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.

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.

Ohio Wrongful Death Attorneys Protect a Widow’s Claim and Dignity

This is a story about a tragic accident resulting from negligence. It’s also a story about how safeguards built into the legal process to protect the innocent are abused by those looking to avoid responsibility—and damages—resulting from their own negligence.

And finally, it’s a story about our determination to protect our client despite the responsible party’s efforts to improperly exploit the legal process.

Going the distance

Sam* and Myrna* had been married for more than 20 years. To say they were dedicated to each other would be an understatement. Yet Sam’s work frequently took him out of town for extended periods of time. Those absences were borne out of necessity for Sam to provide for his family, but Sam and Myrna made the most of the time they had together. Myrna would sometimes drive an hour or more to Sam’s worksite, taking him the lunch she had prepared so they could spend time together.

Sam was a roofing construction worker. It had been his trade for more than 25 years. He worked for many different companies over his career, going where the work was and traveling as far and as often as necessary to support his family.

One of the companies he occasionally worked for, OBS Construction*, sent him and a crew to a commercial roofing job in Northeast Ohio. Sam reluctantly took the assignment—he’d had less than favorable experiences working for the company before and the company had earned a reputation for treating its employees poorly. But Sam needed the work. So he took the job anyway.

A fatal step

OBS sent the crew to the worksite without properly inspecting the roof or providing the proper safety equipment required for the job. The job was a disaster, and the company’s failures proved to be deadly for Sam.

Sam was walking across the roof when he unexpectedly fell through an unmarked and unguarded industrial skylight. The fall killed him instantly.

Anyone in the crew could have made that fatal step as the industrial skylights on this building were not easily identifiable like those in residential buildings. Had a proper initial inspection been conducted or proper safety equipment been provided, this tragedy would have been avoided and Sam would still be alive.

There was clearly negligence on the part of OBS. But OBS refused to see it that way.

No remorse? No liability?

Like many men, Sam had served several roles in his life: husband, father, grandfather. He was also the family’s primary provider. In the event of his death, that role fell to Myrna—though she was ill-suited to take it. Her health had been declining for several years; she could no longer work and was under doctor’s orders not to travel.

OBS’s disdain for its employees carried over into the way the company treated Myrna. It refused responsibility for Sam’s death, did everything it could to cause delay in the process, and even claimed that it had provided safety equipment but that the equipment had been used improperly (all of which we later proved to be untrue).

At such a vulnerable time in Myrna’s life, the tactics used to defend against Sam’s claim were insulting and incredibly damaging to Myrna and her kids.

Ohio wrongful death attorneys help with worker’s compensation

When Myrna came to us, it was clear she needed not only legal expertise, but strength as well. She needed to believe someone was on her side when it seemed to her that the entire legal system was working against her. Her grief was profound, and will probably always be a part of her life. But that didn’t mean she shouldn’t receive the fair compensation due to her as a result of Sam’s wrongful death.

We advised her of her options under worker’s compensation law in Ohio. OBS opposed her claims at each step in the legal process. To this day, OBS hasn’t prevailed at a single stage of the process, despite many rounds of appeals.

Appeals have an important function in the law. They provide a process for correcting errors or clarifying legal interpretations. But in this case, the appeals process was used by OBS and its attorneys as a means of delaying justice.

After more than three years, five attempts at appeal, thousands of dollars in time and expense, Myrna has finally prevailed. She has held OBS responsible and obtained a decision letting OBS know they were wrong and accountable for her husband’s death.

When there is a wrongful death, someone must be held responsible. It’s our role as wrongful death attorneys to persist and prevail on behalf of our client’s right to justice—despite any misuses of the appeals process and the legal system.

If you ever need the help of a wrongful death attorney or assistance navigating the worker’s comp system, 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 client’s privacy.

A Tragic Past Nurtures a Young Man’s Bright Future

By Rex H. Elliott, Partner

So many times, jobs are measured by mundane things; by the hours people invest in their work, by their productivity, by how much they get paid. And in our profession, by the cases we win.

