How One Personal Injury Case Changed Lives Across Ohio

One memorable personal injury case involved Maureen and Rick Evans*, who got into a seemingly mild car accident one day. It was the kind of thing that could happen to anybody – a low-impact bump. The other driver was at fault, but it seemed like no big deal. Maureen hit her head on the passenger door and felt a little dazed, but she seemed unhurt otherwise and didn’t feel like she needed to go to the hospital.

No one knew at the time that Maureen had actually suffered a traumatic brain injury. After a few weeks, it became clear how serious her injury was. She had trouble getting out of bed. She couldn’t be in a lighted room. She developed short- and long-term memory problems. She eventually spent years in cognitive rehabilitation re-learning to read – and even to think – the way she once had been able to.

A spouse’s love vs. a state law

When Cooper & Elliott joined Maureen’s team, we faced several challenges. The first obstacle was the insurance company’s insistence that the accident hadn’t been serious, and that none of Maureen’s problems surfaced until long afterward. The second obstacle was even bigger, and it had major implications for Maureen, Rick, and every other Ohio couple involved in a personal injury case.

Because Maureen was injured so severely that she could no longer take care of herself, Rick made the difficult decision to quit a lucrative job to care for his wife. We wanted to make sure Rick would be compensated for what he had given up – after all, Ohio law would have allowed compensation for hiring outside nursing help for Maureen.  But Ohio law didn’t allow someone who wanted to personally care for his injured spouse to force the wrongdoer to pay for the income the caregiver would lose.

That didn’t seem right.

After much persistence and through a ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court, we were able to establish that if one spouse must forego earning a living to take care of the other spouse, the caregiver is entitled to the reasonable value of the nursing services for the care provided, including the income lost while doing so.

Because of this ruling, when people in Ohio choose to give up their jobs in order to personally care for a spouse who was injured by someone else’s carelessness, they no longer have to give up the income they would have earned. Rick just wanted to care for his wife without jeopardizing the family’s finances, and now he and others like him can do just that.

More than money

Money aside, there’s a broader benefit to Maureen and Rick’s case. The court ruling ultimately helps promote closer marital relationships. It enables spouses to do what spouses should do, which is take care of each other. Today, Maureen is much improved. Recently, Rick was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and because of the care Maureen received now she’s able to help take care of him.

There’s no denying that there’s some sadness in Maureen and Rick Evans’ story. But it’s an uplifting story, too. And it’s a point of pride for the Evans and for us at Cooper & Elliott that other Ohio attorneys handling personal injury cases now use the ruling from Maureen and Rick’s case to help other families in the same difficult situation.

*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.

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

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.

Healing the Scars: Helping a Car Accident Survivor Move Forward from a Devastating Crash

How many times have you hopped into your car with friends or family to go get something to eat? Would you ever imagine that one of those times a member of your group would be killed in a car accident, and that you would have to bear the scars of the tragedy for the rest of your life?

Sarah Alvarez* never imagined such a thing would happen—until a negligent uninsured motorist changed her life forever. 

Five people were in the car: Alice* (Sarah’s sister), who was driving; Sarah, riding in the passenger seat; and Alice’s three children, riding in back.

The uninsured motorist hit them head-on, killing Alice on impact. The tremendous force of the collision caused Alice’s car to roll over several times and Alice’s body to come free from her seat belt. As the car came to rest on the passenger side, Alice’s body landed across Sarah, who was trapped in her seat. Sarah had to wait for what seemed an eternity, her sister’s lifeless body lying across her, before they could be freed from the wreckage.

Amazingly, there was some good news: The three children in back escaped physical injury, though they now faced the prospect of life without their mother. And Sarah, in spite of the nightmare she’d endured, also emerged with few physical injuries, save for a large gash across her forehead.

But the physical scar from that wound, not to mention the emotional scars from the whole experience, would remain with her long after the accident.

A Life Changed Forever

We sought compensation for Sarah based on the scar she sustained and the emotional nightmare associated with it. Every time she looked in the mirror and saw the scar at the top of her forehead, she relived the accident, the memory of her sister lying lifeless on top of her, of being trapped there, helpless to do anything for Alice.

The heartbreak and anxiety resulting from the crash was obvious. Sarah was no longer the bubbly, energetic teenage girl she’d been before the accident. Now she was downcast, rarely looking up at people, and extremely self-conscious about that scar, always trying to hide it with her hair.

Car Accident Victims vs. Insurance Companies

On behalf of Sarah, we first sued the driver who hit Alice’s car, but he was uninsured.  That forced us to sue the insurance company that had issued Alice and Sarah their uninsured motorist coverage. This might seem a bit odd—suing your client’s own insurance company—but it’s common in personal injury or car accident lawsuits.

In our experience, no matter whose insurance company it is, at the end of the day an insurance company is interested in one thing: making money. Even if you’ve been a loyal customer paying premiums on time over several years, and even if you’ve suffered serious injuries, they will do their best to pay out as little as possible on your claim.

