Cooper & Elliott Blog

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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Instinct: The Secret Weapon of Successful Ohio Accident Attorneys

Posted on Fri, Aug 14, 2015 @ 2:39 AM

When your livelihood involves seeking justice for living, breathing people, you tend to dig a little deeper into a case, even when the facts seem bleak. You listen to your instincts. You follow up on hunches you might otherwise ignore. And you realize it can completely change the outcome of a case.

A troubled family, a fatal accident

When Diane Baker* came to our office seeking an Ohio auto accident attorney, we had our doubts. Not about Diane — we really liked her, and we could tell she and her family needed help — but about the case itself. It was a case many law firms probably wouldn’t take.

It stemmed from the death of her ex-husband, Jordan*, who had been struck by a car while riding his bike one morning.

A little background: Jordan had had a drinking problem. About a year before the car accident, his drinking had caused him to lose his high-level supervisor job. It had also resulted in the end of his marriage, and in his moving out of his family’s home. Those had been tough times, both for Jordan and for his family.

But Jordan wanted a better life, especially for his two kids. He wanted to contribute to the family again. So he went to rehab, got a new job, and began turning his life back around. The family was on the mend. They had all gone through a pretty rough divorce, but now the kids were starting to rekindle relations with their father.

One night, however, Jordan apparently had a relapse with his drinking. Part of his normal exercise routine had been to ride his bike around 5:00 a.m., and that morning he tried go bike-riding like he normally did, perhaps to work off the alcohol.

He traveled in a bike lane, but it was in an area with hills and curves. He was struck from behind by a car going 55 miles per hour. He survived for a couple of hours, but ultimately died.

Overcoming difficulties: Strategies of an Ohio auto accident attorney

This looked to be a tough case. Jordan had been intoxicated, and his bike didn’t have any reflectors. Defense counsel was claiming Jordan’s clothing had been too dark to wear on a pitch-black morning.

But we had a hunch. We hired an accident reconstruction expert to recreate the exact conditions leading up to the car accident and Jordan’s death. The expert, along with one of our attorneys, went out to the site at 5:00 a.m. To determine where the car had been, where the bicycle had been, what the contour of the land was, how much daylight there had been precisely at the moment of impact, and what the lighting conditions had been like.

Here again, we chose a path other law firms might not have taken. Hiring an accident reconstruction expert is an expensive proposition, especially given some of the other challenges surrounding the case.

But our gut told us this would be the best direction, and we were right. After reconstructing and recreating the tragic scene, the expert came to a powerful conclusion: The conditions would have allowed the driver to see Jordan. Driver negligence had in fact been responsible for the accident that killed him.

Interestingly, there was something else that we did that bolstered our case. Because one of our attorneys had been to the site that morning and actually witnessed the expert’s evaluation firsthand (something many attorneys probably wouldn’t do), he was able to authoritatively counter any criticisms mediators brought up about the expert’s report.

Based upon that report, and our vigorous defense of it, the defendants ultimately settled with Diane and her family.

A settlement and its intangibles

The settlement was a big deal to Diane’s family, but not necessarily for obvious reasons. Yes, Diane could now pay for her kids’ school activities and whatever else it took to provide them with as normal a life as could be hoped for after this tragedy. And a trust created from the settlement ensured that the kids would have assistance when they were ready for college.

But there were potent human intangibles also at work. First, think of Jordan. Here was somebody who’d made some mistakes, who’d let his family down, and who’d been working hard to earn back their trust and create a better life for all of them.

True, he stumbled, but that didn’t excuse the driver negligence that ended his life. Establishing the driver’s fault helped defend Jordan’s memory in his family’s eyes. We’d like to believe that winning the settlement helped him in a small way provide for his family, which was something he’d hoped to do as he was putting his life back together.

Then there were the children. These kids would never have time with their dad again. We wanted their last impressions of their father to be as positive as possible. The last thing they needed was for a prolonged trial, with the defense harshly characterizing their father and his alcoholism. So there was a sense of satisfaction, as well as relief, that we could end with settlement.

Trusting instincts and digging deep

Good instincts and the willingness to follow through on hunches — it’s a big advantage for us as attorneys.