Yet sometimes, something about your job grips your heart and reminds you why you chose your line of work in the first place. It reminds you why, far beyond a good outcome on paper, the best reward is knowing you’ve made a difference in someone’s life, a difference that is lasting and profound.

Something like that recently happened to me, and I’d like to share the experience with you.

A former client becomes my shadow

Most high school students in Ohio spend a day “shadowing” someone on the job. They follow an adult around for a day at work and get an idea for what it might be like to have a career in that particular profession. When our former client, Mark*, called us to see if his son could shadow me and some of the other attorneys at the firm, we were delighted. Mark had been a client more than twelve years ago, and we’d stayed in touch. Over the years, he gave us updates on how he and his son, Sam*, were doing. I came to know a lot about Sam as he grew up, though he knew little of me or the legal details that so greatly impacted his life.

Mark thought the time had come for those details to be revealed to Sam, and we agreed.

A devastating and preventable loss

I won’t go into all the details of the tragedy that brought Mark and our firm together many years ago. But very simply, when Sam was only a year old, his mother was killed by a drunk driver.

The man who took her life was picked up for drunk driving one night, taken into custody, and released by police officers less than 48 hours later. Not surprisingly (he had more than 10 OVI convictions), he went out and immediately became intoxicated again, got into his car and killed Sam’s mother.

Sam, now 14 years old, spent his shadow day visiting the past. He became familiar with the events that caused his mother’s death and the legal steps we helped his father take to secure their future and protect others from a similar fate.

Civil litigation goes full circle

We shared with Sam some of the court documents from the case and explained how his mother’s lawsuit had gone all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court before a just settlement had finally been reached. We took him to the courthouse and walked him through the steps of the lawsuit.

We wanted Sam to understand not only what had happened, but why. His mother had worked at an Alzheimer’s center, and that was her destination the morning she was killed. We knew she would want her baby to be taken care of in the event of her death—to ensure his life would be the best possible. We also knew Mark and his family hoped to make a statement, through the legal system, so that the circumstances surrounding his wife’s death would never be repeated.

Of course, Sam had no memory of these events. But there were tears in his eyes as the story was revealed to him. Not tears of sadness—tears of overwhelming emotion. He was caught by the powerful realization that his mother’s death had not been in vain, that it had led to procedural reforms that put stricter controls on how law enforcement handles drunk drivers, reforms that have undoubtedly saved many lives over the past dozen years.

I believe Sam was glad to finally learn the whole story. It was incredibly humbling to help him achieve an understanding that had been awaiting him almost his entire life. That knowledge came with a mixture of sadness and pride, for he had been part of a bigger story without even knowing it.

He felt that. And I felt it too.

The impact of this wrongful death case

Beyond the procedural impacts, the case allowed Mark to be a full-time father. It would have cost Sam a great deal to have to sacrifice his only parent’s time and attention to the heavy work schedule required to meet surmounting financial costs of raising a child alone.

Mark’s dedication to his son paid off, because Sam is a wonderful kid: He’s smart, personable and polite, an A student in school, and a multi-sport athlete. After college he wants to go into law enforcement, so he can personally protect others and spare them the tragedy and loss he has had to endure.

Why we’re civil litigation attorneys

Sometimes people ask me about the stress of being a wrongful death attorney—about the strain of seeing so much personal tragedy daily, and dealing with all the sadness, conflict, and frustration that are a natural part of the job. It can wear you down, if you let it.

And then someone like Sam shadows you for a day, and you realize again why your job matters. Victims of personal injury and wrongful death incidents need protection and compensation to help them rebuild their lives.

Sam is an incredible example of the good that can survive a tragedy. His caring and future accomplishments will continue to serve as a living monument to the memory of his very special mother.

Connect with us—we’re here to help.

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

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.

A Conditional Settlement Helps One Family Heal

As Ohio civil litigation attorneys, our focus is always on one thing: to help our clients find justice and hold the wrongdoers accountable. That means taking the time to understand our clients’ point of view and the extent of their pain. It means digging for the facts and going beyond the obvious to uncover what’s critical.

