Cooper & Elliott Blog

What Motivates a Cooper & Elliott Lawyer?

Posted on Tue, Feb 24, 2015 @ 1:46 PM

The attorneys of Cooper & Elliott are a unique breed of civil litigation lawyers—and we’re kind of proud of it. The attorneys on our team have a distinct set of qualities and skills that we think give us an advantage when it comes to handling cases.

Thinking quickly and compassionately

To join our team, a candidate must have the things you’d typically expect: they need to be an exemplary researcher and writer and have excelled in law school. But our lawyers also must think fast on their feet. There’s no time to press “pause” when a curveball is thrown at you during trial. A great attorney has to be able to react quickly and seamlessly to make the necessary change. This is a quality all Cooper & Elliott attorneys possess.

We also require compassionate thinking. We hire lawyers with exceptional people skills, folks who are intuitive and sensitive to other people’s suffering. They must be able to communicate precisely and clearly, and they have to be able to connect with both clients and jurors by understanding and presenting difficult issues in high-stakes cases.

Our team members must also be courageous and have an inherent competitive streak. That’s something that can’t be taught; either you have it or you don’t, and to be on the Cooper & Elliott team it must be part of your DNA.

Righting wrongs

We get extreme satisfaction from righting wrongs, finding justice, and helping prevent others from enduring the same tragedies our clients had to live through. When we see that an injustice has been done, we are compelled to make things right—even if it means taking on challenging or unpopular cases.  We have filed lawsuits against churches, non-profits, and popular political leaders, not because we were eager to sue but because in each instance they had violated the law but refused to accept responsibility. Sometimes the pursuit of justice requires us to take action against a popular or powerful defendant, and when it does we don’t shy away.

Making a difference

The most satisfying cases for us are those where we had a significant, positive impact on our clients’ lives. Like the case where a garbage truck drove through the side of a client’s house. In the blink of an eye, our client was effectively made homeless, but because the insurance company felt the house wasn’t worth much due to a sewer problem, the amount they were willing to pay out wasn’t going to be enough to make our client whole again.

We knew the case wasn’t simply about obtaining money for repairs—it was about getting our client back into a livable home and getting his life back to where it had been before the accident. By understanding what our client really needed, and with some tenacity and creativity, our client ultimately received a sum that allowed him to move to a new home and put his life back together.

Getting personal

Getting to know our clients personally not only helps us understand how they’ve been hurt and what they need in order to heal, it helps us argue the case most effectively. Recently, we handled a case where a woman died as a result of negligence by the hospital that was treating her.

To prepare the case, we sat down with every member of this woman’s family to learn about who their mother had been—how kind she had been, how passionate she had been about her community, and how her senseless passing had devastated her entire family. We travelled to each family member’s home—from Florida to California—to look at photos of their deceased mother, hear stories of how integral she was in their lives, and to internalize how her wrongful death had impacted the entire family.

Only by getting to know these family members could we get to know their lost loved one. And only by getting to know this special woman through them could we effectively argue their civil litigation case in court.

Going above and beyond

Ultimately, it’s our goal to help our client meet whatever need has not been met by other means. For us, a successful case is not just about obtaining a large verdict or settlement, although we do work hard to do the best we can in every way for our clients. What really motivates us is a genuine desire to right wrongs, and to help each of our clients move past their loss so they can get on with their lives.

We come to care deeply about each client, and we care an awful lot about making sure wrongs are made right—not only for our particular clients, but for every one of us who might face the same situation in the future.

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

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Civil Litigation and Justice: It’s Not All About Money

Posted on Tue, Feb 17, 2015 @ 7:55 AM

Law is complex — most people know that. And so are the reasons someone may seek the help of an attorney.

Contrary to what many TV shows and news reports suggest, civil litigation doesn’t simply boil down to people seeking money. Actually, money is almost never at the heart of why people come to us for help. The real reasons are usually much more personal, much more human.

Many faces of justice

On a basic level, when a person or their loved one has been harmed and they seek help through civil litigation, what they’re typically after is some type of justice or closure. But the form that comes in can be as varied as the clients we serve.

Broadly speaking, their requests will often fall into one of three areas:

  • I want answers: How did this terrible thing happen? And why?
  • I want an opportunity to face the person or company who caused the harm.
  • I want an opportunity to tell my story (or that of my injured or deceased loved one).