It drove us to hire an expensive accident reconstruction expert, in spite of obvious challenges to the case, and accompany that expert during 5:00 a.m. tests. It led to proving that Jordan’s death was caused by driver negligence, not Jordan himself.

But those sorts of successes pale in comparison to the real value of being aware of your feelings: understanding your clients. Being able to walk in their shoes. Trying to feel what they feel, so you can provide them with what they need during a crisis in their life, whether it’s justice, validation, moral support, compensation, or something else.

That sort of awareness guided us to take on Diane’s case so we could help her and her family. And it motivated us to do everything we could to get a settlement, both to honor Jordan’s wishes of becoming a positive influence for his family again, and to protect his children’s memories of their father.

It’s probably not something people consider much when they’re thinking about attorneys, but it works for us. And it definitely works for our clients.

*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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Finding Peace and Closure in the Aftermath of Nursing Home Neglect

Posted on Wed, Aug 5, 2015 @ 8:05 PM

It’s when we’re sick or injured that we can be most vulnerable to negligence — and also when negligence can do the most harm. This became starkly clear when we took a case involving possible nursing home neglect. No one wants to be in a situation of vulnerability, let alone one that requires an attorney; but in some cases an attorney is necessary to achieve justice and regain autonomy.

A vibrant, beloved woman

Margaret* and Tom Baker* were a retired Ohio couple who had adopted and were actively raising two grandsons after the death of their son years earlier. They were active, vital, and very much a part of their grandchildren’s lives. The Bakers took their grandchildren to school and church, helping them study and participate in after-school activities.  Everything the kids needed to grow up happy and healthy, the Bakers provided.

Then trouble struck: Margaret, 71, fell and broke her hip. After her initial treatment at a hospital, she was sent to a nursing home for rehabilitation before returning home to Tom and their grandkids.

At some point, complications ensued. She was readmitted to the hospital and, again, discharged to the nursing home. This time, after only a few hours at the nursing home, Margaret tried to stand up, and in the course of attempting to walk, slipped and severely injured her head. The next day, Margaret died.

Assessing a challenging case

As sad as Margaret’s case was, it wasn’t immediately clear we could help.

For one thing, when Margaret was readmitted, she hadn’t been there long enough to be tested and assessed as a “fall risk” (a term used to describe residents who could injure themselves by falling if they tried to walk alone; this designation activates special measures designed to keep them safe). Without this assessment, it would be difficult to establish the nursing home’s liability.

Moreover, nobody had actually seen Margaret fall. She was found by a therapist, and the medical records gave no indication of how long she’d been injured before being found, whether anybody had seen her, or if any other staff had been walking by the room.

Strategically establishing nursing home neglect

It is our responsibility to strategically establish liability, and doing so requires creativity and diligence.

By digging into Margaret’s full medical records, we were able to establish that she had in fact been assessed as a high fall risk during her initial admission. From the first admission, the nursing home staff also knew that Margaret had gotten confused and tried to get up and walk out of the premises.

We worked with an expert who was an authority on nursing home issues in order to identify what steps a nursing home can and should take to prevent falls like Margaret’s. In particular, the expert helped determine what sorts of steps a nursing home should take when it’s already familiar with a patient, and how that should change the readmission process. In light of the information the nursing home already had from Margaret’s first admission, the expert was able to point to a number of shortcomings in how the nursing home handled her readmission.

We walked through the nursing home to see how it was laid out and how somebody could possibly walk around or fall without being seen by the nursing staff. We were able to determine that although Margaret was a high fall risk and the nursing home knew she was prone to get out of bed on her own, she had not been placed in a room where staff could monitor her, nor was a staff person assigned to keep an eye on her at all times.

Once we dug up these issues and brought them out in discovery, the nursing home knew they had problems. They ultimately settled with Margaret’s family.

A settlement helps a family

Settling the case brought about a number of positive outcomes. First and foremost, justice was served. There was an implicit acknowledgment that the nursing home knew it had been negligent and that it was attempting to make amends. Ideally, too, the nursing home would learn from this experience and improve the care and oversight of its other residents.

