Cooper & Elliott Blog

10,000 Ohioans Recoup Settlement Funds from Class Action Lawsuit Against Transunion Credit Bureau

Posted on Tue, Oct 20, 2015 @ 11:56 AM

There are three main credit agencies in the United States. One of them is TransUnion. Nearly every American adult has their credit information recorded and tracked by TransUnion. What happens when the agency you trust to protect your credit rating begins to share your confidential information with other companies—for a price? It’s not something we like to think would happen, but it did. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Major credit-reporting agency breaks consumers’ trust

TransUnion is a big name many Americans may recognize. It is one of three huge credit-reporting agencies in the United States. If you’ve applied for a loan to buy a home or car, chances are your credit rating has been accessed via TransUnion.

When the news broke that TransUnion had violated the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act by selling lists of credit information of hard-working consumers nationwide to marketers, a class action lawsuit was filed. TransUnion’s behavior had potentially affected two hundred million Americans across the country. TransUnion settled the lawsuit, and agreed to offer free credit reporting for one year and other benefits. Because of the difficulty involved in notifying 200 million Americans about the opportunity to register online for settlement benefits, TransUnion also created a $75 million settlement fund that could be used to pay consumers who didn’t learn about the settlement and therefore didn’t register for settlement benefits in time. If a consumer learned about the settlement after the online registration period expired but within two years after the settlement, he or she could lodge a “post-settlement” claim against the $75 million fund.  Sounds fair, right?

Unfortunately, the class action settlement did not require TransUnion to give notice to every affected consumer. The consumers who were supposed to receive benefits, including money from the settlement fund, had virtually no way of knowing the benefits even existed.

Also, even if some consumers learned about the settlement within the two-year “post settlement period,” the terms of the class action settlement made it difficult for them to make a claim. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, each consumer’s claim against TransUnion would likely be limited to somewhere between $100 and $1000, and the class action settlement said that consumers could not join together and pursue their “post-settlement” claims. Where would an individual consumer be able to find a lawyer willing to take on their claim, when the claim would be worth at most $1000?

Clearly, it was time for us to get involved on behalf of Ohioans.

Recovering cash for 10,553 Ohioans

We knew we wanted to take this on, but it presented some serious challenges. The settlement language stated we couldn’t file a claim on behalf of more than one person at a time. We had to figure out a way to let people know they had a right to make a claim against the $75 million settlement fund, but we also had to be ready to represent each person individually against TransUnion.

This was in late 2009, and people were hurting from the recession that was in full swing. We knew we wanted to focus on a targeted population in Ohio, and after a great deal of thought, we decided to reach out to the unions in the northern part of the state. We let union leaders know about the TransUnion class action settlement, and when they asked if we would be willing to represent their members we agreed to work hand-in-hand with them to notify individual union members and their families of their potential claims. We hired programmers to build a database of information about our clients—specifically, 10,553 Ohioans that needed in the worst possible way any money we could obtain for them from the settlement fund.

Ohio business attorneys working hard for Ohio families

This case resulted in a tremendous amount of work—but it turned out to be unbelievably satisfying for us. Logistically, there was a lot to be organized. We reached out to tens of thousands of union members, and ended up representing 10,553 individual Ohioans who were suffering from the recession.

The case required numerous trips to Chicago where we went head to head with TransUnion’s attorneys. We prepared and submitted 10,553 separate claims, and we made clear to TransUnion that we were prepared to litigate each and every claim to the very end. We ended up in a stare down with TransUnion, and in the end, TransUnion blinked.

Putting the settlement fund to good use

In the end, TransUnion agreed to pay our clients $300 each. It doesn’t sound like much, but the extra money really meant a lot to them during that tough economic period.

Yes, it was a lot of work for our firm. But you know what? We still remember all the amazing cards, letters and calls we got from our clients, saying how grateful they were for the unexpected money. We still share these stories because it illustrates exactly why we do this work. We helped a population that was struggling, and then went toe-to-toe with one of the country’s largest credit reporting services—a company that was hiding from its responsibility.

But even more satisfying than TransUnion crying, “Uncle,” were those cards, letters and phone calls from Ohioans who were so grateful for extra cash they wouldn’t have even known they were entitled to.

That’s why we do this work.

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

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

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Civil Litigation Wins a Sign Company Showdown

Posted on Tue, Oct 13, 2015 @ 12:57 PM

It was a deal a couple of years in the making, and nobody dreamed it would end up in civil litigation.

BriteTech Sign Company* developed a new type of LED signage that was an improvement on the message boards you see in lots of places nowadays. But having the signs only got them so far. While they had the hardware, they did not have the business relationships to commercially sell the hardware or develop software to run the signs.