Sarah’s insurance company initially offered her $10,000, which was a ridiculously low sum given what Sarah had endured—and what she still faced going forward. So we chose to let a jury decide what was fair. At trial, the insurance company’s lawyer downplayed Sarah’s scar and told the jury that it was hardly noticeable. We reminded the jury that a scar is only small when it’s on someone else’s face. The jury gave the highest verdict for a case involving a scar in the county’s history.

Obtaining the Greater Good

While we were happy with the jury’s verdict, our satisfaction really had less to do about the size of the award, and more about obtaining justice for a young woman devastated by a car accident. We hoped we could help bring some measure of closure so she could move forward.

All of this should be no surprise. When you put yourself in the shoes of clients and start to feel what they’re experiencing—all of the emotions, the grief of losing a loved one—you can’t help but be moved to do everything you possibly can for them.

And we weren’t the only ones moved by Sarah’s situation. One unforgettable scene at the end of the trial really hit home how much Sarah had been affected, and how much others wanted to help. After the jury found in Sarah’s favor, some women from the jury came down from where they’d been seated, hugged her, and said to this dejected, self-conscious young woman, “Listen. You look up at people. Look them in the eye. You’re a beautiful young girl and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

It was a powerful moment.

A Young Life Moves Forward

Helpful, supportive words like those, as well as the closure that comes from seeing justice done, have had a wonderfully positive impact for Sarah as she’s struggled to create a new life for herself after surviving the car accident.

She’s since finished school and entered the workplace, and she’s done the best she can to put her tragedy behind her. We still talk a lot with her brother, Andres*, and he tells us she’s doing well.

And that’s really all we can ask for. Let’s face it: After a traumatizing experience like what Sarah went through, nobody can expect her to simply forget what happened. It will always be with her on some level—just like that scar.

But the positive outcome in a case like this often enables people who’ve suffered horrible tragedies to recognize that they’ve done everything they can for their lost loved one and their family, and it’s OK to move forward. 

*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.

Personal Injury Mediation: A Viable Alternative To Deadlock Negotiating

describe the imageWhen it comes to personal injury litigation, some people turn away from the process due to its potential to be expensive, stressful and time-consuming.

However, in recent years, personal injury mediation has become common in these types of cases. A large percentage of civil cases settle, in turn making mediation the most common settlement technique.

Personal Injury Mediation: What Is It?
Mediation occurs when a third party (mediator) facilitates a discussion with the sole purpose being to settle the case. The third party is typically a personal injury lawyer who has experience trying these types of cases for plaintiffs, defendants or both.

Mediation is an entirely voluntary process. If mediation does not work – meaning both sides of the dispute cannot reach an agreement – the only consequence is that the litigation continues. Since nothing either party says during mediation is usable by the other party in later stages of the dispute, there is no downside to mediation.

Mediation: First Steps To Ensure Settlement Success
The key to any personal injury settlement is not simply to settle the case, but to get the highest value possible. Here’s what you need:

  • Select A Strong Mediator: Look for a professional mediation service, staffed by full-time mediators who have both mediation experience and a legal background or identify individual mediators that have a long track record of successful mediation experience.
  • Select The Right Counsel For Your Case: This means finding a well-seasoned personal injury attorney who the other side fears.
  • Conduct In-Depth Preparation: Deep knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of your case, along with a total understanding of all the defenses are crucial to a successful outcome.

Work with your lawyer to determine the best possible personal injury settlement scenarios to push during mediation.

During your personal injury mediation process, your lawyer needs to educate the mediator as much as possible before the mediation date. This must be done so the mediator understands the defense pressure points and the objectives to achieve in any settlement. Preparation and education will also help facilitate a smooth process the day mediation begins. We prepare power point presentations and detailed mediation statements to help ensure success at mediation.

The Benefits (And The Barrier) Of Personal Injury Mediation
Pro: When you reach a stalemate in your negotiations with the insurance adjuster, mediation is a way to break the impasse.

Pro: When you sit across the table from the insurance adjuster, you’ve put a human face to your set of personal injury claim documents. Because of this, they are more likely to understand the risks of a jury trial by putting a face to the tragedy.

Pro: The third-party mediator encourages a break in any deadlock, so the whole process is typically faster, easier and less expensive than taking your case to court.

Con: Because both parties must agree to mediation, it is sometimes difficult to get an adjuster on board due to the extra steps involved, including that crucial personal appearance.

Where Do You Draw The Line Before Deciding To Mediate?
You’re going to need legal counsel with a personal injury background, as well as a professional mediator, if any of the following scenarios have the parties at an impasse:

  • The insurance company has not offered anything close to fair personal injury compensation.
  • The major dispute involves the extent of your personal injury and to what degree each party was at fault.
  • You see no other avenues for negotiating, beyond taking your claim to a jury.

If you’ve suffered a personal injury, the law reserves you the right to certain compensation that helps you pay for time lost at work, medical bills and any loss of life enjoyment. You deserve to have the truth about your personal injury revealed as well as a settlement that assists in your path towards recovery.

Personal injury mediation has revolutionized the legal system as a viable alternative to achieve desired results, without the expense and complex battles of a court case.

Would you like to learn more about personal injury mediation and partnering with the right attorney to guide you through the process? Call 614-481-6000 or click on the button below to speak with a Compassionate Consultant at Cooper & Elliott.

Right the Wrong