And while it’s true that money is usually not top of mind when clients seek help from us, the structure of the civil justice system is such that money awards or settlements may nevertheless be a component of the justice they receive.

We’ll discuss that in more detail later on, but first let’s explore some of the non-monetary forms of justice we help provide people.

In search of answers

If a loved one is suddenly, senselessly taken from you due to the actions of another, part of the healing process often involves just trying to understand how and why they died. Just knowing the details can provide a chance for closure.

After a client’s sister died because she’d been discharged from a hospital without being treated for an easily identified health problem, that client came to us not in search of money, but with a very reasonable question: How did this happen?

We promised we would find out for her, then did exactly that. We examined the hospital’s medical records, retained experts, filed suit, questioned the people who had treated her sister, and ultimately identified the breakdown in communication that led to her sister’s death. Getting those types of answers can be a powerful first step in finding a way to heal from a devastating loss.

Understandably, after receiving this information the client wanted to know what the hospital was doing to prevent a similar occurrence from ever happening again. Her persistent questions ultimately led to the hospital changing its practices and policies.

Positive changes like that can be very helpful to a family trying to come to grips with a terrible, senseless — and in this case, avoidable — tragedy.

Confronting a wrongdoer

When somebody has been hurt, another natural reaction is to want to face the person responsible, whether it’s to find answers, or to seek contrition, or to fulfill some other personal need.

After a newly married couple’s young child died at a daycare center, it was very important to them to face the worker who had been with the child. They suspected the worker had been responsible for the death, and wanted to look the person in the eye and hear exactly what had happened. We arranged a deposition that accomplished that.

In a criminal trial, that likely wouldn’t have been possible. Criminal trials are commonly thought of as the be-all and end-all, but they can be more frustrating for families than helpful, since people have very little control over the questions being asked. What’s more, if clients are potential witnesses, they may be kept outside the courtroom while the wrongdoer is questioned.

With a deposition, however, we could ask the questions that were important to our clients and they could hear the answers. What’s more, we were able to forcefully follow up those questions in ways that the clients, in their grief, might not be prepared to do. That was powerful for them, and hopefully helped begin the process of somehow finding closure.

Telling their story

For others, especially people who have experienced the sudden loss of a loved one, the opportunity to tell their story or the deceased’s story can be a significant form of justice. The client not only wants their loved one to be remembered, but also wants the chance to speak for someone whose voice has been silenced — to tell the defendant and court and jury who this person was and what profound loss his or her death represents.

Over the years, our clients have shared moving stories about the family members they’ve lost. The stories can be heartbreaking at times, but they always illustrate the preciousness of human connections, and the devastation one experiences when those connections are severed.

Again, civil litigation cases are much more helpful for this type of justice, as they allow clients to tell their stories directly to the people who harmed them. It’s perhaps the most significant service we can provide for our clients, aside from the general support and advice we offer as they try to get through what will probably be one of the most difficult times in their lives.

The role of money in civil litigation

Of course, the end result of many civil litigation cases is often monetary. That’s simply how the civil justice system is designed to work. Unlike, say, civil rights cases, where you might see a court require some sort of change in policy or practice, the civil justice system is simply designed to provide money to victims.

We tell juries all the time that while it’s often a very coarse way of administering justice, it’s the only instrument they have at their disposal. The good news is that they do at least have some discretion in how these damages are designated. Compensatory damages, of course, attempt to compensate people for their losses; punitive damages, meanwhile, are designed to punish wrongdoing or bad conduct.

Both send a signal of how the community feels about a particular offense, which ideally can help influence better behavior going forward. This is especially true with businesses, which might take note if they’re susceptible to a punitive damages award and consequently decide it could be less expensive to change their conduct than to risk a lawsuit.

Settlements are often a better means of dispensing justice, because they allow you to do things that a jury can’t. A defendant can agree to take certain steps, and you can stipulate there must be some form of follow-up to ensure compliance.  For instance, a company whose employees have been negligent could agree that it will educate its staff or change its practices in certain ways, and this would be verified later. As a result, settlements can be a very powerful agent of change.

