Cooper & Elliott Blog

Overcoming Uninsured/Underinsured Insurance Complexities and Legal Malpractice

Posted on Thu, Jul 5, 2018 @ 12:57 PM

For Robyn*, it was one spirit-crushing event after another: first, a traffic accident left her with tens of thousands of dollars in medical debt and physical scars she would carry with her for the rest of her life; then, soon after, the passing of her husband.

Because the motorist who struck her car was uninsured, Robyn needed strong representation from a civil litigation attorney. What she got from her first attorney was something considerably less.

Injured by an uninsured motorist

When a policeman observed a car running a stop sign, he pulled the car over and issued a citation. The driver explained that the traffic violation was out of his control, and that his brakes were failing. The driver was then instructed by the officer to drive directly home. If only he had.

Hours later, the driver’s faulty brakes allowed his car to careen, uncontrolled, into the car Robyn was driving. She suffered multiple neck injuries and would be scarred for life as a result. She would also start to pile up significant medical bills, with no way to pay them. To add insult to injury, she discovered that the driver was uninsured.

And just when it seemed things couldn’t get worse for Robyn—her husband passed away.

A victim of civil litigation neglect

Overwhelmed, Robyn hired a local attorney to help her manage the aftereffects of the accident. The attorney was a former county commissioner who, unknown to Robyn at the time, was under investigation for embezzlement. He would later be acquitted, but his involvement in the investigation and the subsequent trial were contributing factors to his neglect of Robyn’s case. We also discovered that he was battling alcoholism.

Whenever she inquired about her case, the attorney told her that everything was proceeding normally. After more than two years, Robyn grew tired of the delays (while her medical bills were mounting). She approached us to look at her case.

When we looked at the court docket, we found that almost nothing that should have been done on Robyn’s behalf had in fact been acted upon. Her attorney had repeatedly failed to file proper documentation, and deadlines had been missed without her having been notified—a lapse on the part of her attorney that was critically detrimental to her position. Robyn then fired her attorney and hired us to salvage her case.

Starting over to remedy legal malpractice

Her case had been so mishandled that we had no choice but to dismiss it entirely and start over. It took nearly a month to recover her file from her previous attorney, and we unearthed the fact that Robyn had been eligible for substantial uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage from her own insurance provider.

Though the deadline had passed for filing a claim with her provider, we pushed for filing anyway, alerting the insurer that her previous attorney had failed to provide her with proper notice of the filing deadlines. Persistence paid off (as it frequently does, especially when you are pushing for the right thing to be done). We also sued the other attorney for malpractice and won a settlement that, combined with the insurance settlement Robyn received, allowed her to pay her medical bills.

Looking out for personal injury victims

Our practice exists, in large part, due to the prevalence of neglect, which too often results in someone’s injury. It can come in many forms, from an automobile’s faulty braking system to somebody ignoring a police officer’s instructions—both of which contributed to Robyn’s injuries.

But neglect can also include harming somebody by failing to do what’s best—and what’s right. Robyn’s suffering started with the neglect of an uninsured motorist.  Her suffering was prolonged by the neglect of an attorney who failed to provide her with the most basic representation.  And, finally, her suffering continued because of an insurance company that promised coverage and then tried to deny it by hiding behind technicalities like filing deadlines.

The attorney and insurance provider should have had Robyn’s best interests as their first priority, yet it took legal pressure to compel them to do the right thing for a victim who deserved better.

We take legal malpractice very seriously. Attorneys should be held accountable for their actions and decisions, especially when they veer from the standards that are the foundation of our profession. By pursuing those who fail to uphold those standards, we protect not only our profession, but also our community as a whole.

If you suffer a personal injury that calls for civil litigation, don’t hesitate to reach out to the experienced Ohio trial lawyers at Cooper & Elliott for legal assistance. 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.

 

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Restoring a Young Girl’s Future After a Disfiguring Dog Attack

Posted on Mon, Jul 2, 2018 @ 4:12 PM

One family’s holiday get-together quickly turned into an emergency situation when a visitor’s dog attacked a young girl. It’s something that could happen anytime a dog is around an unfamiliar child—that much is easy enough to understand. What’s not so simple in a child injury or personal injury case, is determining how to assess the scope of the damage, and how to hold the responsible party accountable for it.

