For Individuals

Trust Lost and Gained: Keeping an 84-year-old Grandmother in Her Home

Posted on Mon, May 4, 2015 @ 2:47 PM

In the past few years it’s become common to hear about faceless, unfeeling companies practicing “predatory lending policies.” But what about when the predator is a trusted family friend?

Betrayal of trust

Louise Henderson*, an 84-year-old African-American great-grandmother living in an up-and-coming neighborhood of Washington, D.C., was proud of the house she and her late-husband had bought back in 1969. Unfortunately, though, Louise had fallen behind on some of her tax payments.

That’s when Helen Phillips*, a childhood friend of Louise’s daughter, came to her rescue—or so Louise thought. Helen had seen on the Internet that Louise had some tax liens on her property, so she offered her a solution: to avoid foreclosure, Louise could sign over a 75% interest in her home to Helen, who would pay off the few thousand dollars of back taxes Louise owed in return.

Louise didn’t really understand what she was agreeing to, but she trusted Helen and signed the necessary documents. Helen paid $2,200 in back taxes, and got a house worth $324,000.

That wasn’t enough for Helen. A few years later, Helen noticed two new liens on the house—Louise had again fallen behind on some bills. Helen told her they needed to take out a loan on the house to pay off the liens, and Louise agreed. The liens cost under $14,000. Helen took out a mortgage and paid them off. But then Helen helped herself to another $300,000.

That $300,000 came from the equity in the house—the equity Louise and her late husband had built up, dollar by dollar, month by month, since 1969—and Helen didn’t tell Louise about any of it. Not about the $55,000 that paid off a mortgage on another property Helen owned, or the $11,000 that paid off her timeshare. Not about the $10,000 that paid off Helen’s credit card. Not about the $224,000 check Helen walked away with.

Helen did tell Louise that if there were any money left over from the loan, Helen would buy Louise a new stove or refrigerator. Helen never bought Louise a new stove or refrigerator.

It still wasn’t enough for Helen. A few years later, Helen wanted Louise out of the house so Helen could rent it or sell it. Making up a story about taxes, she tricked Louise into signing over the remaining 25% of her ownership.

The next business day, Helen sued Louise to evict her from her house.

Seeking redress

That’s when one of our attorneys got involved. Louise sought help from AARP’s free legal defense fund, and was referred to him on a pro bono basis.

First, the legal team filed a number of claims against Helen to prevent Louise’s eviction and to restore possession of her home. Then began the work preparing her case for a jury trial.

The new mortgage against the home complicated things. The lending bank had provided the money not knowing that Helen’s ownership was potentially fraudulent. The simple fact was the bank was owed money, and the house was collateral—no matter who was living in it.

So, in addition to returning title of the home to Louise and keeping her from being evicted by her former family friend, the obligation to the lender needed to be satisfied.

The morning of trial, Helen’s attorney came in with startling news: “I’m sorry, but my client, without my knowledge, just filed for bankruptcy.” Helen’s sudden bankruptcy filing meant our case had to be postponed.

It also made this already complicated case even more convoluted: where would the money be found for Helen to pay off the fraudulent mortgage?

The human touch: understanding and empathy

Lawsuits are not just about the law. In many situations, there’s a point where you have to expand beyond purely legal arguments to include emotional approaches.

Those approaches are created from the depth of knowledge and understanding that comes from learning not just the details of a person’s case, but the details of that person’s life. Understanding our clients and their needs on a personal level allows us to represent them from all perspectives, legal or otherwise. We make it a priority to spend as much time with them as possible.

Fortunately for our attorney, who was licensed in Washington, D.C., Louise was extraordinarily generous with her time. What’s more, because she didn’t have reliable transportation, he would pick her up from her house for meetings with her or for court. Those were opportunities for her to invite him in and show him around—she was clearly very proud of her home.

He talked to Louise about her life and how the neighborhood had changed. Hearing these stories in her home felt very personal, very intimate. It’s easy for lawyers in this modern technological age to simply sit in their office and communicate through e-mail, but knowing our clients is absolutely critical to the way we practice law.