Enter our client Universal*, which had been cultivating a relationship with a major national restaurant chain for two years. Universal brokered a lucrative deal to install BriteTech’s new signs in the chain’s restaurants and coordinate software that would run the signs. Under the terms of the deal, Universal would pay a royalty to BriteTech, and BriteTech would do the installations at the restaurants. Universal would stay in place to manage the relationship and the service contract.

That’s what was supposed to happen, anyway.

When some problems cropped up during testing, BriteTech claimed—falsely—that the problems were Universal’s responsibility. The restaurant chain backed out of the deal and BriteTech went on to capture a far bigger payday by contracting to do all the work themselves, cutting out Universal entirely.

More than Just Numbers

The blow to Universal’s business was severe. The company was forced to lay off software engineers and other employees who would have done the work that Universal was cheated out of doing. Universal needed civil litigation lawyers, so they contacted us.

People sometimes have misconceptions about business deals that go bad. They think deals like these involve only numbers on a balance sheet. But there’s a very human side, too. It’s never easy to look your employees in the eye and lay them off. And when your long-established business teeters on the brink, it can feel like watching a loved one fight for their life. When Universal called us, it was clear that this case was personal to them. Thus, it became personal to us.

Breaking Down the Details

The core facts of the case were simple: Universal had a written contract with BriteTech to service the signs in the restaurant chain’s stores. In fact, BriteTech never would have had the deal with the chain in the first place were it not for Universal’s contacts within the restaurant industry.

For their part, BriteTech claimed that the breakup of the deal with the chain wasn’t their fault. The chain made the call, they said, and there was nothing they could do about it.

We went to the restaurant chain’s headquarters and deposed a company representative. It was a bit of a risky move: we didn’t know what he would say, so we had to be well-prepared and flexible enough to take our questioning in a number of possible directions.

When we confronted him with information that the problems in the testing were BriteTech’s fault, not Universal’s, he was quite surprised. We knew then that the restaurant chain truly didn’t know about the game BriteTech was playing. That deposition was critically important to our case and led to Universal receiving a multi-million dollar judgment.

Not the Wild West Anymore

Some people will tell you that what BriteTech did was just business. To succeed in business, they’ll say, you have to fight hard, and sometimes a bit dirty.

But the truth is this: if what BriteTech did was right, then we were headed back to the Wild West, where the whims of individuals were more important than the law. We don’t believe that’s true. Fortunately for Universal, the jury didn’t either.

After the litigation, Universal was able to build up its business, hire more employees, and support its growing community and industry. We’re glad to have played a part in helping right this wrong—and in keeping business law from returning to the wild frontier.

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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Ohio Malpractice Attorneys Hold Hospital Accountable for Wrongful Death

Posted on Tue, Oct 6, 2015 @ 12:37 PM

A “DNR,” or do not resuscitate order, is an advance directive used by hospitals to signify a patient’s desire to pass away without lifesaving intervention in the event that their heart stops or they stop breathing. These are typically used by patients who suffer from a terminal illness or other serious medical condition. It is an important instrument that allows an individual to instruct doctors on precisely how to handle care at the end of his or her life.

Imagine if someone mistakenly assumed you had a DNR order. This is one such case. A 72-year old woman was allowed to pass away because the nurse on duty mistakenly thought she had a DNR order. When her family learned that she lost her life due to a clerical error, they were devastated. That’s when they decided to seek out experienced Ohio malpractice attorneys, and gave us a call.

A terrible mistake results in a wrongful death

Columbus native Rita Martin* had moderate cardiovascular disease when she presented with heart attack symptoms at the ER of a large local hospital. Heart disease ran in Rita’s family, but her siblings had all lived to almost 90 with pacemakers. So her symptoms didn’t come as a total surprise to her family.

Initially, Rita responded well to treatment and was due to be released. While she was recovering in a step-down unit, a second heart attack struck. Tragically, the nurse on duty mistakenly believed Rita had a DNR order on file, and she allowed her to pass away without intervention.

Rita’s devastated family approached us for help with this wrongful death case. They wanted us to help hold the hospital accountable for the egregious mistake that cost them their beloved wife and mother.  As experienced Ohio malpractice attorneys, we knew we had a clear-cut malpractice argument tied to the mistaken DNR order.

The case proved to be slightly more difficult than we thought, however, when the hospital went on the defensive. Though they did not deny the nurse’s mistake, they claimed that Rita’s heart attack was so massive, she wouldn’t have survived even if they had administered lifesaving treatment.

The value of expert opinions

We set out to find the best and most experienced cardiology experts to review the medical details and help us discredit the hospital’s defense. We can’t stress strongly enough the value these clinical experts brought to this case. Their findings indicated that hospital intervention likely would have saved Rita’s life.