Finally, it should also be remembered that money — whether awarded by a jury or provided by a settlement — is sometimes sorely needed by our clients. Victims and their families frequently need money in the wake of their tragedies, whether it’s for physical or psychological rehabilitation, or to pay the rent after the death of a breadwinning spouse, or to renew their education after a severe injury.  Having said that, we can confidently say that every client we’ve represented would happily forgo the money a jury provides if they had the ability to turn back the clock to the point just before their loss or injury.

Trust and justice

With few exceptions, our clients want more than money when they come to us. Given the trying circumstances many of them are facing, however, it’s understandable if they themselves sometimes don’t immediately know what they want or need.

That’s OK — it’s a process. Very often the first thing they need is simply somebody to hear what they’re going through. A sounding board. A confidant. Someone they can trust who’s looking out for them and can offer advice in their interest.

We’ll spend many hours talking with clients so we can build that trust, because we want them to feel that they can tell us anything. Not only can that be beneficial for them during these fragile times, but it also allows us to explore their needs so that we can properly represent them.

Only by getting to know them and truly understanding their needs — whether those needs involve seeking answers, or facing the person who hurt them, or telling their story — can we work to effectively provide the justice that will hopefully help them move beyond this very painful time in their 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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Civil Litigation Attorneys Who Want the Tough Cases

Posted on Tue, Feb 10, 2015 @ 8:30 AM

The civil litigation attorneys here at Cooper & Elliott have a reputation for taking on challenging cases. It’s not the easiest way to practice law, but there are a number of reasons why it’s the path we choose to take.

Reason #1: We love a challenge

One reason we seek the toughest of cases is that, quite simply, we relish a challenge. It is in our nature to turn over every rock, look into every nook and cranny, and find the crack in the door that will eventually reveal an appropriate resolution to the various challenges that a complex case presents.

If one of us runs into a dead end, another of us will step in to continue pursuing a solution. Often, that fresh set of eyes and a slightly different perspective is all it takes break open a seemingly unwinnable case. That kind of teamwork—and relentless pursuit of answers—is what enables us to help our clients find healing and closure.

Reason #2: Righting wrongs

Like most people, we would like to live in a world where no one is ever the victim of injustice. Of course, that’s not the way the world is—so we make our world a better place by helping those who’ve been harmed find the justice they deserve.

Sometimes a person who has been harmed by another’s carelessness or recklessness may have been told that they don’t have a case, or that civil litigation simply can’t achieve the justice they are seeking. But those are exactly the types of cases that appeal to us.

We believe that no matter how difficult the case might be to win, it’s our job—and our passion—to be a champion for someone whose life has been turned upside down by a tragedy. When we see that a wrong has been done, we feel compelled to set things right.

Reason #3: Change the law, change the world

When terrible things happen to people through no fault of their own, they or their loved ones often turn to the civil justice system, trusting that the law will make things right.

Unfortunately, sometimes the law doesn’t keep up with the times. Perhaps the law doesn’t recognize that a remedy should exist for a certain type of wrongful conduct.  Or maybe the law is moving in the right direction, but it just needs a nudge. In those situations, we dive in wholeheartedly because we see it as an opportunity to not only effect a change that will help our client pick up the pieces of a shattered life, but also as a way to use the law to make the world a better place for the rest of us.

Challenging and landmark civil litigation cases can be costly for a firm to take on. Not all civil litigation lawyers want to take those types of cases, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Every firm has a guiding philosophy that it lives by.

But at Cooper & Elliott, we believe that every person deserves a chance to be heard, a chance to heal from a devastating tragedy. When we take the tough cases and are tenacious about finding resolutions, it’s not just our client who benefits—all of us benefit. It’s those challenging and landmark cases that ultimately lead to a better world for everyone.

*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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Thinking Out of the Box: How Complex Civil Litigation Helped a Diamond Merchant

Posted on Tue, Jan 27, 2015 @ 1:12 PM

Clients come to Cooper & Elliott because complex civil litigation is one of the areas where we excel. And because we want to help, there is nothing we dislike more than delivering bad news. And the initial news we had to give Henry Jackson* was devastating. 

Henry was a diamond merchant from New York who had come to Columbus for a jewelry show carrying a briefcase containing $1,000,000 in stones. He checked into a hotel and stored his precious inventory in the hotel’s safe-deposit boxes. It was standard operating procedure in his business, and he’d done it dozens of times over the years. He took the keys to the needed three safe deposit boxes, put them in his pocket, and then went up to bed.

