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Choosing the Right Path

While attending college, I knew that I wanted to go to law school. I expected to be a corporate lawyer. I’m not even sure why except that it seemed to be what I wanted as a career path. Then, I was in a car accident on my way to a final exam during college.

I had been rearended by a corporate truck. The experience changed my “want”. I no longer wanted to be a corporate lawyer. Instead, I wanted to represent the injured and learn personal injury law.
In law school, there are certain courses that are mandatory. Tort Law was a mandatory two semesters. It introduced me to a wide spectrum of personal injury cases. Then, I interned for two law firms during school and learned more personal injury law.
I have always been thankful for that experience in college, that changed my career choice of the kind of law that I wanted to practice. Based on that, I recently laughed when I read a satirical view of representing insurance companies by a writer who has since passed away. In my opinion, his tongue in cheek view of such legal representation pretty much sums it up:
It is an honorable calling that you have chosen. Some of you will soon be defending poor, helpless insurance companies who are constantly being sued by greedy, vicious widows and orphans trying to collect on their policies. Others will work tirelessly to protect frightened, beleaguered oil companies from being attacked by depraved consumer groups. [Buchwald Commencement address, Tulane University School of Law}

And for our pic o’ day on this Monday:

IMG_0042

 

A New Helmet of Technology

While watching the Super Bowl on Sunday night, the announcers told us that one player was being helped to the sidelines and then to the locker room because of “concussion-like symptoms”. Then, they showed the replay of a helmet-to-helmet hit that showed the players head being struck.

Currently the NFL has a concussion spotter and  doctors and neuro-consultants on the sideline who ask initial basic questions of a player suspected of a concussion such as: What quarter is it? Who scored last? Do you have a headache, Dizziness or NauseaWhat month is it? What day of the week is it?

The doctor on the sideline might ask certain word recall that could include the player repeating back the following words:  apple, elbow, carpet, saddle and bubble.

These are just some of the  NFL protocols in dealing with a player suspected of a concussion. Conversely, in my law practice I have seen just the opposite. Emergency technicians ask my client at the scene whether they were knocked unconscious. That is the extent of the screening. Relying on the worst historian of the possible medical condition… the person who is dealing with the symptoms.

In football, there’s some hope that there is new technology on the horizon to help identify concussions during the game. According to Fortune Magazine, Helmet-manufacture Riddell has produced a helmet called a SpeedFlex helmet, which relies on an InSite Impact Response System

It’s being tested at some Division-1 programs like Arkansas. Among other features, the helmet disperses energy at the point of impact to minimize damage and can send a signal through state-of-the-art  software, to personnel on the sideline regarding certain hits and impacts.  if an impact falls beyond a certain safe range that has been predetermined, the helmet alerts coaches wirelessly through the helmet’s software.

Attention to this problem has brought research and progress; and more importantly awareness to the issue of concussions. As a lawyer, I am glad that football has now helped to bring some education to juries regarding symptoms of concussion and the severity of a concussion that might occur in car crashes.

In the past, I had to listen to one defense doctor describe a concussion as no big deal because it was just getting your bell rung. Thankfully, I don’t think that such testimony will even be considered by a jury.

And for pic o’ day, I am posting a cartoon. The opposite of bulls running must be bulls telling jokes!

punning

Satisfaction Guaranteed

Retail chain Montgomery Ward was the first company in the United States to advertise “satisfaction guaranteed, or your money back”. Founder Aaron Montgomery Ward came up with that slogan in 1874, after he decided to provide “city” goods to country customers who were unable to drive in to make purchases. So, he conceived the idea to sell through a dry goods mail-order “come to you” business.

Ward faced great obstacles including the loss of his first inventory during the Great Chicago Fire; as well as facing local retailer competition, who would go around and burn his catalogs. Despite such actions, he was successful because the core idea of his business met a need.