Our careful argument strategy combined with the expert’s findings allowed us to achieve a favorable ruling and settlement that would help the Martins maintain a good quality of life in Rita’s absence.

It’s a good thing, too, because the Martins certainly could use the help: both Rita’s husband and one of her children had physical disabilities. In life, Rita played the role of a caretaker for her family. When she passed away, they really struggled to hold things together. They couldn’t afford the skilled nursing needed to replace the care Rita had provided. She was the glue that held the family together. We were determined to get the Martins the financial resources they needed to take care of themselves after Rita’s untimely death.

Working for a cause

It’s a frightening scenario: The caregivers you trust make an error so critical that it costs you your life. We wanted to do our part to help stop that from happening again to someone else.

For over a year we fought to make things right for the Martins, and during that time we became close with them. A key component of their mission in working with us was to ensure that no one else would fall victim to a similar mistake. Their hope was that the results of this case would force the hospital to improve its policies and procedures so as to protect everyone who walked through their doors.

A favorable court decision meant a lot to our team because we firmly believe that human beings have a right, especially after climbing the difficult hill into their 70s, to have their advance directives honored to the letter. In this wrongful death case, the nursing team allowed Rita’s life to end through negligence and carelessness.

As a result of our success with this case, the Martins were able to find meaning in Rita’s passing with the hope that her death had not been in vain—and would help improve hospital procedures and policies for future patients. The financial outcome made a concrete difference to this family as well.

We took on the case to honor Rita, and ultimately to help take care of her family when she couldn’t be there. It was a difficult case, but we’d take it on again in a heartbeat because it was the right thing to do.

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

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

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Cooper & Elliott 20/20: The Changing Landscape of Legal Research

Posted on Tue, Sep 29, 2015 @ 12:30 PM

2020BadgeAs we celebrate our firm’s 20 years in the legal profession and forecast the next 20 years, we want to highlight legal research—the cornerstone of building a solid case for a client.

Over the past two decades, legal research has gone from books to digital downloads, law libraries to computers and tablets. This is mostly a good thing for our profession. Attorneys now have much greater access to relevant law, such as court decisions. But for some attorneys, it also creates a temptation to cut corners and a danger of missing out on key information vital to a client’s case.

We take research very seriously here at Cooper & Elliott, and we feel it’s important to take a look backwards, to ensure we’re headed in the right direction.

The nineties: a noteworthy step forward

In 1995, Beanie Babies were the rage, millions were glued to their TV sets for the O.J. Simpson verdict, and news outlets around the world were heralding the futuristic technology of the World Wide Web.

For attorneys digging into research for a case, there were a couple of available options:

  • Schedule a trip to the local law library (during business hours, of course), pore over countless hardbound volumes of court decisions and history, and follow each new informational nugget to the next step of the process in building the case. If you compare that to Googling today, imagine each click of a link being another book you had to pull from the library shelf.
  • Or, take advantage of the new technology that had recently become available. LexisNexis was at the forefront of developing electronic accessibility of legal documents. When we first opened our doors, this tech took the form of a “UBIQ” desktop computer terminal. A few word or term searches punched into the little (for its time) red wonder, and voilà! You could print whatever information you needed on this odd silver paper (and watch some of the ink stick to your fingers). It was much easier than a trip to the library.

Those early computer models now belong in antique shops, but they did get legal information into the minds of attorneys faster than before.

Unfortunately, faster isn’t always better.

The caveat of the computer age

With court decisions available at their ink-stained fingertips in seconds, some attorneys fell into a trap: they stopped thinking about the “why” behind legal rules. Searching for a word or phrase often brings up the most recent court rulings on an issue, which some attorneys think is all they need. Those attorneys may not bother to research and consider the history of how we got to those rulings. That’s a dangerous problem we’ve seen develop over the past two decades.

Imagine driving on a freeway and taking the wrong exit by mistake. You could drive for hours down that road. The highway signs look similar, the road is paved the same, the mile markers look familiar, but you’re headed completely in the wrong direction!

The same could be said for doing only superficial research and assuming that a particular rule applies in your client’s case. For example, a dozen court decisions might apply a rule a certain way. But if your attorney stops his or her research after a quick review of only the most recent decisions using a certain word or phrase, the attorney might never learn of historical decisions that show the rule works differently in a case with your particular facts.

A crude digital search may only present a snapshot of the relevant court decisions. It doesn’t necessarily tell you how the law developed. But how the law developed might be critical to a client’s specific case, or even support advocating an extension or change to the law.

Classic techniques working in harmony with current technology

Let’s be clear: electronic search methods are a major boon to the legal profession. It’s much faster and more efficient than hours of library searching. But an effective attorney can’t give in to the temptation of stopping his or her research after reading a few of the more recent court decisions about a given rule. The attorney has to take advantage of electronic research to go beyond the superficial search results and dig deeply into historical precedent to understand how a rule applies—or doesn’t apply—to a client’s case.