It also means, for each case and every client, determining what constitutes genuine justice.

Money alone is rarely sufficient, especially when the case involves a wrongful death or life-altering injury. What makes someone whole after a devastating loss? Are there ways not only to compensate for damages but also open possibilities for bringing an individual or family closer to healing?

A case of mistaken location

Let’s revisit a case we first brought to your attention last year. It’s a case rapidly moving toward a final resolution. It provides a prime example of how a settlement agreement can not only compensate for a loss but begin to render meaning to a family tragedy.

The case involved the wrongful death of Dorothy Kramer*, an elderly woman who lived in an assisted-living center. One morning, alone in her apartment, Dorothy pressed the emergency pendant she wore around her neck to summon emergency medical attention. The alarm was one of the services provided by the center, and it summoned an EMS unit just as it was supposed to do.

But it failed to bring them to Dorothy.

The EMS team was directed to the wrong address, across the hall from Dorothy’s apartment. Because false alarms in these situations are not uncommon, the EMS team decided that they must have been called in error, and left the premises. No one checked on Dorothy.

She was discovered hours later—alone, sitting in a chair, still clutching the alarm that she and her family had believed would prevent her from dying unattended.

Plenty of blame to go around in wrongful death

Of course, Dorothy’s passing in this manner was a tragedy. It certainly didn’t have to happen the way it did. Safeguards had been instituted to assure that appropriate emergency medical attention would be available as needed. Yet somewhere there had been a breakdown in the system, leading to a result no one wanted.

Naturally, the Kramer family wanted answers. Why did this happen? How could this have happened? But satisfactory answers were not forthcoming, so the family came to us.

There were three main players in this drama, and instead of accepting appropriate responsibility, all three were busy pointing fingers of blame. The company that owned and operated the senior living center denied any responsibility for the failure of the alarm system to perform as promised. The company that manufactured and installed the alarm system denied any responsibility for the failure of the EMS response team to make sure it had arrived at the correct address. And the company that monitored the alarm system and sent the EMS unit denied any responsibility for the system’s failure to correctly identify Dorothy’s location.

With each of the parties refusing to accept responsibility, we filed a civil lawsuit against all three companies.

Settlement discussions have been under way with the three companies, each of which is finally beginning to cooperate. In fact, we’re nearing the point of closure and don’t anticipate this case going to trial. And here, that’s a good thing. We think a settlement—without a trial—will be in the best interest of our client because a settlement is the only way to achieve an important condition that doesn’t involve money.

Salvaging some good through a settlement

Money will always be part of the compensation for damages in a civil litigation case. But so often, that’s only the starting point. What families, victims, and survivors really need is the closure that must happen before real healing can begin. They need answers. They need meaning, drawn from the knowledge that some good can be salvaged from their loss.

In this case, the Kramer family found some additional meaning through a condition we negotiated as part of the settlement. The company that owns the senior living facility will be required to test the alarms it provides its residents. To assure enforcement of this provision, the company must produce a signed, notarized certification that the tests were completed successfully.

This provision applies not only to the facility where Dorothy lived but to all the facilities owned and operated by the company. That amounts to more than 300 facilities in 38 states.

Such a requirement is possible only when there is a settlement agreement. A jury’s scope is limited to determining responsibility and awarding suitable financial compensation. What the jury can’t do is impose a condition on any of the parties in the litigation.

A condition such as the certified testing of literally hundreds of alarm units must be agreed to by the parties involved.

It represents an extra step in the civil litigation process, one that the client’s attorney must be committed to pursuing. But as in the case of Dorothy Kramer, it’s one step that will benefit all parties involved, including future residents of Dorothy’s senior living facility. Their lives will be better protected because of the Kramer family’s foresight and its commitment to doing what’s right.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, 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.

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.

A Child’s Wrongful Death Leaves a Legacy of Hope

The death of a small child is a tragedy no family should have to endure. But sometimes it happens, and the family members must carry the grief with them for the rest of their lives.