The history of his business shows that it continued to grow throughout his lifetime in that he ran the business for 41 years until he died. (more of the story here) In reading the history, I was most fascinated by the fact that his catalog became known as the “Wish Book” that had grown to 10,000 items in the first year. Another reason why, despite competition from companies like Sears, he still stayed the course with his success.

In the world of rainmaking for business, I often hear that you need to have your elevator speech. It allows you to tell someone what you do during an elevator ride (or 10 seconds) that serves as your sales pitch for business.

I have never been too excited about the sales pitch idea. I have often thought about what answer to give, when I am asked what sets our law firm apart from other law firms. That is when I think back to an idea that met a need an idea that was not original.

It was the end of the day during a normal workday at the law firm, in 1989. I had met with several new and existing clients that day and I was exhausted. Recounting the story, it was the first time that Dennis Lanier had ever met me. He was doing some investigation for my partner then, and had stopped into my office.

He says that he found me a bit slumped in my chair with the sleeves of my white shirt rolled up near my elbows. He told me that he knew of an idea in signing up new cases. It would make it easier for new clients. He could go to a new client’s house to sign them up, when they could not come in to see me. He had gotten the idea from a solo practitioner and had helped him by doing that very sign-up method.  Soon, we were advertising the idea that “we will come to you”.

Since that time, I have heard other firms advertise that concept. For us, we still “will come to you”. In a way, it was our “Wish Book” idea.

DID YOU KNOW that according to Gambler’s Digest, an estimated $1 million is lost at the race track each year, by people who lose or carelessly throw away winning tickets?

And for pic o’ day… this is bag o’ cat:

bag of cat

A Trial Report

     Let me tell you the story about my jury trial last week. Usually, I don’t mention trial results because the bar, rightfully so; wants lawyers to always include disclaimers that each case is different and no result means a guarantee for another case. This result shows why each case is different.

     Kim Raab and I showed up to Richmond Circuit Court last week for a trial on a rear-end impact. Admittedly, it was a low impact case. In fact, the defense had blown up a picture of our car that was two-foot by three-foot big. Get the picture? The question was whether we could prove that our client’s upcoming back surgery resulted from this impact.

     The jury was instructed that the defendant was only responsible for the injuries (harms) that she had caused. An aggravation of a preexisting injury meant that the defendant could be responsible for only the aggravation.

     The first day of trial (Thursday), the judge kept going until about 8:45 p.m. The jury was escorted to their cars. I had packed up my things and was headed to my car. (I am about to digress!) When I got there… I had a flat tire. I said to myself, “Self, seriously?”. I looked around and realized that no one was in the garage. Plus, you had to basically drive a special way to get out of the lot. No AAA wrecker would be able to get to me.

     I know, you are wondering if I changed the tire myself. Well, I must be honest… No. My excuse is that it takes some kind of special tool. The reality is…well, you know the reality. So, I drove very slowly to a nearby hotel and got the tire changed. Now, back to the trial story! Isn’t that what they call “part and parcel”?

     After all the evidence was in. After all closings were done and jury instructions were read to the jury. They retired to deliberate and I went to sit down outside the courtroom, and wait.

     After about ninety minutes, I heard the buzzer and thought that we had a jury verdict. Then, the bailiff said that the jury had sent out questions and we were to go to the judge’s chambers. (office). The judge then read from a yellow piece of paper that the jury had sent out. The paper had a question that indicated that a juror had spoken to someone about the case that was not part of the jury. This, against the judge’s specific instructions.

     Since this is becoming an epistle, let me cut to the end. When the judge called the jury out to inquire about the question, he concluded that a juror had potentially not followed his instructions. The judge declared a mistrial. That means… we have to reset it for trial and try it all over again in front of a new jury. Mistrial… it is the second worst word that I could hear. Well, maybe the third. Those words? The word “defense” in front of verdict; and the word “Denied” on a judge’s ruling of importance.

     A trial report with nothing to report. No result. Only part… no parcel.