And yes, sometimes this even means a trip to the old law library when a particular resource isn’t available online.

This approach to research is especially beneficial to preparing a case before it even begins. One thing we’ve noticed over the years is the tendency for some attorneys to start their deep legal research only after filing a lawsuit. But because we understand how to use both electronic and non-electronic research tools effectively, we prefer to dig deeper and understand the relevant legal rules and their history before we even file a lawsuit.

This lets us frame the allegations of the lawsuit the right way. It also lets us ask the right questions in discovery and depositions so that we can build the support that we need to win a client’s case at trial or negotiate a better settlement. Armed with a deep understanding of the relevant legal rules and the reasons why a certain rule may or may not apply in a given case, well-prepared attorneys are able to enter the legal arena with the knowledge necessary to get to the heart of that case in its early stages.

Our firm is built on a foundation of research. We cherish learning, and we’ve seen the benefits that our method of preparation brings for our clients and their cases. Using all available research resources and taking the time to build a deep understanding of the relevant law and its history is the key.

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

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Paralyzed But Not Immobilized

Posted on Wed, Sep 23, 2015 @ 4:38 PM

Receiving a call that your son or daughter has been involved in a car accident is every parent’s worst nightmare. Unfortunately for one Ohio family, this nightmare became a reality. When Marc’s* family learned that he had been injured in a car accident they were distraught. His life had been spared, and for that they were grateful. They were not, however, prepared for the complications that would follow the accident.

The car accident

Marc and two of his friends were on their way home from a night out, when the driver took a curve too fast, causing the car to fly off the road and hit a tree. Because they had been wearing their seatbelts, the driver and front passenger were able to walk away from the accident. But Marc, who’d been sleeping across the back seat, was not as lucky. For a while, doctors were not sure if he would survive. To his family’s relief he did survive, but his neck had been broken and he was left paralyzed—he’d lost the use of his arms and legs.

As time passed, Marc made progress—first he moved a finger, then a hand, then he regained some sensation in his upper body. Despite his progress, doctors told his family he would be permanently paralyzed from the waist down. They would have to reconfigure their home with wheelchair ramps, pay for expert home care, and purchase a van to transport Marc to medical appointments and anywhere else he needed to go. Ensuring a good quality of life for Marc and themselves was going to be costly.

The insurance complications

Though Marc had insurance, there was some question as to what costs the various policies would cover. Because his situation was complicated, the family could look forward to two or three years of court battles before any settlement would be made.

Marc’s family decided to seek help from Ohio accident attorneys, and that’s when we got involved. Our goal was to help make life as easy as possible for Marc and his family, as quickly as possible.

Avoiding a trial

The great part of this story is that we were able to achieve positive results for Marc and his family without actually going to trial. Many complicated insurance cases end up in court because the insurance companies push the limits, and refuse to settle in cases where they know the insured has weak legal representation. We, on the other hand, have established a strong reputation across the state of Ohio as litigators who will certainly go to trial—and succeed, if insurance companies won’t settle. And frankly, that can be intimidating. Our reputation makes good-faith negotiations seem like a better alternative than a court battle.

We gathered information and spoke with experts. But most importantly, we identified the decision-makers at the various insurance companies—which can be a daunting task, especially for a family undergoing such a drastic life change. We then negotiated with those decision-makers and their attorneys. Through hard work, creativity, and forceful arguments, we were able to secure the family’s economic future. Marc could continue to live at home with his family and begin moving forward with his life.

A new lease on life

Beyond the insurance settlement for Marc’s family, his story has an even greater positive outcome. He’s not letting his injury hold him back. He’s active in the Christopher Reeve Foundation, helping others who share his disability. Marc has even gone bungee-jumping—in his wheelchair. Everybody who knows Marc is cheering for him from the sidelines, including us.

*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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Expectations and Justice After a Car Accident

Posted on Tue, Sep 22, 2015 @ 9:06 AM

“The customer is always right.” How many times have we heard that well-known concept? But what happens when, despite doing everything in your power to help a client, their life remains negatively affected after a case?

The following case helps to illustrate the challenges we sometimes face when trying to meet clients’ expectations—and, perhaps even more important, the challenges clients face trying to make sense of unimaginable injury or loss.

A car accident changes everything

The event that preceded Dierdre Jenson’s* life being turned upside down was something many of us can identify with: sitting in traffic.

One day during rush hour, as Dierdre was trying to get on the interstate, a large truck hit her from behind. The truck, loaded with scrap metal, couldn’t brake soon enough and knocked Dierdre into the car in front of her. Fortunately, it wasn’t a fiery wreck, but there had been damage to the vehicles, and Dierdre went to a local hospital to be treated.

