layer by layer—they can choose to display the skeleton, or the digestive system, or the nervous system, etc. It’s an excellent way to give juries a close-up look at the human body—and to keep the jury’s attention.

An expert on the witness stand explaining a nerve injury can click an image to show exactly how an injury occurred from multiple angles. The expert can show the view that a surgeon would see while operating, and illustrate (for example) where the surgeon made an error. It’s far more vivid and effective than an old-fashioned two-dimensional presentation.

If you’re thinking you’ve seen something similar on television recently, you probably have. It’s the kind of tech that CSI and other shows have used for a long time—though it’s taken longer to make its way into real-world courtrooms.

Giving expert witnesses authority

Another advantage of medically demonstrative technology is that it gives expert witnesses more authority. Equipped with medically demonstrative tech, expert witnesses become teachers who can show how something happened and why, rather than just lecturers who recite their version of an event. To a jury, a teacher who can demonstrate what happened and why is more appealing than a dry lecturer. Plus, when an expert witness projects the authority of a teacher, it’s harder for a defense attorney to accuse the expert of not being objective.

As is the case with any witness, however, there are sometimes questions of accuracy when experts use medically demonstrative technology. Judges want to know if the software program or app is correctly showing what it claims to show. As such technology becomes more commonplace, precedent can help establish its accuracy. Nevertheless, we still make sure our experts can vouch for the technology they use in each individual case. In the case of an app that creates a custom model from actual medical records, for example, we need to be sure the model is accurate and that the expert is familiar enough with the model to say so.

We also must ensure the technology presents a model clearly and accurately because we may only have one opportunity to present it to a jury. Much of the time, jurors can’t ask to see a medically demonstrative technology display again the way they can re-examine a photo or medical record that has been entered into evidence.

Personal injury or wrongful death case?

We believe it’s important to use every available tool to fight for our clients in personal injury or wrongful death cases, and medically demonstrative technology is but one of those tools. If you’ve been harmed and need legal assistance from Ohio civil litigation attorneys who work only with the best experts and tools, give us a call.

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

Subrogation, Private Health Insurance and Your Personal Injury Settlement

In previous articles, we’ve shared the basics of subrogation and how it relates to Medicare and Medicaid. The rules that govern subrogation for Medicare and Medicaid are different than those for private health insurers. In this article, we’ll discuss subrogation as it relates to private insurance and ways we can help our clients minimize its effects on their personal injury settlement or judgment.

Private insurance subrogation laws

Unlike Medicare and Medicaid, in which subrogation rules are part of the laws and regulations that govern the programs, private insurance subrogation rules are contained in insurance contracts. And while Medicare reduces its subrogation to account for fees and costs, and Medicaid limits the amount of a settlement that can be taken via subrogation, private insurance may have no such restrictions.

Unfortunately, many people get health insurance through their employer (or the Affordable Care Act), and there’s not a lot of room for shopping around and the contract terms are non-negotiable.

Example of a worst-case scenario: In a car accident, when one driver is hit by another, the victim’s health insurance company pays $50,000 to cover the medical expenses. A lawsuit is filed against the offending driver, but because the driver has minimum auto insurance limits, it recovers only $25,000. The language in the injured person’s health insurance contract might give their insurer the right to recover every dollar it paid on their behalf originally. So, the $25,000 recovered in the lawsuit would go directly to the plaintiff’s health insurance company.

It’s hard to understand, given that people pay premiums for their health insurance and expect that they’re getting something for what they paid for. Many are shocked to learn that their insurer doesn’t have to bear the risk of having to pay their medical bills.

Ohio civil litigation attorneys examine the fine print

Frequently, there are ways we can fight subrogation claims on our clients’ behalf. First, we try to make sure our clients pay no more than they’re legally obligated to by diligently reviewing the language in the insurance contract. Unless the contract uses certain proper and precise language, the insurance company may not be able to make a claim on the settlement at all. There are some conditions that could prevent subrogation claims:

  • No contract – Insurance companies are sometimes unable to produce a written contract for examination, but they might try to assert a subrogation claim anyway. Without having a contract to back up such a claim, they’re out of luck.
  • Timing – We check to make sure that the exact subrogation language in the contract the insurer is trying to apply was in effect at the time of the accident. For example, if an accident occurs in 2015, but the subrogation language in the contract didn’t go into effect until 2016, then it can’t apply to that case.
  • Agreement with state law – Some private health insurance contracts are governed by state law. In those cases, if the contract language in question doesn’t meet the requirements of Ohio subrogation law, the insurance company may not be able to claim some or all of what it paid.

What if the subrogation language is binding?

Even if we’ve verified that the contract language is sound and the right to subrogation as written in the contract is valid, we still have options. Insurance companies don’t want to spend a great deal of money collecting subrogation payments, so the possibility of having to go to court often prompts a company to negotiate.

Another option—we sometimes think of it as the secret weapon—is to negotiate a reduction of the subrogation claim by threatening to drop the lawsuit altogether. The threat of exercising this option can persuade the insurance company to negotiate on subrogation because without the personal injury case, there would be no settlement from which to collect. This approach is absolutely one of last resort, of course. But if the subrogation claim would swallow up all of our client’s recovery, it may be the only way to get the health insurer to negotiation.

There are many things to consider when you’re facing the threat of losing a personal injury recovery to a subrogation claim. If you could use some assistance navigating a messy subrogation battle, give the Ohio civil litigation attorneys at Cooper & Elliott 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.