     Pic o’ day reminds that some things just don’t make sense:

turning

Philip Corboy Impact

     At 3:30 am on June 12, 2012, Philip Corboy passed away at his Chicago residence, with  his wife by his side. He was 87 years old.

I knew of him as a legend in personal injury law, even before I attended law school. I tried to read anything that he would write or was written about him, because he was known as one of the great trial lawyers.

In Illinois, he successfully worked to get laws passed that  banned smoking in elevators. Nationally, he had impact when he caused the drug industry to adopt tamper-resistant packaging; as a result of his representation of families relating to the Tylenol poisoning cases in 1982.

On a personal level to lawyers, I remember that he wrote that he would never hire a lawyer who wore a toupee, because he believed that juries would consciously or unconsciously believe that the lawyer was hiding something.

In a “Super Lawyer” publication article, a former associate at his firm said that he required all lawyers at the Firm to clear their desks at the end of the day. He believed that it kept them more organized. Many former associates indicate that they have maintained that practice through the years.

The ABA Journal has quoted Illinois Appellate Judge Terrance Levin, former Corboy clerk in the 80’s, as calling Corboy the “Jack Nicklaus of lawyers”.

If you google his name,  you will see many accomplishments. Loyola University named its Law Building after him.  In 2002, Chicago Magazine compiled a “Tough Lawyer” list and attributed that quality to him. They said that he was the “type of lawyer that you did not want to see in the Courtroom… unless he was on your side”.

His Legacy is one of great influence. The Firm website lists many of his accomplishments. It also adds that:

When asked about his legacy, Phil said “personal injury trial lawyers are in the rare position of being able to level the playing field to help people in the war against organized money: insurance companies, corporations, healthcare providers, common carriers, manufacturers, cities, states and government.”

For pic o’ day, I felt it worthwhile to post a picture that makes me smile,  but one that also ties in to the toughness attributed to this great lawyer.

Slip and Fall Caution

 

This weekend, I drove over to my parents’ house, to pick them up for Saturday lunch. I parked in the road, right up against their yard.

As we left their house and walked toward the car, we walked down the slight incline of the yard. I reminded both of them to walk very carefully because of the hill. We even were looking down at the grass, because they had just had it seeded and aerated. One area  was was a bit bald (yes, I don’t like using that… even in describing grass) and we all wanted to make sure that we steered clear of it. It had grass seed all in and around it.

     As I closed both passenger car doors, I began to step backwards. I was looking down to my left to make sure that I didn’t specifically step into that patch. Within an instant, I was down on the ground. Even with the care that I was taking, I still fell and scratched myself up a bit. All of a sudden it happened so fast and it happened to me.

     This past Friday, the Firm settled a case for a significant amount, relating to a fall near a boating dock.  When the client first fell, the rest of the family laughed because of the awkwardness of the fall. Very quickly, it became very clear that this was no simple fall and that our soon to be client was seriously hurt.

     Within the last couple of weeks, the firm has undertaken representation, with significant injuries; from slip, trip and falls. Even  family members have fallen and others have come very close.  I thought I’d just jot some notes down for the blog.

     The government’s Center for Disease Control (CDC) state over one million Americans suffer slip, trip and fall each year and as many as 17,000 in the U.S. die annually from these injuries. It is the #2 leading cause of injury.

     The National Resource on Aging and Injury (NRCAL.org) estimates that every 35 minutes, an older adult dies as a result of a fall. The Research Institute, using the Government’s Bureau of Labor statistics, records that slip and fall injuries are the most disabling in the restaurant industry. In that same study, it was estimated that 104 million workdays are lost per year, from such injuries.

     The National Floor Safety Institute breaks down reports of slip and fall accidents in the following pie chart:

 

      I don’t want to make this blog all about statistics. The University of Florida has a good site (here) on how to prevent injuries from slips, trips and falls.

     The site reminds of the importance of wearing the correct shoes, that include fitting and traction. Proper housekeeping can help reduce falls in the home.