Henry didn’t know it, but he—and everyone else in the hotel—was about to sleep through the kind of thing that’s supposed to happen only in the movies. A group of jewel thieves was about to pull off a heist months in the making.

The Hotel’s Insurance Liability

During the chaos of a hotel remodeling project, the thieves managed to obtain the hotel’s master key to the safe-deposit boxes and then alter the locks on the boxes so that the second key—like the ones that Henry kept with him in his room—weren’t needed to open them. And on the very night Henry checked in, the thieves made their play and walked away with millions in precious stones, which included Henry’s entire inventory and the inventory of several other diamond merchants.

The FBI eventually caught the thieves but didn’t recover the loot. Henry felt the hotel was at fault for the whole thing, so he wanted to sue.

After our first look at the case, we had to give him the bad news. The hotel’s liability for the theft was covered under Ohio’s innkeeper’s statute, which was unchanged from the 1800s. As long as a hotel had locks on the windows and a “metal safe or vault in good order,” by law the hotel’s liability for theft was limited to $500, no matter how big the loss or how careless the hotel was.

Henry was devastated. He had lost $1,000,000 in diamonds, but because of the way the law was written, $500 was the extent of the hotel’s liability.

Henry’s company wasn’t a big one, and the jewels that had been stolen made up much of his inventory.  A $500 settlement or verdict wasn’t just unfair, it was financially crippling. So we went to work trying to find a way to correct this injustice.

Why Civil Litigation Can Be Complex

Complex civil litigation is called “complex” for very good reasons. It takes a lot of work to get a good result, especially when the odds seem stacked against you. We researched the law. We read every case that had ever applied Ohio’s innkeeper statute and dug through old cases in other states to see how courts had analyzed similar laws. We made sure we uncovered every possible angle that might make a difference in the case.

Finally, we hit upon an approach that seemed promising. It revolved around the simple phrase “in good order.”

On the day we took depositions from the hotel employees, we asked a few preliminary questions before we got down to what we really wanted to know. We got them to agree that safe-deposit boxes are the modern-day equivalent of the “metal safes and vaults” hotels provided a century ago (when Ohio’s innkeeper statute was enacted). Then we asked the manager to tell us precisely how a safe-deposit box is supposed to work.

The manager explained that it took two keys to open the box. One was the master key, and the other was the key given to the owner of whatever was going in the box. When it came time to open the box, both keys were required. We asked if the box could ever be opened with one key—either with the master alone or the guest’s key alone. The manager told us it always took two.

If you could open the safe-deposit box with only the master key—which is what the jewel thieves had done—the box would not be “in good order.” And that meant the hotel wouldn’t be protected by the innkeeper’s statute and its $500 liability limit.

Henry was going to win his case.

The Insurance Company Settles the Case

In court, we argued that the hotel had not provided a vault or safe in good order because it could be opened with one key. As you might expect, the hotel and its insurance company objected strongly to our argument.  They pointed out that other diamond brokers who had jewels stolen in the same heist had filed lawsuits, and the courts in those cases had limited the damages to $500.    

But those other victims hadn’t come up with the argument we made. In the end, the judge in Henry’s case was persuaded. He issued a ruling in Henry’s favor and scheduled the case for trial where the only issue would be the amount of damages.  It was only then that the hotel’s insurance company decided to make a settlement offer to Henry. Henry ended up with an offer that covered his lost diamonds.  

In the course of our research on the Jackson case, we found that the antiquated innkeeper’s statute had been upheld time and again over the years. Surely some of those plaintiffs might have been entitled to more than $500, but for whatever reason, they didn’t get it. We’re just glad we were able to come through for Henry, and for anybody who might be in the same boat in the future and might be able to take advantage of the approach we developed to get around an unfair law.

With complex civil litigation, the winning solution isn’t always obvious. It takes research and consultation, along with creative thinking and tenacity. But it’s like any other line of work in that if you really want to help people, you’ve got to make the commitment and put in the time it takes to get the best possible result.