Although she’d gone to the ER, she wasn’t admitted. Instead, she was sent home with some ice packs and instructions to check back if the pain she was experiencing didn’t subside. As it turns out, after a week or so she was feeling worse, with joint pain, back pain, and headaches.

She continued to go back to the doctors, who thought maybe she was stiff from the accident or had experienced a sprain in her neck. Each time she was sent home with more Ibuprofen and other medication. But her injuries and pain persisted.

The accident had occurred in the summer and she was supposed to start a PhD program that fall in Ohio (she lived in Canada), but she simply couldn’t—she had become incapacitated in ways that nobody really understood or had foreseen.

Meanwhile, her condition seemed to get even worse.

An unexplained spiral of pain

She was referred to us, and we filed suit on her behalf. It looked like a relatively minor lawsuit at first, but as we spoke with her and dug into the case, we just couldn’t shake the notion that she was experiencing one of those invisible injuries that won’t show up on an MRI or a CAT scan. It was something that was very difficult to diagnose and test.

Yet it was clearly very real for Dierdre. From her perspective, her injury had been a debilitating, life-altering event, every bit as serious as if she had been paralyzed in the car accident. Essentially, she could no longer enjoy even the simplest parts of life that many of us take for granted like working or shopping. The injury had significantly affected her life plans—it prevented her from starting the PhD program she had been planning on that fall.

Pursuing justice

We spent considerable time researching her condition, trying to get a handle on fibromyalgia and its causes, and whether fibromyalgia could have been traumatically induced in Dierdre’s case. Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by various types of chronic joint and soft tissue pain, many of which Dierdre was experiencing. The problem, however, is that it’s difficult to medically identify or diagnose.

Considering the serious pain and disruption Dierdre was experiencing, we made a demand for the limit of the defendant’s auto insurance policy. The defense attorneys laughed—given the minor property damage, low speed of impact, and lack of any readily identifiable injuries, they felt our demands were unreasonable.

So we went to trial. And although there had been differing opinions among jury members as to the severity of Dierdre’s condition, we won. The verdict was, at the time, the highest ever in that county for what is known as a soft tissue injury—basically an injury that doesn’t involve a broken bone, or that won’t show up on an MRI.

Yet Dierdre was devastated. Given how dramatically her life had been altered, she’d expected a much larger compensation.

The client’s challenge: identifying one’s needs

We take great pains trying to understand our clients’ objectives, goals, and expectations of what the civil justice system will provide. This allows us to make clear right from the offset what the justice system can and can’t do, and what juries are likely to do when it comes to providing compensation. This approach makes sense; it not only helps rein in unrealistic expectations, but it ensures we’re seeing the case from our clients’ perspective, so they can receive the justice they require.

But accident cases aren’t always so clear-cut. And really, how could they be? Imagine yourself in Dierdre’s shoes, your life and livelihood drastically altered by crippling, unexplained pain, only to have doctors tell you, “Well, we can’t see anything wrong with you.”

In our many conversations with Dierdre’s husband, he explained that the car accident had changed not only her life, but her behavior as well. She started seeing one doctor after another, becoming more and more distrustful when none were able to provide her explanations or solutions.

When faced with such a situation, what do you ask of the justice system? To have your health back? To have the medical community properly diagnose and acknowledge your pain? Wouldn’t you do virtually anything for the chance to have your old life back? Ask for virtually any amount? Looking at the process from Dierdre’s perspective, it’s no wonder her expectations of justice were so high—or, for that matter, so hard to meet.

The Ohio accident attorney’s challenge: meeting a client’s needs

Although we may not have provided Dierdre with as much compensation as she had hoped for, we were able to help her in other ways. Besides the compensation, which could help pay for treatment and, ideally, rehabilitation, we made sure she got a jury trial—a public forum where she could tell her story and explain in her own words what she was going through. This was important. Through the jury’s verdict, we think she recognized on some level that the jury members understood she hadn’t been in a simple fender bender, and we believe that gave her some comfort.

Unfortunately, though, we just don’t know to what extent our work helped Dierdre, or whether she was ever able to recover from her injuries. One of the consequences of her increased distrust of people was that she became extremely difficult to contact. She had only provided a post office box mailing address, not her residence, and when we tried several times to talk with her on the phone after the trial, she couldn’t be reached.

Measure of success

It’s tough. As Ohio accident attorneys, we become plaintiff’s lawyers because we want to help people through difficult circumstances. And we like to think that if we do the best we can and really dig in and work hard, we’ll provide them with that support. But the fact is, sometimes all of our hard work isn’t enough. Sometimes, especially in terms of the healing process, we just can’t deliver everything clients want or need.