     Paying attention and not being distracted; or holding on to the railings of steps all are logical reminders. One last mini-list in the article was learning how to fall.

     1. Tuck your chin in, turn your head and throw an arm up. It’s better to land on an arm than your head;  2. While falling, twist or roll your body to your side.  Better to land on your buttocks and side than your back;  3. Keep your wrists, elbows and knees bent and don’t try to break your fall with your hands or elbows. Try to spread the impact of the fall across as many square inches of your body as possible.

     An old TV show about police day-to day activities was called “Hill Street Blues”. Every show would begin with the morning roll call of the police precinct. At the end of announcements, Sergeant Esterhause would pause and then say, “Hey, let’s be careful out there”.  For all of us… a good reminder.       

      And Pic o’ day is a reminder about helping each other 🙂

 

 

StopLight Camera Help

Two years ago, I was handling a case best described as “he said-she said”. It was my client’s word versus the defendant as to who had the green light. My client was adamant that the other driver had ignored the red light, but we were getting nowhere until the depositions.

When I had filed suit, I had also subpoenaed all records and notes of the officer and also of traffic engineering. Prior to suit, I had only received the accident report. Sometime during litigation, I received an envelope that included a disc. As they say when something important occurs…. “Lo and behold”, on the disc was footage from the red light cameras.

The deposition of the defendant went something like this. “Let me show you a picture from the scene of the crash”. Defense attorney piped in, “Objection, crash is inflammatory”. (me just shaking my head).

The defendant driver looked at the photos and mumbled something not audible. I said, “you’ll have to speak up so the court reporter can transcribe your testimony”. The defendant repeated, “It looks like it”.

I continued, “And is that your car going through the intersection, right before it crashed into my client’s Toyota?”. He stared long and hard, Yes”.  The questioning continued, “And would you look closely at the light right above your car and tell me the color of the stop light facing you?”.

I think you know where I’m headed with this. Yep, the defendant had to admit that his light was red. I was thankful that there was a camera on that “red-light”. The deposition ended shortly after that.  As the defense attorney left my conference room,  he told me that he’d call soon. He did… we settled.

I remembered that story when I saw another stoplight camera story from Florida. A rancher  lost 12 of his cattle when they were stolen from a pasture. It was a major financial hit because of the future benefit from the cattle. As he said, “a whole lifetime of work goes right down the drain”.

He reported the stolen “property” but never expected to recover them, because three years earlier, 30 cattle were stolen from another pasture and never seen again. Police from Polk County surprised him with a call. The thieves were seen on a traffic camera with the cattle hitched to a trailer.

Unfortunately, the cattle were sold before they could be recovered, but the thieves were apprehended and the cattle owner has a possibility of receiving restitution compensation; as part of their conviction and sentencing. All because of the cameras on the stoplights.

The next time you look up at a stoplight, check to see if there is a camera peeking down at you. Someday, you might be thankful for that eye in the sky.

OK, for pic o day, I thought I’d ask the question, “when is a good time to stop?”

Winning But Losing Verdict

Sometimes at dinner or a reception, someone will ask me if I am working on any exciting cases. Even as I typed that last sentence, I wondered how to respond, and that’s usually what happens when I’m asked that question.

Clients’ secrets and confidences normally put some restriction on what I can say. But, the truth is, I usually am working on “some exciting cases”.  In my mind, I define that as unusual and challenging.

The restricti0n on discussion is waived a bit, if I have filed suit. It’s odd though; I never describe a jury trial case. Maybe that’s because I’m not actually working on those right then.. Plus, my mind works like an old number 9 wash tub, which makes me forget details of  past cases, after I don’t need to know them  … first you fill it up and then you empty it when done.

So, while thinking about cases, and number 9 wash tubs, I sorta traveled down memory lane and did think about some past trials. One that specifically came to mind was the one that I always describe as “the one I won but lost”.