*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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For Justice in a Personal Injury Case, There’s No One-Size-Fits-All Strategy

Posted on Tue, Jan 20, 2015 @ 2:44 PM

One thing is consistent about our cases: no two are alike. That means we have to closely look at each personal injury case based on its own unique circumstances in order to best serve our clients. The case that follows is a perfect example. By looking beyond the conventional wisdom for such incidents and crafting a strategy based on the specific details of the case, we were able to help a young man find justice — and an opportunity to rebuild his life.

Steve’s life was changed forever

Steve Olson*, 21, was a student at Ohio State University. One night, as he was leaving a local bar on campus, another patron began yelling at him. Apparently the angry patron had mistaken Steve for somebody who had caused an argument in the bar.

The angry man rushed out of the bar’s back-patio emergency exit and shouted at Steve, and as Steve turned around the man sucker-punched him in the face. Steve fell and smashed his head on the ground, sustaining such severe trauma that doctors initially told his father he would likely die.

The good news was that Steve lived. However, he had lost all hearing in his right ear and much in his left, and he spent the next few years recovering from complications caused by the attack.

Identifying the negligence

Working as Steve’s personal injury attorneys, at first glance our next step would seem clear: pursue action against Steve’s attacker. But in the course of the events above, there was a crucial piece of information that changed our strategy. The angry bar patron didn’t just leave the bar on his own. The bar’s security personnel willingly allowed the enraged attacker to leave the bar through an emergency exit so he could chase Steve down.

Think about it: Why does a bar have security? To control crowds, make sure fights don’t break out, and ensure people don’t get hurt. But what happened on the night of Steve’s attack? A man was screaming over the fence trying to get at Steve, and rather than trying to calm the situation down, a security person opened an emergency exit and let the angry man run out.

We argued that the security person’s negligence was tantamount to putting a bullet in a gun, because his actions led directly to Steve being harmed.

Competing arguments: Where was the negligence?

When we sued, the bar and its liability insurance company refused to take responsibility for what had happened.  The insurance company argued that since Steve’s injury clearly hadn’t taken place on the bar’s property (it had been outside, near a public street), any negligence by the bar also hadn’t occurred on the bar’s property. By this logic, the bar — and the insurance company — would be off the hook for damages.

And truthfully, other personal injury lawyers might likely have looked at this case and agreed with the insurance company.

That didn’t seem right, so we made a creative argument. While the injury might have occurred off the property, the negligence occurred on the property when that bar’s security personnel allowed a large, drunken, hostile patron out through its emergency exit. Once the insurance company’s lawyers realized there was a good chance our argument would win, the insurance company settled the case.

The result? Steve received a substantial settlement without having to fight in court, which could have taken years to finalize. Steve’s attacker also spent some time in jail for the assault.

A personal injury case’s best outcome

While a substantial settlement sounds good, that money actually supports the real victory. A permanently impaired young man — someone who couldn’t get back to college, who almost died, and who had lost two years of his life — now had the means to get back on his feet again.

And justice wasn’t important only to Steve. Throughout the whole ordeal, his parents and siblings had been through an emotional wringer. With the settlement and end of the case, they too could breathe a little easier about Steve’s future.

Getting involved

This personal injury case was significant to us for a couple of reasons. First, it reaffirmed how justice can be served by creative thinking, a close look at the details, hard work, and going the extra mile.

Why did we go that extra mile to find justice for Steve?

The answer: personal involvement. When we took on Steve’s case, we also took on Steve and his family. We watched their struggles, tried to understand their pain, and provided moral support and advice wherever we could. We did our best to see the situation through their eyes.

When you make the effort to stand in somebody else’s shoes after such a tragedy and fully understand what they’re going through, you become invested. That is why we take on personal injury cases like Steve’s, and that is why we exhaustively look for any possible way to ensure our clients receive the justice they deserve.

It’s what any of us would do for the people we care about.

*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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When Is It Time for Civil Litigation?

Posted on Tue, Jan 13, 2015 @ 1:33 PM

Sometimes the best solution to a difficult situation is no litigation at all. Even in a child-abuse case – one of the worst kinds of personal injury cases – going to court might not be the most effective way to resolve an issue and help the family.

That’s another thing people don’t always understand: When a case finally does go to court, the primary goal is not to punish somebody who’s done wrong. It’s to make sure a family can put its life back together.

Ryan’s story

Three-year-old Ryan* attended a private, church-operated preschool. When he left the school one day, his parents noticed red marks across his backside. It looked like he’d been hit, and Ryan didn’t want to talk about it.