It was critical in this case. Technically, the bank was owed money and probably could have foreclosed on the home, forcing Louise to the street. Several options were considered, but the best strategy for resolution with the bank involved a simple emotional appeal: don’t foreclose on an 84-year-old great-grandmother who was tricked out of her home. It’s just not right.

Louise’s stories about her life painted a much richer picture of who she was than the details of her case would provide. It allowed for a much deeper emotional argument. Ultimately, the bank and Helen settled, and Louise stayed in her home.

Taking it personally

Finding justice in this type of case is rewarding on multiple levels. As attorneys and professionals, we naturally want to provide the best service for our clients. But as we develop relationships, we also empathize with them and simply desire to help them through a difficult time.

It’s gratifying to know that after her trust had been so terribly betrayed by Helen, Louise trusted and built a relationship with our attorney—and received the justice she deserved.

*Names in this article have been changed to protect our client’s privacy. Our attorney worked on this case before joining Cooper & Elliott.

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 for Healing and Closure

Posted on Tue, Apr 21, 2015 @ 12:06 PM

The clients we work with have been dealt catastrophic losses, and each client is affected deeply. They each face the tragedy in their own way, trying to make sense of what happened and to begin to heal. The civil justice system is best set up to provide money to compensate someone’s loss, but we’ve found that winning a case for our clients isn’t just about compensation. It’s about healing, and closure, and moving on. And how that happens will vary from client to client.

Some clients need to face the wrongdoer. Others want an explanation—how, why did this occur? Most just want everything back to normal. To achieve this requires attorneys with both a strong legal and emotional skill set.

Asking the right questions

When we first meet clients, our goal is to develop a personal connection with them, not just gather the facts of the case. We seek to peel away the layers to determine what is important to the client—financially, physically, emotionally—to make sure we have a true understanding of the case and the people involved.

We do this by listening carefully. We start by asking a client what their goals are. Often we hear general responses like “I want answers.” We then probe deeper, listening for the real issues.

In a medical malpractice wrongful death case, for example, where a family member has died tragically, we often find our client feels tremendous guilt. They feel they are somehow responsible for what happened. Perhaps if they’d only sought another opinion or asked different or more questions, they think, their loved one would still be alive. In a case like this, one of our goals—both during our meetings, and at trial—is to reassure the family¬ that they did nothing wrong.

We also listen very carefully in these types of cases to understand family dynamics. When someone is seriously injured or killed, it’s important to delve into their relationships with other family members and how they lived their life. That helps us plan tactically how we approach issues at trial. It lets us paint a complete picture of what the victim and their family have lost.

Solid relationships

Our decades of experience have taught us that solid relationships throughout the civil justice system are also critical in achieving successful outcomes for our clients. From judges to co-counsel to opposing counsel to potential clients, we make sure everyone knows that it’s our ultimate goal to reach the best result for our client in the most efficient manner possible.

As civil litigation attorneys, it’s our job to assess what it will take to get to the desired goal, work toward that goal, and gain the respect of our peers and clients along the way. That makes each and every subsequent case that much easier to handle.

Many people think civil litigation attorneys are like two boxers in a ring slugging it out. While knock-down battles are sometimes necessary, when possible we prefer to work things out and avoid unnecessary battle. It’s simply better for our clients.

We don’t needlessly argue over minor legal points, like petty discovery disputes, if it won’t ultimately serve our client. Choosing the right battles builds credibility with the court and opposing counsel, and it avoids tying up a case and prolonging its resolution—all to the benefit of our clients.

Resolve

Just because we understand the art of compromise doesn’t mean we won’t fight for our client with all we’ve got. Knowing when to take a stand is an important aspect of successful civil litigation. We dig in when we need to and are exceptionally tenacious when we feel our client has been wronged.

Recently, our office received a referral from an out-of-state attorney who had referred several clients to us in the past. He told us he knows that we fight hard but that we’re reasonable, which made him confident we’d be able to achieve a successful outcome for his client.