I had been practicing law for less than a year. Have you ever heard someone say that they “need a young lawyer who is willing to fight for me but won’t cost a lot of money”. Yep, that was me. Especially the money part; because I did not have that many cases to work on. Self-employed with more emphasis on self.

So, one day, a boy that had just enlisted in the military came to see me. He told me the story about a Navy chief  that had gotten drunk and beaten him up. He wanted me to sue the chief. I know, I should have stopped there. But a consultation only, doesn’t make for a  blog story about winning and losing.

I told him that I would take the case. I don’t even know if I understood the difference between negligence and intentional tort. The easiest way to describe that is that intentional means, NO INSURANCE is paying for the damages. That chief meant to hurt that new enlistee. Oh yes, they had both been drinking at the same place too.

I filed suit for civil damages relating to assault. The chief hired an attorney and never made an offer. That was OK, because I was ready to go to trial.

We put on our case. I cross-examined  the defendant. The jury seemed to be listening attentively; Although, while the trial was going on, I did notice that my client probably weighed 80-100 lbs. more than the defendant. That detail had previously escaped me. I just kept saying to myself…. assault has nothing to do with weight. Plus, my minister used to say, “the  freedom for your fist stops where my nose begins”.

I introduced my client’s hospital bill through him and after all the testimony, the jury got the case in about 2 hours. That included picking the jury and the Judge’s instructions.

The jury was out about 40 minutes. They came back with the verdict form in their hands and the judge asked the foreman to stand and read the verdict. “We the jury, find in favor of the plaintiff”.

My heart took a bit of a jump because I knew my client had won. The foreman went on to say, ” and award damages in the amount of $1″. I think I noticed the Judge fight a smile back.

The Judge then thanked the jury for their service and excused them. I walked my client out of the courtroom and into the hallway. I tried to give him some “glass half full” by saying that at least the jury had believed him.

He thanked me for “going to the mat for him”.  At the time,  humor was not proper, but  I thought , “look, I’ll waive my 1/3 attorney fee. You can keep the whole dollar”. Taking that case to trial made me realize that I was really a “glass half fool”.

Now, pic o’ day. It might be how I looked when the jury said “one dollar”.

Performance Damages

My six-year-old niece had the whole family excited about her upcoming performance. She had been practicing for weeks. She’s one that embraces performances in front of people. Last week, some of the family even traveled a couple of hours for the promised excitement.

Soon, word rippled down the family grapevine; She had fallen and had scraped her knee and wouldn’t be able to perform. All that practice and excitement now led to all of us feeling bad for her.

I’m sure she felt the knee scrape but the true “wound” was the hurt of disappointment. As for the family, we know that she will face life’s bumps and bruises, but you just wish there was a way to help her avoid them.

Early in the week, I was returning a phone call to an adjuster. I had mailed a settlement package about 30 days earlier; The package included pictures of my client’s car; her medical bills and records, and my client’s description of how the accident made her feel.

My client is almost 80 years old. She said what many of my clients tell me,”I’ve never been through something like this”. When we were discussing the fair market value of what her claim should settle for, I specifically wanted to know how she was doing from injuries, and anything else that she could tell me, when describing how this crash had effected her.

Her desciption about her injuries and recovery coincided with her medical records. She initially had pain and muscle spasms and she felt that the doctors and physical therapist had really helped. Now, she told me that “I feel much better”.

My client then went on to tell me what really had bothered her. At the scene of the crash, she was pretty shook up. The person that hit her had never said he was sorry or even checked on her. She still had vivid memories of how the accident “had scared her and how it happened so fast”.

Within a couple of days from the crash, the adjuster called her and wanted to take a recorded statement from her. She’d never had to do one of those. She was proud of the fact that she got around by driving herself and really didn’t like it when she was without a car. Fortunately, they finally got it fixed and got it back to her. She told me that she felt that she needed to “be more careful” while driving.