With encouragement from his parents, Ryan finally told them what had happened. A parent volunteer at the preschool had repeatedly hit his bare backside hard with a ruler, leaving the marks.

Ryan’s parents went to the school to ask what happened. They were stonewalled: the school told them nothing had happened. When Ryan’s parents continued asking questions, the school headmaster said they’d be cited for trespassing if they came around again. All Ryan’s parents wanted was to know what had happened to their son.

So Ryan’s parents called Cooper & Elliott. We advised them that it wasn’t time for civil litigation yet, but they should get Child Services involved. The investigator Child Services assigned, however, turned out to be a member of the church that operated the school, which clearly tainted the investigation.

The police got involved, but detectives couldn’t get anyone, including the parent volunteer, to admit to any wrongdoing. The church circled the wagons, made certain its employees told the same story, and got a doctor to say that the marks on Ryan’s body were probably some kind of reaction to a cleaning agent used on toilet seats. With that element of reasonable doubt, the police and the prosecutor weren’t willing to pursue the matter, and the investigation ended.

Throughout all of this, Ryan was having a hard time after the beating he had received. Even though his parents had immediately removed him from the preschool, he was afraid to be left alone, and he’d gone back to wetting the bed. Ryan’s mom, Angela*, also felt horribly guilty. She believed that if she’d been a stay-at-home mom instead of sending Ryan to preschool, none of this would have happened. So she quit her job to be with her kids, even though it put a dent into the family’s income.

The only avenue left now was the civil justice system, where we could obtain school documents, take depositions, and find out for certain what had happened to Ryan.

What civil litigation accomplished for Ryan’s family

Our investigation revealed troubling things. We discovered that the church didn’t have the incident reports and other documents they’re supposed to keep in cases like this. Even more disturbing, we learned that another child got a fractured skull while the classroom was being monitored by the same parent volunteer who allegedly hit Ryan.

So we went to the church with a settlement offer. We asked them to pay for anger management counseling for this parent volunteer; we asked them to institute an ongoing child abuse awareness program for their teachers; and we asked for money to cover counseling for Ryan. The total value of what we wanted was a few thousand dollars, which seemed more than reasonable in view of the harm.

They turned us down flat. After Angela quit her job and more time had elapsed, we added an additional request: we asked them to pay for Angela’s lost income to resolve the situation once and for all. They turned us down again. That left us no choice but to take the church to court.

After hearing what had happened to Ryan and what the church had done afterwards, the jury awarded Ryan and his family compensatory damages, punitive damages, pain and suffering, and lost wages – all told, more than five million dollars. The case allowed Ryan to obtain counseling and for Angela to stay home with her son – and even start a business – without hurting the family’s finances.  The decision also sent a strong message that the community will not tolerate the type of behavior the church exhibited.

This was a family that did everything by the book. They didn’t rush to court. They went to the school first, then to a government agency, then to the police. Frequently, that’s the advice we give, and not just in child-abuse cases. Sometimes the civil justice system shouldn’t, or can’t, be brought into play. But when people pursue appropriate channels and nothing happens, or if the system breaks down along the way, that’s when civil litigation offers the best way to make things right.

*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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Ginny Lefever Appointed to Board of Life After Justice

Posted on Fri, Jan 9, 2015 @ 8:20 AM

As a long-time supporter and fan of Ginny Lefever, we want to take this opportunity to congratulate her on her appointment to the board of Life After Justice

Founded by exonerees Jarrett Adams and Antoine Day, Life After Justice is a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting wrongfully convicted men and women rebuild their lives after being released from prison. The organization provides a comprehensive suite of services for the wrongfully convicted. They assist exonerees in areas of housing, legal, vocational training and rehab, with a holistic approach to medical, dental and mental health services including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse issues.

Ginny has taken a role on the board of this organization to provide a woman’s perspective, and to ensure the organization addresses the unique re-entry challenges faced by female exonerees. Like with everything Ginny does, we know that her contributions to Life After Justice will help countless people heal.

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How One Personal Injury Case Changed Lives Across Ohio

Posted on Tue, Dec 30, 2014 @ 2:07 PM

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

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

A spouse’s love vs. a state law

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

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

That didn’t seem right.