The settlement also represented a sense of closure for the family, of learning who was responsible and holding them accountable on Margaret’s behalf. We noticed that the family seemed to be doing better emotionally when the case had finally been resolved and some closure had been attained.

And, of course, the settlement would help provide for the family. The children, who were in middle and high school at the time, would have financial help for college a few years down the line. Sadly though, what Tom and Margaret’s grandchildren most needed — the care and concern of a beloved, active maternal figure during their formative years — had been taken from them, and nothing could replace that.

Placing responsibility where it belongs

There was another good thing that resulted from the settlement, something that really resonated with us emotionally: throughout the case, we were profoundly struck by Tom’s selflessness. Grief-stricken as he was by the loss of his wife, it seemed as if he was even more concerned about his grandchildren’s loss. He felt some degree of blame for what had happened, and it was heartbreaking to see.

He had been with Margaret when she was readmitted to the nursing home, but he’d needed to leave to pick up their grandkids after school. He had told the nurses he was leaving, yet he kept blaming himself for not doing more: if only he had not left; if only he had insisted that somebody stay with Margaret so she wouldn’t be left alone.

By establishing the real cause of this tragedy — nursing home neglect — we gave Tom the means to stop blaming himself and finally gain some relief from that terrible burden of responsibility he’d felt.

Providing closure and achieving justice

Blame, guilt, responsibility, closure, justice — these are all real things. They matter to our clients, so they matter to us. Walking in their shoes and trying to understand their emotional needs is a big part of what we do here.

What would have happened if we’d decided it was too difficult to take on? Or if we’d taken the case but not pursued the facts sufficiently to establish negligence? Those are ugly what-ifs. Fortunately, we’ll never have to know the answers to them. Instead, we got to see a family achieve some sense of closure, and a selfless man find peace again.

 

*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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A Promising Career Cut Short by Gender Discrimination

Posted on Tue, Jul 28, 2015 @ 9:16 PM

Dr. Cathy Barker* had worked her entire life so that she could help people. After significant training in the field of stem cell medicine, Cathy’s dreams came true when she began working as a stem cell researcher and stem cell transplant surgeon at a prominent university. Her husband, also a physician, was employed at the university, and together they were happily raising their young family.

Everything with Cathy’s career was going well. Her work was meaningful, she enjoyed her position at the university, and she, her husband, and her children were thriving. Cathy learned she was being paid less than the male physicians in her department. She said something to her boss about what she thought was discrimination on the basis of her gender. But the university didn’t respond by fixing the pay disparity. Instead, it punished Cathy for bringing this to its attention, cutting her funding so that she would lose her laboratory.

Retaliation for speaking up

The retaliation didn’t stop there. Additional moves were made to undermine Cathy, ultimately forcing her out of the department, and eventually the university. To add insult to injury, Cathy’s husband also lost his job due to the fallout from his wife’s justifiable discrimination complaints.

Losing her job, and being responsible for her husband losing his, was emotionally and financially devastating to Cathy and her entire family.

As the couple tried to get their careers back on track and find work to support their family, Cathy’s husband took a job that required a 2-hour commute each way. Cathy wasn’t even that fortunate. Though she was a brilliant physician at the top of her field, her area of expertise was so specialized that the university was the only place in the area that offered stem cell work. Finding comparable employment at another university would mean moving to another state altogether, uprooting their children from their school and the lives of their family.

David vs. Goliath

As one person battling a big institution, Cathy felt like David fighting Goliath—an underdog seemingly outmatched. She filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but as her case dragged on in the EEOC system, she became concerned about losing the chance to sue in Federal court because of the statute of limitations. The window of opportunity for Cathy and her family to get justice for the university’s wrongdoing was quickly closing.

When Cathy contacted us about her situation, we were as frustrated and shocked as she was at the way she had been treated, and we knew that time was critical.

First, to resolve the statute of limitations issues, we expedited matters by taking her case to State court. We also obtained key documents, put the responsible people under oath, and took depositions of high-level physicians at the university, uncovering and gathering evidence to show that Cathy had, indeed, been treated unfairly.

The case was finally settled just short of going to trial. While there was no way Cathy could have been made whole by simply reinstating her to her old position at the university (the working environment would have been downright unbearable), the settlement did allow Cathy to be able to take care of her family financially, making sure that her kids could stay in their home, get through school, and go off to college.

