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23 – Tom Crosley – TBIs: An invisible, yet very real injury

In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with accomplished trial lawyer and national speaker, Tom Crosley, who has been incredibly successful in trying cases involving Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs).

Tom’s start in TBI-specialized cases began with a case involving a plumber who had a neck and shoulder injury with seemingly normal readings on his CT and MRI scans. The more he worked on the case, the more he found out through his client’s wife that his client just wasn’t the same as before the incident. It was when the defense lawyer was taking the plaintiff’s deposition that Tom realized his client likely had a TBI. All the things a plaintiff’s attorney cringes at in a depo were happening, from his client flying off the handle at the defense attorney, to forgetting his kid’s birthdays. Basically, all the things you think are going to be bad for your case. By the end of the deposition, Tom went from thinking this was a neck and shoulder injury case worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to thinking this could be a TBI case more than likely worth millions.

This sent Tom off to learn as much as he possibly could about TBIs, all in the face of having normal scan results, which back then were seen more as a barrier to proving TBI cases. His research inevitably led him to finding a case study where war veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan were not displaying outward signs of TBIs, nor were their CT or MRI scans showing any abnormalities, but were found to have TBIs through additional testing. Not to give the whole story away, but Tom tracked down the lead researcher, his client was tested and found to have a mild TBI, the case was won with a verdict over 20X the initial offer given pre-trial, and Tom’s specialty for TBI cases had begun.

Since then Tom attributes his ability to go from never having tried a TBI case to now being one of the country’s top TBI lawyers, to his penchant for reading medical literature and going to legal and medical conferences in order to gain knowledge of the cutting-edge science happening with TBIs. He also admits it’s not all brain science with TBI cases, but it also includes some very human nature elements sometimes overlooked. Things like before-and-after witnesses who can relay their own experiences with a plaintiff in a meaningful and impactful way, having nothing to gain from doing so. This puts the decision on the jury to conclude that this invisible injury (which many defense lawyers will proclaim isn’t real if it can’t be seen) either has a lot of people lying about it for the benefit of the plaintiff, or there is something very real about it given those who have first-hand accounts of seeing the plaintiff’s evolution from pre-injury to their current state. Michael shares his own firm’s experience about the timing of getting other witnesses involved in TBI cases and the hard lessons that experience has brought with it.

Next, Michael explores how Tom transitioned from having success with just one TBI case to building up the number of TBI specific cases to become successful. To which Tom explains that the sequence of your evidence at trial makes a big difference on the outcome of the trial and shares a perfect example based on his experience of the order where he has found the most success over time. Tom discusses the patterns which tend to work for him, although his process is nothing close to being cookie-cutter, and shares “just like no two snowflakes are alike, no two brain injury cases are alike.”

Michael and Tom both reference a shocking study which shows upwards of 56% of TBIs are misdiagnosed or go undiagnosed completely. Tom digs in and goes over some of the reasons WHY they get missed, starting with the most obvious in a traumatic medical situation where other orthopedic injuries tend to get the attention; i.e., someone goes to the ER with a bone sticking out of their leg and a concussion – the doctors focus on the bone first. Another challenge Tom points out is while a TBI is an invisible injury, their symptoms can also be described as things not brain injury related, such as age, depression, PTSD, psychiatric history, which also cause symptoms that mirror those of a TBI. So, the challenge becomes, in these cases, to figure out how those symptoms are related to brain damage and not related to something else. He goes on to discuss the lack of training most physicians receive on what to do with concussion patients, which adds another layer of complexity to many TBI cases.

Michael asks the question on all trial lawyers’ minds who work on TBI cases, and that is “what are some of the things that we should be doing when we get hired on these cases early in order to have the best possible chance of winning the case?” Tom explains the number one piece of advice when trial lawyers run into these types of cases is that as long as the plaintiff/patient is experiencing symptoms, they need to be getting documented in the medical records. You don’t want to go to trial with a gap in records where these life-changing symptoms are occurring, which Michael also points out is likely no different than the advice that you would give to a friend or a family member.

Michael and Tom explore several other nuances of TBI cases; but in the end, Tom explains, we are painting a portrait of a person whose life has been changed forever. Similar to a wrongful death case where the person who existed before is no longer; helping a jury understand the impact a TBI has on a person, their family, and the future and how this person no longer exists as they did before is EXACTLY what can turn a $100k case into a $16M case.

About Tom Crosley

Tom Crosley received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas in 1988, and his law degree from the University of Houston in 1992. He was admitted to the bar in the State of Texas in 1992 and is also admitted to practice in the United States District Courts for the Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western Districts of Texas, as well as the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Prior to forming the Crosley Law Firm, P.C. in 2005, he was a partner with Branton & Hall, P.C. in San Antonio, where he worked for ten years. He began his legal career in Houston as an associate at Brown McCarroll, LLP.