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

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

More than money

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

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

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

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

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Beyond Civil Litigation: Healing After Justice is Served

Posted on Tue, Dec 23, 2014 @ 9:59 AM

The case that follows tragically demonstrates the obstacles clients and their civil litigation lawyers face when trying to reach a positive long-term outcome beyond the courtroom.

A good worker under bad circumstances

Josh* was a meat inspector with the United States Department of Agriculture. He was a great guy: young, idealistic, dedicated. In addition, his strapping 6-foot-4 frame meant he wasn’t easily intimidated – excellent qualities for someone holding the line on USDA policy to ensure that the country’s food supply remained safe.

He was assigned to a hog-slaughtering operation in northern Ohio after complaints had come in that previous inspectors had been taking bribes to look the other way. Immediately he began seeing problems: labor laws seemed to be flouted, and diseased or injured animals were regularly slaughtered, a direct violation of USDA regulations.

Josh, of course, called attention to these things, which slowed down operations and effectively increased costs. Frustrated by Josh’s dedication to his job, the owner of the plant, who authorities in the area suspected was connected to organized crime, began concocting ways to get Josh to quit.

There was a long list of measures the owner took to harass and intimidate Josh. The owner registered complaints about Josh to his congressman and other authorities. He installed surveillance cameras where Josh worked. One day Josh’s car was sprayed with dirt and gravel. Another time, Josh found drugs that had been planted in his car.

Throughout it all, Josh was a rock. Unfazed.

Then things got really nasty. After the plant owner had a henchman swear out a complaint that Josh had solicited him for a sex act, the town’s sheriff – an elected official whose biggest contributor was the meatpacking plant – had him arrested. Josh was left handcuffed to a pole, standing in the middle of the sheriff’s department, for hours. Splashed across the headlines the next day was “Meat Packing Inspector Arrested for Soliciting Sex,” courtesy of the plant owner, who had contacted media outlets.

Providing civil litigation for a defamation victim

Because Josh was a federal employee, the U.S. Attorney’s Office stepped in to defend him, and the charges were quickly dropped – they had all been fabricated. Our firm became involved when Josh decided to file a defamation complaint against the meatpacking plant.

We filed lawsuits and obtained a great deal of background information and discovery, then pursued civil litigation in federal court. We’d been scheduled for trial, when the judge invited the parties to conduct what’s called a summary jury trial.

With a summary jury trial, a jury is summoned and presented evidence in a much abbreviated form and over the course of a few days instead of a week or more, and the jury believes that it’s hearing a real lawsuit. Then it deliberates and issues a nonbinding decision, which gives the parties an idea of how an actual trial might proceed.

The summary jury listened to the evidence we presented and awarded Josh a $1 million verdict for defamation and psychological harm. Not surprisingly, the meatpacking plant owner realized he had no chance of successfully defending himself in civil court, so the case was quickly settled after that.

Tragedy beyond the courtroom

The story should have ended there, but sadly, Josh’s ordeal had only just begun. The stress of the phony solicitation allegations caused Josh – an outdoorsy guy, seemingly invincible – to suffer an incredible psychological break. He was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the results were devastating.

How does one adequately describe the slow, gradual decay of a human being’s psyche? There was paranoia, divorce, anger issues. Sobbing phone calls from a man unable to reconcile his powerful emotions.

We tried to bring in family members who could provide support, and we encouraged him when he started seeing a psychiatrist. Gradually, though, in spite of our attempts to help him and stay in touch, we lost track of Josh.

About four years after the case ended, we got the worst imaginable news. In Michigan, where he had moved, Josh had apparently barricaded himself and his girlfriend in a house. Police were called and there had been a standoff, and then the unthinkable had happened: Josh killed his girlfriend and himself.

Trying to heal

This is one of those tragedies that will live with us forever. As lawyers, we know we did all we could, working within the civil justice system to get justice for Josh and the best possible settlement. And we know we did the best we could outside of the courtroom, too – guiding him to counseling, providing support, and just being there for him when his anxiety became overwhelming.

Our involvement with him wasn’t at all unusual.  We try to have close associations with our clients that last well beyond their cases, and we try to help them look beyond the litigation.

Frequently, we’ll tell them, “You can’t let the litigation drive your life and you can’t live your life according to the outcome of the case, because who knows the outcome of a lawsuit?” We’re always worried that clients will delay the healing or grieving process, not allowing closure until the lawsuit comes to an end.