Too much to lose

Too often in employment cases such as this, the victims feel they should stop complaining and just get another job. But the reality is that losing your career—a career that you invested a lifetime to build—can be devastating. It’s no easy feat to bounce back from such a traumatic event unscathed, especially when it affects the entire family.

Dr. Cathy Barker, her husband, and their children are doing well today, despite the rocky course they were forced to take through no fault of their own. Thankfully, Cathy and her family have been able to put this injustice behind them. Her husband is enjoying a productive career of his own, her kids are growing into remarkable adults, and Cathy is back in a position where her training and talents are helping all of us live better lives.

 

*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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Columbus Lawyers Restoring Hope for a Happy Retirement

Posted on Tue, Jul 21, 2015 @ 3:07 PM

Imagine this happening to you: After scrimping and saving for years to ensure a secure retirement, you discover your entire nest egg has completely disappeared at the hands of swindlers. Now take it a step further. Imagine discovering that because of the large amount of time it would take for Columbus lawyers to pursue a claim, you can’t even afford legal action to try to recoup your life savings.

Sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it? Yet these were real events faced by some Ohioans unlucky enough to trust their retirement funds to two crooks masquerading as investment advisors. Fortunately, through a combination of creativity and the willingness to chase down answers to tough questions, we were able to obtain not only justice for these victims, but something equally important—a secure future.

Their life savings gone

It all started when two Columbus, Ohio, financial planners working in association with a large, reputable brokerage firm persuaded these investors to spend their money buying a little known insurance-based investment known as a viatical. Little did the investors know that the promissory notes they were issued were worthless, because the financial planners were actually embezzling the investment money.

Eventually, the theft was discovered and the financial planners apprehended. The ringleader went to prison; the other lost his investment planning license. But the investors they bilked—the actual victims of their crime—were left high and dry. And because the financial planners had already spent the money and were in collections, they were essentially judgment-proof for such a high liability.  On the surface, there appeared to be no way for the victims to obtain recompense.

Columbus lawyers who can help

When a few of the investors initially asked for our help, we realized it would take an extraordinary amount of time and effort to properly handle their case, perhaps prohibitively in terms of the fees we would need to charge. So we got creative and advised them of another option. If they could get as many of the victims in on the case as possible, we could pursue their case as a mass group, which would allow them to divide the cost.

In addition to maximizing their potential recovery, this would also let us help other victims who’d given up pursuing reimbursement, either because they felt they couldn’t afford it or because they saw no way of securing a meaningful claim against the broke financial planners.

We weren’t able to solicit and contact the other victims directly, but those initial investors got the word out. When we finally offered an evening for them all to come down and hear about our strategy for helping them, virtually everyone there—about two dozen people—signed up as clients. As the case proceeded, we set up regular biweekly group conference calls so our clients could keep updated on everything that was going on.

Digging to find the responsible party

While representing more victims allowed all parties to pursue their case affordably, the primary challenge remained: finding a means of recovery for these people. If the primary defendants couldn’t compensate them, who could? Was there anyone else responsible?

This is where we started digging deep and asking tough questions. And it was the answers to those questions that revealed another responsible party: the brokerage firm the financial planners worked with.

First, we asked, “How were the planners able to get away with what they did?” The answer was that they worked with the reputable brokerage firm. Our clients had believed that’s who the planners were acting through.

That led to other questions. “Why weren’t they being watched more closely?” and “Did the brokerage firm have any legal responsibility for this?”

More digging and research revealed the answers. Yes, the brokerage firm did share in the responsibility. Our clients had believed the firm supported the financial advisors. Even though the advisors weren’t true employees of the firm, the advisors advertised that they were affiliated with the firm, and the firm allowed that. And the advisors made the brokerage firm a lot of money over the years. Because of all this, a legal doctrine called apparent authority meant that the firm was responsible for the acts of those two advisors.

In the end, by asking the right questions and pursuing where the answers led, we were able to settle the case and recover the vast majority of the money our clients had lost.