The dog bite and lasting scars

The Morrison* family—Mitchell, Gwen, and their 3-year-old daughter, Natalie—was looking forward to moving from South Carolina to northeast Ohio to live closer to family. They visited Ohio to stay with Gwen’s mother over the Christmas holiday season, but what should have been a time of celebration quickly turned tragic.

Also visiting Natalie’s grandmother were her aunt, her aunt’s boyfriend, Joe, and his dog. Like many little girls, Natalie loved dogs and asked Joe if she could pet his. Joe assured Natalie that his dog was friendly and it was safe to pet him. It turned out that he was sorely mistaken. Just as Natalie began to reach out, the dog lunged at her and bit her repeatedly.

Natalie was rushed to the hospital with serious wounds on her face, chest, shoulder, and side. More than 50 stitches were required to close the lacerations on her body.

Identifying responsibility for a personal injury

In some ways Natalie was fortunate. Despite the severity of the attack, doctors were confident that her facial lacerations would heal and leave little trace of the injury. Unfortunately, the prognosis was not as optimistic for the scars on her arm and torso, where there would be prominent disfigurement for the rest of her life.

It’s possible that the dog had a history of aggression, or he may simply have been startled, but one thing was clear: Even though the attack occurred on the grandmother’s property, it was Joe, the dog’s owner, who should be held responsible. Under Ohio law, if a dog injures someone, the dog’s owner is liable for that injury. So, after returning to South Carolina, the Morrisons hired a local attorney to pursue a personal injury action.

It just so happened that Joe held a homeowner’s insurance policy that clearly stated it would cover damage done by dogs, which qualify as property. His insurance company, not surprisingly, disagreed. It consistently thwarted any attempts made by the Morrison’s first attorney to recover on the policy. It simply refused to comply. Faced with daunting medical bills and feeling quite hopeless, the Morrisons reached out to us for help.

Ohio civil litigation attorneys succeed outside the courtroom

In this circumstance, we preferred to negotiate directly with Joe’s insurance company instead of resorting to a lawsuit and trial. Because Natalie was only 3, we did not want her to have to relive the details of the attack through depositions and courtroom testimony.

Being experienced in child injury cases, we took into consideration the special challenges that accompany this type of case: What is just compensation? How do you value the long-term effects of personal injury for someone so young? How could Natalie express—or, at her age, even be able to imagine—how such prominent body scars would impact her confidence and self-image as she grew older?

Restoring a disfigured girl’s future

Ultimately, we were able to persuade the insurance company that effects from the scars on Natalie’s body would have long-term effects that were more than just physical. We presented interviews from women who had suffered similar disfiguring injuries when they were young, to provide perspective on the emotional challenges Natalie might face as a teenager and adult. As a result, the insurance company agreed to a substantial settlement that covered Natalie’s medical expenses.

The compensation we achieved went beyond those medical expenses, as it should have. It also had to take into consideration the trauma of the event, a shock shared by the entire family, with unknown long-term effects. And because Natalie was so young, the settlement could be expected to grow substantially and provide a strong financial foundation as she approached adulthood.

In the end, we were happy to achieve results that will give Natalie and her family the best chance of healing from their experience as they navigate the effects of the attack going forward. Beyond that, we were able to send a message to the insurance company that it could and would be forced to honor the details of its policies.

If you require assistance with a child’s personal injury or wrongful death case, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Ohio civil litigation attorneys at Cooper & Elliott. 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.

 

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One School’s Negligence Perpetuates Teacher Misconduct

Posted on Thu, Jun 14, 2018 @ 3:27 PM

As Ohio civil litigation attorneys representing injured children, we have learned that “injury” has many different forms. Sometimes wounds are obvious—in other cases, the pain is emotional and less obvious, but no less damaging to young victims.

This is especially true where parental or teacher misconduct is involved. Sometimes, the mental and emotional damage caused by the wrongdoing can be further exacerbated by shame or perceived reputational damage when the identities of victims are made public.

In the case described below, it was our responsibility to bring teacher misconduct and its harm to light—and do so without causing further harm to the victims.