That said, cases like Dierdre’s accomplish something special. They serve as reminders that we can’t just pat ourselves on the back and say, “What a great job we’ve done — we got a nice verdict or settlement.” Because that’s not ultimately what matters.

Our clients’ lives go on after the trial. And the quality of those lives after a major injury or tragedy is what really matters the most.

*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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Ohio Family Recovers after a Garbage Truck Destroys Their Home

Posted on Wed, Sep 9, 2015 @ 12:17 PM

It’s a story that only seems likely to happen on TV. A garbage truck lost control on an icy curve and careened into an Ohio family’s home at 45 mph. After crashing through the outer wall and almost going through a second interior wall, the truck came to a stop in the kitchen. The impact lifted the entire house off of its foundation, rendering the home a total loss. Although two members of the Rodríguez* family were home at the time, thankfully neither of them were injured.

This truck accident seemed as though it would have an easy resolution. An insurance claim against the waste disposal company should pay to restore the property damage, and that would be that. But that isn’t the way it played out, which is why the Rodríguez family needed a civil litigation attorney, and decided to give us a call.

The obstacle

When the Rodríguezes got ready to rebuild their home, the county in which they lived threw up an obstacle. County codes had changed since the house had originally been built, making it impossible to rebuild on the same plot of land. They would have to rebuild their home somewhere else.

The insurance company didn’t want to be responsible for purchasing a new land plot that would meet building code. The argument was that the negligent party was only responsible for replacing what it had damaged: the house. In effect, the insurance company was only willing to pay for a house that was impossible to build.

Not just a house

A house isn’t merely the brick and mortar it’s made of—it is a foundation for memories. It’s nearly impossible to place a dollar amount on objects that hold sentimental value. When a home is destroyed, there are things that cannot easily be replaced. The Rodríguezes had suffered irrecoverable losses, and we wanted to make sure that they weren’t stuck with a financial burden to boot.

We argued on the Rodríguez family’s behalf that they didn’t want any more than what they were entitled to: a similar house with similar furnishings on a similar piece of property. They wanted a similar home, with all the associations that involves. They wanted to recreate the life they had lived in their old house—an important consideration, given that their son, a senior in high school, had grown up in that house.

Property damage and counting the losses

The insurance company was not willing to pay enough to cover the cost of a new lot or replacing family collectible items. We crafted an argument that clearly laid out all the things the Rodríguez family had lost in the accident. In addition to the physical losses, the Rodríguezes suffered serious emotional stress as a result of the accident and being displaced from their home. When we presented their losses in that light, the request for greater compensation seemed much more practical.

The extra mile and a happy ending

The process of making things right for the Rodríguez family took a long time—from the time of the accident through the initial insurance claim to the final settlement, over a year and a half had passed. A year and a half is a long time to be without a home to call your own.

During that period, we developed a legal argument that ensured the family would be made whole again. But we also had another job during that time: making sure the family understood every step of the process, listening to their concerns and addressing them, and often just providing a sympathetic ear when it seemed like the process would drag on forever. When we came out of the judge’s chambers with a positive result that would allow them to finally build a new home, the relief on their faces was easy to see.

The Rodríguez family lives in their new home today. Not only has their property damage been made right, they’ve been able to restore many of their precious personal possessions that remind them of life in their old home. And they still own the property on which their old house stood. It’s a link to their past and maybe a promise for their future.

The Rodríguez case came to a positive result through a combination of commitment and creativity. If you need that kind of assistance, give us a call—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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20+20: The Blame Game – A Defense Tactic We Don’t Allow

Posted on Tue, Sep 1, 2015 @ 9:51 PM

The blame game in court – it’s not your fault

This year marks our 20th anniversary of fighting for our clients’ rights. We’ve seen a lot during that time, enough to know the tactics defense attorneys like to use again and again—and how to combat them.

In this article, we’re taking a look back at one of our earliest cases to illustrate how the defense often plays the “blame game” in court and how our team works with the families of victims to prepare them for this tactic. In the end, we make sure everyone realizes exactly where the blame is to be placed.

Tragedy strikes and the blame game begins

1995 – Meredith* and Sam* were motorcycle enthusiasts who loved cruising the open road together. Sam preferred a traditional ride; Meredith opted for the three-wheeled variety. One day out riding, life changed in an instant for the couple. Meredith saw the trouble just ahead. She watched helplessly as Sam’s motorcycle slid out from under him and he was thrown into a guardrail. It happened in seconds. Just like that, Sam was gone, and Meredith lost her partner and best friend.

What she also saw that day was the thin, clear strip of diesel fuel that had leaked onto the asphalt. Because Sam hit the fuel spill first, Meredith was able to avoid it. What she could not avoid, however, was the distressing tactic we see all too often in court: pinning the blame on the victim, thus compounding the tragedy.