Passion, care, and excellence

We look for these qualities in every person who joins our team, and we live by these qualities with every case.  When it comes to civil litigation, we are passionate about pursuing justice and righting wrongs. It’s just the way we’re wired.

We care deeply about our clients. We get to know them personally so we can understand and internalize their needs. That lets us best represent their interests and help them find peace and closure.

We pursue every case, every client, with excellence. We bring equal parts communication, creativity, and intelligence to each case, which ensures that everyone involved—clients, judges, juries, opposing counsel—ultimately feels like the best possible outcome has been achieved.

We know that a person or family looks to us for help because they want to heal. They want our help putting the pieces of their shattered life back together. We believe it’s our job—our obligation—as civil litigation attorneys to understand what a successful outcome to the case will be for each individual client, and then use everything we’ve got to achieve that outcome.

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

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Uncovering Truth in a Wrongful Death Tragedy

Posted on Fri, Apr 10, 2015 @ 9:51 PM

As wrongful death attorneys, at times we encounter cases that seem mysterious, and it isn’t until all the facts have been gathered that we can make some sense of the whole situation.  This wrongful death case began just like that.

A serious accident

Jessica’s* headaches were incredibly painful, and no one knew why they were getting worse. Many months after a truck rear-ended her car, Jessica was enduring chronic physical pain and severe headaches in addition to the emotional trauma of the crash.

Instead of improving as expected, Jessica’s pain worsened, and after months of increasingly debilitating suffering, Jessica died. Her grieving mother and fiancée were devastated, and they had lots of questions. How could this have happened? Was Jessica’s death related to the accident that took place a year and a half earlier?

Meeting the family

We first met with Jessica’s family shortly after her death. Another firm was handling the accident investigation and litigation, but they were treating the suit as a typical “rear-end collision and compensation” case, the way you might approach an ordinary whiplash or neck sprain.

Months before her death, however, Jessica’s chronic headaches had been diagnosed as a neurological disorder known as a pseudotumor. It’s a condition that mimics a brain tumor, and the effects are as crippling as an actual tumor.

Jessica had spent her final months in agonizing pain, and her mother and fiancée suspected this wasn’t just an ordinary car crash injury. They brought us on board to uncover the truth and seek justice for Jessica.

The investigation

The big question for everyone was this: did the car crash cause Jessica’s death?

Our initial investigation hit a few bumps early, as expected. The medical diagnosis, cause of death, and medical journals all hinted at a connection between Jessica’s death and the car accident, but no solid link could be made to file a wrongful death case.

But on behalf of Jessica and her family, we kept looking. We spent hours combing neurology case studies, articles, and peer-reviewed journals. Because of how rare pseudotumors are, there are only a handful of experts in the world who are versed in this particular disease. We finally tracked one down, and he helped us and Jessica’s family get some answers.  He confirmed that there is in fact a link between trauma—such as trauma caused by a rear-end accident—and pseudotumors.

Justice and closure

It was a tough battle, to be sure. Despite our medical expert’s conclusion, the insurance company’s lawyers didn’t want to believe it.

They claimed there wasn’t enough medical evidence to support the connection, and that there wasn’t enough legal precedent to allow our medical expert’s testimony. They even went so far as to imply that the months and months of care and treatment of Jessica by her family members could have caused her death.

But we had done our homework, and ultimately the insurance company caved, settling for a much higher amount than they had offered when the other firm first filed the case.

Perhaps more important to Jessica’s family than the settlement amount, though, were the answers they received along the way. Jessica’s family now definitively knew that they were not responsible for her death. And by uncovering and telling Jessica’s story, we and her family shed light on a rare but serious neurological disease. Our shared hope is that this case will help pave the way for other families who find themselves in a similar 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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A Close-Knit Family and Wrongful Death, but a Positive Outcome

Posted on Tue, Mar 10, 2015 @ 9:27 PM

When most people think about the victim in a wrongful death case, they probably envision a person cut down in the prime of life. But people of all ages can be victimized by medical malpractice that prematurely ends their life. This is such a case.