A well-loved teacher crosses the line

Our firm represented the families of several young girls who had been victimized to varying degrees by their elementary school teacher, Matt Dixon*. Mr. Dixon was beloved by his students and well-respected by the school system and fellow faculty members. Fortunately (in this case), the abuse did not extend to direct sexual relations with the students. Suffice it to say that Mr. Dixon’s relationship with the girls still fell dangerously outside the realm of normal classroom interaction and his actions exceeded what would be considered acceptable behavior between a teacher and school-aged girls.

What’s more disturbing, is that these were not the first incidents of teacher misconduct Mr. Dixon had been involved in.

Avoiding the warning signs of teacher misconduct

Even in his previous position at a different school, there were accusations made against Mr. Dixon of engaging in inappropriate behavior with female students. Like many predators, he identified particularly vulnerable girls and groomed them to become increasingly receptive to his “special” attention: holding them, flattering them, bringing them to his home, and engaging in after school activities with them without parental knowledge. Once groomed, he continued personal, out-of-school relationships with the girls throughout grade school, though they were no longer his students.

For nearly a decade, Mr. Dixon thrived in the classroom despite parents’ reports of misconduct. He had an outstanding record in the classroom and was very popular among his peers and students. Because of his reputation, the school system failed to recognize the signs of his inappropriate behavior. The school’s attitude was that such an accomplished teacher would never do anything to jeopardize the well-being of his students.

Though the school was aware of these reports, it continually dismissed them and no official documentation was ever added to Mr. Dixon’s file.

A civil litigation resolution without further child injury

When we were approached by the families, we set to work immediately to resolve the issue in a way that best suited their needs, including protecting, as much as possible, the anonymity of the girls involved.

That meant first taking steps that would avoid a lengthy—and very public—lawsuit.

Once we gathered the facts of the case (including recovering video tapes of some of Mr. Dixon’s activities with the girls), we determined that the best way to protect the confidentiality of the students and their families was to negotiate directly with the school system. Instead of a day in court, the parents desired confidentially. They wanted to challenge any claims of ignorance on the part of the school system and compel it to accept responsibility for its inaction and failure to protect the children entrusted to its teachers.

We met multiple times with the superintendent, presented a list of demands, and talked through the issues of the case.

Ultimately, we were able to avoid filing a public lawsuit by negotiating a pre-suit resolution that brought about settlements between the school board and the families, and dismissal of the teacher. (He was subsequently convicted of criminal charges and is serving time in prison.) The negotiations also resulted in policy changes to the school system’s guidelines in order to more efficiently identify teacher predators and protect vulnerable students.

Protecting children’s futures

Civil litigation cases involving children require great sensitivity in terms of the long-term impact on the families and victims involved. Cases such as this one need additional care to preserve, as much as possible, the privacy of the victims.

The daughters of the families we represented were able to maintain their anonymity, remain in the same school, and resume their normal lives as children and students without being labeled as victims of sexual abuse.

The parents, meanwhile, were able to express their justifiable outrage with the school authorities, effecting changes in school policy that were necessary and reasonable.

In the end, justice was served in multiple ways. First, by protecting our clients’ children and halting their teacher’s behavior. Also, by helping to make schools safer for future students (this latter point is also therapeutic for the families whose lives had been upended by such a significant breach of trust). This multi-faceted result is the kind we strive to achieve for all our clients and their families.

If you require assistance with an injury or wrongful death case involving a child, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re here to help.

*For the protection of the children involved, names of any participants in this case have been omitted and certain details have been withheld.

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

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Ohio Civil Litigation Attorneys Act Quickly to Fight Disability Discrimination

Posted on Thu, May 17, 2018 @ 3:42 PM

Civil litigation isn’t only about seeking compensation for damages. It can also serve the purpose of preventing damage by using the power of more immediate protections such as temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions. These legal tools can help keep a precarious situation from getting worse. The case that follows illustrates just how important those protections can be.

A therapy dog’s purpose

Madeleine, a sophomore at The Ohio State University, required the assistance of Cory, an 8-year-old service dog, to help her deal with panic attacks severe enough to restrict her breathing and, at times, render her immobile. Madeleine trained Cory specifically to help her cope with panic attacks.