Regular people get their futures back

The settlement was a big deal for our clients. After all, these victims weren’t wealthy investors who knowingly took on risky investments. These were ordinary people. They were business owners and folks working for the state of Ohio. They were people who had worked hard over the years to secure their financial futures. And they were people who had unwittingly invested their entire life savings in the financial planners’ scheme.

Can you imagine the trauma of losing all that you had saved after 30 or 40 years of hard work? Of having to cancel your retirement dreams of traveling or spending more time with your family? Or being unable to send your kids to college? Not to mention the stress of suddenly not knowing how you’re going to take care of yourself in your senior years? That’s what these people had to overcome, and the settlement helped them do it.

Making a difference, now and in the future

As Columbus lawyers, we really saw the power of what we accomplished for our clients when some of them were literally in tears as they came to our office to pick up their check. They’d been facing the prospect of retiring without their life savings, and now those funds had largely been restored.

Needless to say, it was incredibly fulfilling knowing we could make such a profound difference in these people’s lives. Even more so knowing that by pursuing the claim as a mass group, we were able to recover 80 to 90 percent of what they had lost.

It’s an interesting profession we’re in—helping victims find justice, providing support, helping them get their lives moving forward again, and then visiting with them and their families afterward as they overcome their adversities and learn to thrive once more.

Could there possibly be a better occupation in the world?

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: Tort Reform and the Decline of the Jury System

Posted on Tue, Jun 30, 2015 @ 3:15 PM

We’ve been reflecting on our firm’s twenty years in the legal profession and anticipating the next twenty. This article looks at changes to the jury system, and how a process supposedly meant to protect litigants could actually be creating an unsafe society.

The jury system under attack

The idea that an injured person should receive fair compensation goes back to the Latin phrase “restitutio in integrum,” which means restoration to the original condition. In civil litigation, the goal is to restore an injured party to his or her original state, to compensate for what was lost.

For hundreds of years, our society has resolved legal disputes in a unique way: We use juries of regular citizens. In the hundreds of cases Cooper & Elliott has handled, we’ve found that juries are an effective means to a fair and impartial verdict.

In the past two decades, however, we’ve seen our jury system come under attack. Media reports, big business lobbying, insurance industry propaganda—all have painted a picture that today’s juries simply do not have the wherewithal to get it right.

“Tort reform” is one branch of this attack, and it’s become a big problem.

Tort reform and its impact

A tort is a wrongful act (aside from a breach of contract or trust) that harms a person, her property, or her reputation, and entitles the injured person to compensation. A car crash caused by negligence, a wrongful death, medical malpractice, and fraud are all examples of torts.

The ability to sue a person or business for injuries they’ve caused is a hallmark of our justice system. But holding insurance companies and corporations accountable costs them money, so they have sought to limit two things: the ability of plaintiffs to file civil cases, and the amount of compensation juries can determine when rendering a verdict in a civil case.

Insurance and corporate interests have labeled this process “tort reform,” and it has become a hot-button political issue in this country.

Big businesses are fed up with having to compensate the victims of their negligence. Insurance companies are also losing court cases, sometimes for tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. They paint a picture with broad strokes to give the false impression that juries are handing out huge paydays to plaintiffs for frivolous lawsuits.

Our decades of litigation experience tells us that nothing could be farther from the truth. And this type of thinking is causing a greater problem, inflicting major damage on our jury system.

Creating a cycle

One benefit of tort litigation is to ensure that companies put the safety of individuals above all else. By limiting the ability to bring litigation or by capping damages, legislators effectively tell big businesses that safety does not have to be a primary concern, because they either won’t have to worry about a trial, or they’ll only ever have to pay up a ceiling of damages—just another cost of doing business.

With businesses insulated from judgment and jurors handcuffed from rendering a fair verdict, the injured parties suffer even more. It’s become increasingly difficult for victims of wrongful injury or the families in a wrongful death case to get back to the life they knew.

The end result of all of this? A society of businesses that are less concerned about safety. Less concern about safety leads then to more accidents and injuries. More injuries lead to more court cases. More court cases lead to a greater perception of frivolous lawsuits and the demand for increased tort reform. It’s a vicious legal cycle, but it’s one we hope will be broken in the future.