It’s not your fault – and we won’t let them say it is

A defense technique. A legal tactic. To the defense, it’s business as usual, and it seems like a sound method of serving their client. To a victim, or, in this case, the family of the victim, it feels like a ruthless personal attack. The worst thing for our clients is the self-doubt it can make them feel.

In the court case we’re revisiting today, the attorneys for the trucking company involved in the spill used this empty tactic to blame Sam for causing his own death. Reasoning that motorcyclists should know they’re riding on two wheels, and that they should not run over liquid on the highway, they argued that Sam knew the risks and took his life in his own hands.

But distracting a jury by wrongly pointing the finger of blame was a strategy we were not going to allow.

The emotions of our team ran high as Sam’s family related what an incredible individual he was. Sam was not a reckless or unsafe man. He had plenty of experience on motorcycles, and his actions that day were ordinary for any rider. In fact, not knowing it was diesel fuel on the highway, Meredith herself intended to drive over the liquid in the seconds before the accident.

When the jury clearly stated that Sam was in no way responsible for his own death by returning a verdict against the trucking company, there wasn’t a dry eye among his family. Sam’s reputation was defended, his family was compensated, and we at Cooper & Elliott discovered that when we take on a case, we become a part of our clients’ family. It’s a role we are immensely grateful to play—and will always take seriously.

It’s not a game to us

For a defense team that doesn’t have a leg to stand on, pointing the finger of blame is often their best bet. Whether defense attorneys are trying to prove pre-existing conditions are the cause of current medical issues, or they’re attempting to make a case that a victim’s recklessness on the job was the cause of their injury, we recognize these actions for what they are—just legal strategies—and we make that clear to our clients. The blame game is all too common in court, and we expose it for what it is so honest people don’t have to remain victims.

Over the past 20 years, we’ve become personally involved with each and every one of our clients. We’ll continue to do so in the years ahead. We are always on your side when you need us most. Give us a call—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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Homeowner’s Association Defends its Residents Against Dream-Threatening Construction Defects

Posted on Mon, Aug 24, 2015 @ 3:43 PM

Rainwater on the outside of a home can be a blessing during the heat of a summer drought. But when that water gets inside—no matter the season—the damage can be devastating.

Residents of a condominium community experienced this disaster firsthand when a series of units across the neighborhood began struggling with water seeping from the ceilings and walls. The water ruined carpets and personal belongings, and it rotted away the underlying wood structures, causing mold to develop.

The homeowner’s association realized the damage was happening across many units. It wasn’t just a small problem—it was structure-wide. At the same time, they realized water bills across the neighborhood were increasing; the problem was both internal and external.

As the damage spread, the repair estimates started coming in. The destruction would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix. Water was penetrating everywhere and the damage was major, even though the residences were less than ten years old.

The residents and homeowner’s association knew they had to do something to fix the problem, and they knew they had to act quickly to save their investment.

The homeowner’s association, tasked with overall governance, protection, and advocacy for the homeowners, had its work cut out. It was clear that this relatively new property had defects stemming from shoddy construction. In addition to dealing with daily reports of damage, they had to figure out where to begin assessing the original construction process to figure out where they went wrong. They were overwhelmed, and they turned to us for help.

Helping the homeowner’s association make things right

After hearing their story, we knew we had to take the case, even though construction cases are often incredibly expensive to prepare for court. Hiring experts to assess the underlying structural defects, as well as reviewing the building process, could be a very expensive investment for the homeowner’s association.

Unlike a lot of other law firms, we were ready and willing to take the case on a contingency basis. This was particularly important because many of the residents in the condos were retirees living on a fixed income. Had we not taken the case on a contingency basis, the homeowner’s association would have passed those fees on to the residents in the form of increased assessments. Those retirees could have been forced to choose between paying for medication and paying these extra fees—we were able to prevent that scenario.

We knew the right construction experts that could assess the structural damage by tearing down walls to figure out the underlying issues. It was a huge project—and we were ready to help.

Shoddy construction, defect disaster

What we discovered was appalling. The construction company had failed to install moisture barriers between the exterior and interior walls, which would have stopped the rain seeping into people’s living rooms. Additionally, they had also failed to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on various materials used in the overall construction project.

But for us, the icing on the cake was this: the construction firm failed to hook up the lines that fed water to the entire community. Water was leaking out underground, wasting a valuable natural resource and costing thousands of dollars in utility bills.

Fixing a defect—and making a wrong right

The builder initially refused to assume responsibility for their mistakes. We battled with them while they denied any wrongdoing, blamed it on the construction materials themselves, and claimed they weren’t liable for any internal water damage to the condos.