Because Madeleine needed Cory to be with her at all times, she filed the proper paperwork with the university to allow her to have a service dog accompany her on campus. She also sought—and received—approval for Cory to stay in the Chi Omega sorority house where she planned to live during the school year.

Complaints and an arbitrary decision

But another resident of the sorority house objected, complaining that the dog’s presence in the house triggered her allergies.

Unable to resolve the issue amongst themselves, the students sought a decision from the university. Unfortunately, the university arbitrarily ruled in favor of the other sorority sister because she signed her lease first.

This carelessly made decision did not reflect the guidelines established under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Madeleine’s affliction was a disability, and Cory’s presence was a medically accepted therapeutic aid—precisely the kind of aid the ADA was enacted to protect.

Living without Cory was not an option for Madeleine, neither was moving out of the sorority house. As a chapter vice president, she was required to reside in the sorority house to fulfill her duties. In addition, moving to campus housing would diminish the value of her college experience.

The university offered Madeleine no opportunity to appeal its decision and she was given a deadline by which to decide: leave with Cory or stay without him.

And decide she did—to pursue another course of action.

A clear case of disability discrimination

When Madeleine came to us, it was clear she had an urgent need to have her rights recognized and honored.

According to the guidance and regulations set forth by the ADA, an animal allergy does not provide a valid reason for barring a service animal like Cory from the premises. In addition, there was insufficient medical documentation to support the other student’s claims of an allergic reaction to the dog.

We approached the university about these discrepancies, but the ADA coordinator would not revisit the decision to compel Madeleine to remove the dog from the house. So we filed a lawsuit to protect Madeleine’s rights.

Time for a temporary restraining order

The biggest factor working against Madeleine’s case was time. A discrimination lawsuit would require months to resolve. By then, the school year would be completed and winning the case at that point wouldn’t do Madeleine much good.

We sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) to prohibit the university from removing Madeleine or the service dog from the house and disrupting her academic year. A TRO is essentially a “time out” that keeps everything in place for a short period of time. In this instance, it prevented the university from removing Madeline and Cory from the house. But a TRO is just what the name implies: temporary.

So, we also filed for a preliminary injunction to maintain the status quo of Madeleine’s situation until a final court decision could be rendered. It involved preparing the case—conducting discovery, reviewing appropriate case law, and interviewing potential witnesses. It was the only way to protect Madeleine’s rights and ensure that she received the college experience she deserved.

Justice through a preliminary injunction

The hearing for the preliminary injunction took a day and a half. Madeleine was there for the duration, with Cory in her lap. In the end, she was able to leave with good news: the preliminary injunction was granted, ensuring that she and Cory could remain in the sorority house until the trial was completed—and more importantly—until the rest of the school year was completed.

That injunction in itself was a “win” for Madeleine. There would be no trial, as the situation that had generated the need for a lawsuit would change with the close of the school year.

But there was a bigger issue that both Madeleine and our civil litigation attorneys recognized: the ADA exists to protect the rights of disabled citizens, but that protection is only as good as the commitment of those responsible for enforcing it. When that commitment gives way to expedience, the result can easily lead to disability discrimination. To its credit, the university came to recognize that.

As part of the settlement, the university agreed to allow Madeleine to participate in policy discussions regarding how the university would accommodate service animals for students in the future. Bringing the perspectives of students with disabilities into those discussions demonstrates a willingness on the part of the university to protect the spirit of the ADA and do what’s best for its students.

Everyone’s rights deserve to be observed and respected, and we’re willing to do what it takes to fight for that equality on behalf of our clients.

If you find yourself in a situation that involves disability discrimination, 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.

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

Posted on Wed, Apr 25, 2018 @ 4:37 PM

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.

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Tips for Finding the Right Civil Litigation Attorney

Posted on Tue, Apr 17, 2018 @ 6:05 PM

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.

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An Uninsured Auto Dealer Is Held Accountable for Personal Injury

Posted on Thu, Mar 15, 2018 @ 3:37 PM

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.

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

Posted on Thu, Mar 8, 2018 @ 2:58 PM

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.

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

Posted on Thu, Feb 1, 2018 @ 6:59 PM

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.

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A Tragic Past Nurtures a Young Man’s Bright Future

Posted on Fri, Dec 22, 2017 @ 4:40 PM

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.

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