Our role in the future of litigation

Informing the public, educating individuals, and empowering potential jurors is part of our mission as we move into the next 20 years. Our hope is that once people realize that the steady decline we’re seeing in the jury system can be stemmed through knowledge of the facts, we’ll see a return of the ideals and principles upon which the jury system is based. Principles that encourage safety and help injured parties return to their lives.

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

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A Father-Son Reconciliation Cut Short by a Wrongful Death

Posted on Tue, Jun 23, 2015 @ 12:36 PM

Bob McCarthy* had faced his fair share of challenges. His first marriage had failed, he was estranged from his teenaged son, and he had been hurt at his construction job in Ohio. But Bob was finally rebuilding his life. He was weeks away from marrying again, he was finally healthy and ready to restart work, and he was repairing his relationship with his son. His life was getting back on track when tragedy struck one autumn afternoon.

Bob was driving home on his motorcycle and he had the right of way when a semi-truck driver ran through a stop sign. Bob hit his brakes hard and, realizing he was not going to be able to avoid a collision, tried to protect himself by putting the bike down on its side. In his attempt to avoid the oncoming semi, Bob was tossed from the bike and he rolled toward the approaching truck.

Making matters worse

Shockingly, the truck driver, who was hoping to evade blame for the accident, decided to flee. As he pulled his huge truck away from the motorcycle to head for clear road, he felt a thump, as if he were going over a speed bump. That speed bump was Bob’s chest and head. Realizing what he had done, the trucker panicked, sped off, and left Bob’s lifeless body lying there in the roadway.

A motorist in a nearby car witnessed the incident. She followed the truck back to the company yard and confronted the driver, who denied everything, hopped back into his truck, and took off again. At this point, the motorist informed the police of the accident and provided part of the truck driver’s license plate number. Soon after, the police caught the trucker, and though he initially denied the charges, he eventually confessed to the crime.

Not so obvious

One would think the verdict in a wrongful death case like this would be obvious, but things became complicated. Unbelievably, the trucking company tried to shirk their own responsibility in the accident by blaming Bob, the victim. You see, the autopsy report revealed small traces of alcohol and cocaine in Bob’s blood system. They argued that he was impaired and that had he been stone cold sober, he would have been able to avoid the accident and would still be alive today.

It wasn’t right that Bob was being blamed for his own death. That’s when we knew we had to get involved.

As wrongful death attorneys, we have to examine all the facts of the case—the good and the bad. The autopsy report wasn’t good, but it didn’t paint the complete picture. From the toxicology evidence, we determined that Bob had consumed one beer about two hours before he got on the motorcycle and the cocaine in his system was ingested the night before. Based on that timeline, he would not have been impaired during the accident. The fact that Bob reacted in a quick and logical manner also helped prove this. We also presented testimony that Bob was one of the most skilled and careful motorcyclists around, that he was wearing a helmet, and that he was going the speed limit.

Bad driving record

At the same time, we uncovered that this was not the truck driver’s first accident. We argued that the company had hastily hired him and failed to check his references thoroughly. If they had, they would have learned he was fired previously due to three preventable accidents he was involved in over a very brief period of time.

Although the company that hired the trucker did run his name through an online system that vets the motor vehicle record of commercial drivers, they ignored the advice from their insurance representatives who said the driver was a poor risk and shouldn’t be employed. We argued that the company and their insurance carrier were liable for the accident since they did not do an adequate job of screening their employee, whose conduct and actions were their responsibility.

Family matters

We also spent many hours talking to Bob’s family, friends, and coworkers to gain perspective and offer the jury a complete profile of his character. While Bob had made mistakes in the past, he was making efforts to turn his life around. In many ways, the fact that he was in the process of rekindling his relationship with his son and marrying again made the accident even more tragic.

Ultimately, the jury chose to provide Bob’s estate with monetary compensation. Because Bob’s son was a minor at the time of the accident, we made sure the money was put into a trust so that his son would eventually be able to attend college, purchase a home, and raise a family of his own—all those things that a loving father, like Bob, would have helped provide for his son had his life not ended so tragically.

While a monetary settlement can never make up for the loss of a parent, it can serve as part of their legacy, ensuring that a child left behind can go on to lead a happy and productive life.

*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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