A loving mother and grandmother

Mrs. Etta Cowan* was the family matriarch. She made quilts and afghans for her granddaughters. She loved to bake, and she was famous for a special dessert she would make only once a year. Etta took care of her husband and a grown son who lived at home and required assistance. Despite that, she and her husband were able to travel, and they made trips across the country to visit their other grown children and grandchildren. Etta was an influential force in the lives of her entire family.

One sad day, Etta suffered a serious heart attack. Once under hospital care, though, she started getting better. In fact, her prognosis was good. Then, without warning, this beautiful 70-year old wife, mother, and grandmother died.

The family Etta left behind needed to know why. Was it just something terrible that no one could have prevented, or was it a wrongful death? Was it medical malpractice?

A wrongful death?

In cases like these, the person’s age is certainly a factor. Sometimes, families—and attorneys—believe that an older person’s death is simply a matter of it being “time,” and they won’t look further into the case for that reason. But when our firm began looking into Mrs. Cowan’s case, we discovered that the hospital had made a medication error. As it turned out, medication that might have saved Mrs. Cowan had been withheld from her, resulting in Etta’s untimely death.

After a couple of depositions, the hospital recognized its liability in Mrs. Cowan’s wrongful death, and it agreed to a fair settlement—an amount that was very close to what we would have expected the Cowans to receive had we gone to trial.

A medical malpractice case with a positive outcome

The Cowans are an especially tight-knit family, and their closeness made their case very compelling to us. They lost Mrs. Cowan before they should have, and the loss rippled through the lives of everyone she touched.

The financial settlement for Mrs. Cowan’s wrongful death helped continue care for the Cowans’ son who couldn’t care for himself, and it helped make life for Mr. Cowan and the rest of the family as close as possible to normal.  Even more importantly, in the settlement the hospital acknowledged its responsibility for Etta’s untimely death.  Such an acknowledgment allowed Etta’s loved ones to move on with their lives, together as a family, even without their beloved matriarch.

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

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

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The Multiple Faces of Justice in a Wrongful Death Case

Posted on Tue, Mar 3, 2015 @ 9:25 PM

The goals of people seeking the help of a wrongful death attorney can be as varied as the emotions they’re experiencing. It’s possible to actually win a verdict for a client yet still not attain the level of justice they had hoped for. The case that follows illustrates the many types of justice a client can seek, and some of the impediments those remedies may face — sometimes due to the legal system itself.

A drive ends in tragedy

Jake*, 38, was an avid motorcyclist. Ever since he was old enough to have a license, he’d ridden motorcycles. And contrary to the image that some have of motorcycle enthusiasts, Jake was a very careful, very safe, very deliberate rider. A family man, happily married with two children, Jake had never even received a traffic citation for motorcycle riding.

One sunny weekend afternoon, he and his wife, Mary*, were riding their motorcycles together, out on the highway. Unbeknownst to them, a semi-truck had punctured its fuel tank and was leaking diesel fuel onto the road. The truck eventually got off the road, splashing fuel all along the exit ramp.

Diesel fuel may look just like water, but when it’s spilled on concrete, the surface becomes as slippery as a sheet of ice. As Jake pulled onto the same exit ramp, he crossed over the spilled diesel fuel, his motorcycle slipped, and he was shot from the bike like a bullet from a gun. Jake hit a guard rail head first and instantly was killed.

A wrongful death case unearths the truth

At first this tragedy looked like a simple accident—somebody driving across a liquid substance and losing control of their vehicle—but our investigation revealed much more. After Mary came to us for help, we dug deep into the case and discovered a number of poor decisions that together had led to this terrible and wrongful death.