If we think it will help, we’ll encourage them to seek family counseling, or marital counseling, or vocational counseling, or vocational training – whatever it takes to find a way to move beyond their misfortune and pain and live the life they intended.

Yet for all that, Josh – a good man, a client, and a friend of ours – is dead. And in spite of all we did, it’s almost impossible to not feel as if we somehow failed him. It’s something we will never get over.

Recovering through relationships

So we work tirelessly.  We do everything in our power to build meaningful relationships with our clients so that we can understand not just their legal needs, but their underlying emotional and psychological needs as well.

When we talk with them, we’re truly listening so that we can recognize those needs and help find the resources they will need to move forward with their lives.  That may be mental health professionals, clergypersons, or even financial counselors. And we’re familiar with the symptoms associated with PTSD, as well as professionals in the area who are trained to treat it.

We’re not doctors or psychiatrists or mental health professionals, but at the same time we recognize, first and foremost, that clients are people, just like us. We recognize that each client is someone who is navigating a devastating chapter in their life, which is why we take our responsibility as attorneys and counselors so seriously.

*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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How Justice, Compensation, and Listening Helped a Family Heal After a Wrongful Death

Posted on Thu, Dec 11, 2014 @ 4:41 PM

It was a family’s worst nightmare.

Around 5:00 one morning, Genie Henderson*, a 21-year-old with a job at a senior living facility, was on her way to work driving northbound on the local highway. She had no way of knowing that a drunk driver, having mistaken an exit ramp for an on-ramp, was driving southbound on that very same road at 60 mph. He came up over a hill and hit her head on.

She died immediately.

She left behind Joe, her fiancé, and their 1-year-old son, Sam, but also some profound questions: How could this have happened? Was it preventable? And how would Genie’s life have unfolded if this tragedy had never taken place?

Some people hearing about an accident like this might say, “Ah, a drunk driver. Probably didn’t have insurance. Case over.” But we felt we could help Joe and Sam heal from the loss of Genie, especially if we could answer some of those questions raised by her wrongful death.

Analyzing a wrongful death

What we learned was startling.

We discovered that the man responsible for Genie’s death had been arrested for drunken driving 10 times, including once just before this accident. How was that even possible? After all, standard procedure is for the police department to take away a person’s driver’s license, physically remove the license plate from his car, and impound the vehicle until a court order says it can be safely released.

Here, however, although the drunk driver had initially been put in jail, he’d been released less than 48 hours later and given his car back. He promptly went out, got drunk again, and forever changed the future of this innocent young family.

Our investigation found that the police department had released the man essentially for no good reason other than expediency. He had been a constant nuisance while in jail, so they let him out and gave him his car simply to make their own lives easier.

Understanding our clients’ needs

Needless to say, Genie’s family wanted justice. It was very important to them that a message was sent to the community so that this kind of tragedy would never be repeated.

The outcome of the case sent a very clear signal that drunken driving is a real crime with horribly real consequences, and that there should be zero tolerance of this behavior. The message extended to law enforcement too: drunk drivers are dangerous criminals and should be treated as such, not released on a whim or for convenience.

Genie’s family also needed compensation for their suffering and loss. But what some people don’t understand is that getting the largest award possible is never our clients’ primary objective. It’s always about something more fundamental: making sure those responsible are held accountable; making sure the victim’s death wasn’t in vain; speaking on behalf of the victim to give him or her a voice.

We talked with Genie’s family and friends to learn more about her and what her wishes might have been for her family. And we talked with them just to get to know them better and help them through a very painful time. Through our discussions, it became clear that a major priority was to ensure Genie’s son was provided for, so we sought an award that would take care of him into the future, including funds to pay for a college education.

Rewarding work

Every so often, we’ll check to see how Genie’s family is doing. Sam, that little 1-year-old, is now in high school and a soccer star. He plays goalie. Soon he’ll get the college education his mom always wanted for him.

It’s gratifying to know how our work helped honor the wishes of Genie’s family and get them back on their feet. And it’s even more gratifying because we’re invested in them not just as clients, but as people people with feelings who needed our help and compassion, and whom we wanted to see heal and ultimately thrive.

*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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