I finally got the insurance adjuster on the phone. He went on to recite that they knew that their insured was at fault. (Of course, he had pled guilty of failing to yield at his traffic hearing). The adjuster said that he had reviewed the records, noticed that my client had gotten better and that they were willing to pay her medical bills and throw on “a little bit more to settle it”.

The law recognizes several forms of damages. Medical bills is only one form of damage. The adjuster was acting like most adjusters and just processing. He probably had put the details of the accident in his company’s software package and the computer had told him a range of what to pay. That range didn’t recognize the fear of being in the crash; the worry of not getting better; or what it felt like to lose a bit of independence in not having your car to drive.

My niece did get hurt from her fall. But, her real loss was not being able to perform after all that practice and the anticipation build-up to that night.

Only part of the injuries from a car accident are from the physical hurt. Many Insurance adjusters that I talk to, try to only focus on medical bills and treatment. To me, it’s really the effects of the crash. Just like the performance damages of not performing, for my niece. And no, my client’s claim is not going to settle “for a little above her medical bills”. When I gave my reasons to the adjuster,  he said that “he and his supervisor will take another look at it”.

In light of that, I thought that pic o’ day should be about responsibility:

Getting Ready for a Verdict

     I still get butterflies in my stomach when I am waiting for the jury verdict. Usually, I am sitting outside the courtroom on some hard wooden bench, pretending to work on my iPad or checking messages on my phone. I am sitting down the hall from the Courtroom.

     At some point, I’ll hear a voice that almost sounds like my subconscious. “The verdict is in.”  I’ll pick myself up and head back to the Courtroom. In that brief moment, I’m not sure if I am enjoying the moment or if the anticipation is a form of mental torture.

     Once I get back to counsel table, the baliff  says “all rise” and the Judge comes back to the bench.  “Are you ready for the jury to read its verdict?” After nodding, the Judge then calls the jury back from the jury room.

     As they enter the courtroom in single file, they re-take their same seats in the jury box. I watch their faces, trying to get a clue about the verdict. At the same time, I watch to see who will be holding the paper that indicates the verdict. Usually, I have tried to predict who will be the jury foreman; And, sometimes, that might give me a clue about the result.

     Last week, two lawyers involved in a Hampton criminal jury trial were spared some of the feeling of “butterflies”. In a rare circumstance, the Judge called the prosecutor and defense attorney to his chambers. There, they both learned that the jury had found the defendant guilty of second-degree murder.

     A reporter covering the trial for the Daily Press, did not know about the interaction in chambers. He did find it strange that the prosecuting attorney appeared to be in a good mood before the jury had returned. The defense attorney and defendant seemed very dejected. 

     When the jury came in, he saw the defendant and the defense attorney fail to stand. Throughout the trial, every time the jury had returned to the jury box, they had always stood; which is common courtesy.

   The reporter later learned that the parties had already been informed of the verdict. In a handwritten note to the Judge, the reporter objected to the attorneys learning about the verdict, before the general public. The judge told the reporter that “I showed them the form without comment, and there was no discussion about it”.

     The news article noted that some attorneys had speculated that the Judge had shown it to the attorneys, to make sure that there was no defect in the verdict form. Or, so that they could potentially move to sentencing without a break.

     Based on the Judge’s response to the newspaper reporter, I don’t think that either of those speculations could be accurate. It seems to me that those would require a bit of communication between the lawyers and Judge.

     When a verdict is about to be read, usually a couple of deputies are in the courtroom, and they take positions strategically around the jury box. 

     Since I only handle civil matters, perhaps judges do take a little bit different approach regarding the reading of the verdict. In civil cases, the Judge does not see the verdict until the foreman has brought it into the Courtroom.

     I’ve probably read too many Grisham novels, but I would think that a defendant or defendant’s family might act differently, if they knew that the jury was already going to say “guilty”, before they even got into the Courtroom.    Maybe I should include that in my first novel!

Now, pic o’ day

       

 

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