For example, the damage to the truck driver’s fuel tank had occurred when the driver ran over a metal object on the highway. Rather than pulling over and investigating the damage (the driver reported the initial impact sounding like a gunshot), she proceeded to drive for over a mile, leaking diesel fuel down that entire portion of the highway. Instead of calling the highway patrol, setting up flares or warning triangles, and generally trying to alert motorists to the danger, the driver tried to plug the leak with a rag and merely called dispatch for help.

Yet in spite of the driver’s obvious culpability, the trucking agency that employed her denied any responsibility, instead offering $25,000 to settle out of court. Considering the gravity of the situation—that Mary, her children, and Jake’s parents were attempting to face a life without Jake, who was also the breadwinner of the family—the trucking company’s offer simply wasn’t realistic.

So we went to trial. There we were able to present a powerful, convincing wrongful death claim to the jury. Some key moments of the trial:

  • We revealed that the truck driver already had a poor safety record with her employer.
  • We effectively cross-examined the trucking company’s safety director and listed all of the things the driver failed to do under the employer’s own policy. That, in conjunction with the testimony of the safety expert we brought in, clearly illustrated to the jury why we were seeking justice in this case.
  • We rented a helicopter and used it to videotape the entire one-plus mile of highway where the truck driver had recklessly spilled diesel fuel. As we played the video for the jury during closing arguments, there was absolute silence as they realized how long the fuel had been allowed to spill before the truck finally came to a stop (and then, only because the truck had suffered a flat tire).

Justice gained and lost

The good news is, we helped bring our client justice: The trial ended with a large jury verdict for compensatory and punitive damages. But here’s where things got a little tricky.

The verdict was appealed, and the punitive damages portion was tossed out based on an argument that the driver’s carelessness did not rise to a level warranting punitive damages.

Needless to say, this was disappointing—not only for us and the jurors, but especially for our client. One of the things the family had hoped would come out of this trial would be a message to the trucking company that said, “You’ve got to do something different here. You’ve got to understand what your driver did, and you need to elevate your safety standards so a 38-year-old man with a family doesn’t lose his life.”

That’s what punitive damages are all about. They send a message on behalf of the community to promote safety and better behavior. Driving a semi-truck is an extraordinarily dangerous activity, and we hoped that the punitive damages verdict would ensure that truck drivers understood they needed to be more vigilant about safety on the roadway.

Unfortunately, that message from the jury was erased by the court of appeals.

Still, justice was served in other ways. The compensatory damages the client received were desperately needed by Jake’s family. Moreover, those damages would help Mary follow through with a dream she and Jake had: sending their kids to college.

And there was something even more significant. While financial compensation was important to Mary and her kids, the family’s main priority was to establish that Jake had not caused his own death. From day one, the trucking company had denied responsibility for his accident, later adding insult by blaming Jake and claiming he was responsible for his own death since he had driven over a wet substance on the road.

The jury’s decision established in no uncertain terms that the truck driver and the trucking company were the real parties responsible for Jake’s tragic death. This was a tremendous relief for our client, and hopefully provided a building block in the long process of healing that lay ahead.

An attorney’s point of view

From our own perspective, this case represented a range of different feelings. We were gratified to see our client receive some measure of justice. Nothing we might have done could possibly eliminate the grief that Mary and her family were feeling, but we would like to believe we helped them in some small way to move forward.

But we also felt frustration and bewilderment with the appellate court’s decision. By overturning the jury’s decision to award punitive damages, the court not only negated justice for our client, who hoped measures would be taken so this type of accident could never be repeated in the future, but also negated a message that could have helped make the community’s highways safer.

Caring about caring

We were deeply touched by Jake’s story.  During the trial, while we maintained our professionalism in the courtroom, there were times—when Jake’s family talked about what a phenomenal human being he was, and how important he’d been to them; when the jury came back with its verdict, making it crystal clear that Jake hadn’t been responsible for his accident—when we became emotional.

We believe that’s a good thing. Getting emotional reminds us we’re doing our jobs as wrongful death attorneys. It means we haven’t become numb to the system or to the horrible circumstances that our clients find themselves in. It means we can empathize and to some degree personally experience what our clients are going through.

*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 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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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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