Thankfully, by using an Ohio Supreme Court ruling, we were able to apply pressure on the builder’s insurance company to encourage the construction company to do the right thing. We had to do a lot of extra homework on this one, but it was worth it. The homeowner’s association walked away with a substantial settlement that completely covered the cost of repairs, and it felt great to know these families would get their homes back to normal.

Home is where the leakage isn’t

The thing that touched us the most about this case was that a lot of these residents had put their life savings into these places. Many were retirees or empty nesters, and they felt safe investing in brand-new homes in a lovely community run by a great homeowner’s association. Before that “new house smell” had even worn off, they were fighting off rainwater. Then they had to deal with excavating the water lines to repair them, tearing out walls and carpets to fix the damage, and many other inconveniences to alleviate each construction defect.

It was just the opposite of the low maintenance lifestyle they were looking for when they bought the condominiums in the first place!

Today things are back to normal. The dream that these families bought into is finally real. They’re living in lovely, maintenance-free homes, and we’re proud to have helped them attain their goals. As part of our normal pre-trial process, we visited these condos, walked the grounds, and met the homeowners. It’s a practice we enjoy, one that we think really connects us to our clients. Drive through the neighborhood now, and you’ll see it’s a pretty place and home to some good people who really deserve it.

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

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

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Real Estate Developers Battle Industry Tycoon with Help from Ohio Business Attorneys

Posted on Mon, Aug 17, 2015 @ 7:52 PM

An imposing land tycoon

Usually when we tell you about cases, the names are changed to protect the parties involved. This case is a bit different. It involves Austin Eldon Knowlton, the eccentric millionaire better known as Dutch. Dutch was a wealthy architect, businessman, and part owner of the Cincinnati Reds. He was also a shrewd real estate investor and industry tycoon.

Bad business practices

Our client, an Ohio real estate development company, was interested in growing its business and developing the community. So when they found a large property ideal for commercial development in the outer belt of Columbus, they contacted the owner, Dutch Knowlton. They made him a fair offer, which he readily accepted.

The agreement was contingent on the results of engineering and soil studies, which our client would pay for, to make sure the land could be developed commercially. Our client paid Knowlton an earnest money deposit of $250,000 to secure the agreement, and then proceeded with the studies. The studies went well, and our client was ready to close the deal and start their new real estate endeavor.

But Knowlton had sold the property to another buyer.

Before coming to us, our client sought assistance from another law firm in town. They hoped the other Ohio business attorneys could seek an injunction and help them recoup their losses. They were quickly disappointed. The developers were told all they could hope to recover was their earnest money, and that the legal fees to do so would likely be as much as the deposit. Knowlton’s deep pockets would allow him to drag the case out to ensure the developers would walk away with nothing but frustration and lost time.

Contingency-fee-based litigation

Thinking they had run out of options, the developers came to us because they heard we handled business litigation on a contingency-fee basis. This way they could afford to go after someone as rich and intimidating as Knowlton and still hope to recover a portion of their deposit. They were even more elated when we explained they could seek the lost earnest money as well as the amount of profits they would have earned had the commercial property been sold to them as initially agreed.

We set out to firmly establish the costs of real estate development and the potential profits our client would have made from the purchase. Using the records they supplied on previously-developed properties, we decisively proved that their profits would have been substantial.

Not seeing eye-to-eye

Usually parties involved in lawsuits see their sides very differently, but often as the case develops some middle ground is established and a settlement can be reached. Not Here. Knowlton’s legal team insisted we were barking up the wrong tree. They said our client wasn’t entitled to recover the profits or even the deposit.

Eventually they invited us to meet for lunch to discuss a settlement. Thinking they had finally come to see our point of view, we met with them. We sat down and things were very cordial. After some small talk, they finally presented their offer:

Knowlton was willing to pay for the lunch plus one dollar!

At that point, it was quite clear that Knowlton wasn’t ready to see eye-to-eye with our client.

Righting a deal gone wrong

The case went to trial. We were concerned about how the jury would react to Knowlton, because he had proven to be quite charming when we had taken his deposition. To our surprise, however, Knowlton didn’t bother to show—he had opted to go sailing instead.

We proceeded to present the facts to the jury and argued that in this instance, Ohio law entitled the real estate developers to receive lost profits in addition to their earnest money. The jury agreed and a substantial judgement was returned in favor of our client.

Not only did our client feel a sense of relief, but they were able recover the profits lost on a deal gone bad. They were able to use that money to grow their company and make future deals that improved the area. Without the ability to use affordable, contingency-fee-based litigation, they never would have been able to take down their wealthy, imposing opponent and right a business deal gone very wrong.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Ohio business attorneys at Cooper & Elliott for legal assistance. 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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