In a wrongful death case, a family sues the party responsible for the death of their loved one. If during the lawsuit, the family decides to settle the case, they might insist that part of the settlement includes action that will make such tragic events less likely to happen in the future. To look beyond your own grief and try to do what’s right for others takes a special kind of strength—and it helps to have Ohio wrongful death attorneys who are willing to look beyond the obvious to make it happen.

A family’s daily struggle turns tragic

It was fall when the Smith* family moved into an apartment complex in central Ohio. The complex, which had been purchased three years earlier by an out-of-state company, was run down, and the new owner did little to make upgrades or basic repairs. On moving day, the Smiths found themselves in a unit that was in much worse condition than the one they had been shown when they signed their lease.

As winter came and the temperature dropped, the Smiths noticed the heating system for their apartment was not working well. They made numerous attempts to get the property’s management team to address the issue, but by February the heating system was still not fixed.

The Smiths—with three small children, ages 2, 4 and 7—did what other families in the complex were doing to make their winter days livable. They used an electric space heater, covered drafty windows as best they could with plastic, and, on the coldest days, resorted to turning on their apartment’s old electric stove.

One morning, Mrs. Smith was in the back bedroom with her 2-year-old daughter, while her 4-year-old son was playing a video game in another room. At one point, Mrs. Smith heard the game become idle and asked her daughter to find out where her brother had gone.

The little girl came back and said, “He’s in the oven.”

Wrongful death and a family’s grief

Mrs. Smith rushed to find her 4-year-old son with the stove tipped over on top of him, his lower half trapped in the oven. While we may never know exactly what happened, it seems the boy had tried to climb on the stove, causing it to tip over onto him and pin him to the floor. He couldn’t call out, or even breathe.

His mother tried to administer CPR and called 911. The emergency squad arrived, but it was all to no avail. The little boy had died from asphyxiation from being pinned under the stove.

The Smiths struggled with their grief and feelings of guilt for nearly 18 months before they contacted us about a potential wrongful death action. That kind of delay is not unusual in cases like this. Families need time to deal with the impact of the tragedy, and with feelings of guilt that, in cases like this, are unavoidable but never deserved.

The weight of property management negligence

As the Smiths’ attorneys, we investigated how a stove could be tipped over by a 4-year-old child. We talked to maintenance personnel, responders to the scene, and officials for the city where the apartment complex was located. We interviewed industry experts and spent a great deal of time putting together the history of stoves, how they’re made, and if there were steps that the property owners should have taken to prevent the child’s death.

As it turned out—there were.

Older models of electric stoves were prone to being top heavy, and to prevent them from tipping, oven manufacturers began requiring that anti-tip brackets be installed to secure the stove to the floor. That safety standard had been in place since 1991. The Consumer Product Safety Commission did a study about anti-tip brackets, and there have been several notable lawsuits filed over the years regarding failure to use them.

It’s a fix that takes about 10 minutes and costs about $10. And in this case, the brackets would have saved a child’s life. But they were never installed.

We learned from members of the maintenance crew that they had started to install the anti-tip brackets in some units but were instructed not to because it was slowing down their work orders. That left some stoves in the apartment complex with brackets. It left others, like the Smiths’, without brackets, waiting to tip.

A settlement for the sake of safety

We filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of the Smiths, but after much investigation and a round of mediation, the family reached a settlement with the property management company.

In cases like this, a settlement has some advantages over going to trial. First, it’s less time consuming and costly for all parties. It also allowed the family to avoid reliving their trauma again and again while preparing for depositions and trial. But, perhaps most importantly, a settlement allows plaintiffs to ask for conditions beyond money. In a trial, all a jury can do is award money. It’s a horrible substitute for the loss of a child, but it’s all a jury can do.

The Smiths, to their credit, wanted something more. They wanted to be sure that some good could come out of the tragedy of their son’s death. As part of their settlement, they asked that the property management company prepare and issue a public service announcement to alert other property owners about the importance of using anti-tip brackets.

Hopefully, you never find yourself in a similar situation, but if you do, 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.

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

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.