Mr. Crosley is “AV” rated by Martindale-Hubbell, and is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and is board certified as a Civil Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is a past president of the San Antonio Trial Lawyers Association in 2002. In 2001, he served under appointment by the Bexar County Commissioners Court to the Advisory Board for the Bexar County Dispute Resolution Center and he served in that position until 2006. He is a member of numerous legal organizations, including the American Association for Justice. He has been an active member of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association (Director, 2005-present, Advocates Director, 1999-2001), the San Antonio Trial Lawyers Association (Director, 2000-2001, President, 2002), the American Board of Trial Advocates, San Antonio Chapter (inducted 2004, Secretary, 2014, Treasurer, 2014, Vice President 2015, President Elect 2016, and President 2017), the American Bar Association, the Texas Young Lawyers Association (Director, 1997-2001), the San Antonio Bar Association (President-Elect, 2018-2019, Vice President, 2017-2018, Secretary, 2016-2017, Treasurer, 2015-2016, Director, 2004-2006 and 2013-2016), the San Antonio Young Lawyers Association (Director, 1997-2001, Vice President, 2000) and the American Inns of Court. Mr. Crosley is a Life Fellow of the Texas and San Antonio Bar Foundation and is a member in good standing of the State Bar of Texas. Mr. Crosley has tried 50 cases as first-chair trial counsel, nearly all of them from the plaintiff’s side of the docket.

Mr. Crosley frequently serves as an author and speaker at legal seminars, usually on topics related to personal injury trial law. Mr. Crosley has been selected as a Texas Super Lawyer each year since 2004 and has been named as one of the Top 50 Lawyers in Central and West Texas by that publication for the last several years.

Mr. Crosley’s docket of cases includes personal injury and wrongful death cases arising from automobile and trucking accidents, defective products, medical malpractice, and related areas. In 2006 ($28,000,000), 2010 ($16,000,000), and 2016 ($11,485,000)

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22 – Paul Byrd – Understanding Conservative Jurors

In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with author, speaker, and seasoned trial lawyer, Paul Byrd from Arkansas for a deep dive into the minds of conservatives and what we can do to better communicate with them on juries. Kicking things right off, Michael and Paul agree that the likelihood of having a jury panel made up of only liberals is not only low, but likely not preferential either as Paul points out and sets the tone for the conversation.

As a self-proclaimed “Republican trial lawyer,” Paul talks about the juxtaposition of not being felt trusted in trial lawyer arenas because he is a Republican, while also not feeling trusted in Republican arenas because he is a trial lawyer. This is something he never really understood in terms of why they didn’t seem to fit together as he feels strongly there are many values that cross over between the two and has led to his study of conservatism in the courtroom.

Like many trial lawyers, Paul’s desire to reach jurors, and to reach voters who wanted to vote in the courtroom forum, has always been met with some resistance from those who are fiercely independent. Paul’s in-depth understanding of the interesting history of the Scotch/Irish in America, and how it paved the way for conservative thinking, helps to lay the foundation of working with conservatives in the courtroom. When asked how trial lawyers might learn from and relate to people who may have a more conservative value system than themselves, Paul suggests talking to experts in the field as well as using solid focus groups. Michael adds, from his own experience, that they can also take an introspective approach and work on themselves, learning to talk to people, listen nonjudgmentally,  and understand that conservatives are still good people by and large. In other words, take the time to listen to people, even if it’s not what you want to hear, in order to gain perspective.

In this day and age, it is hard NOT to bring up the topic of social media, given the politically charged climate on social platforms, to which Paul brings up a great point that although they tell jurors not to look on social media to find lawyers involved, they commonly still do. He goes on to describe how people will typecast you as much as you typecast them with the posts they may find in your social accounts, so it is likely best to stay away from partisan posts in today’s world. Michael adds how he tends to avoid posting political things to his feed as some juror could potentially be immediately turned off by it regardless of which side of the issues he’s on. He also goes on to say if you can start the conversation with an open mind, you may be able to convince someone one way or the other, but if they are turned off before you begin the conversation (perhaps by seeing a politically-charged post), the likelihood of there being any movement is slim.

Paul points out how some of the biggest verdicts have come from the most conservative juries and sometimes it simply becomes a matter of helping your jury understand what the rules are. He gives a great example regarding a case which involved horseplay around a pool where a man was pushed in, broke his neck, and drowned. His focus groups were leaning one way with the understanding that the man who was pushed in was the jokester; but once the rules were laid out by way of the pool manufacturer’s safety warnings and revealing the pusher was the homeowner, the case became much easier to solidify because the group understood what they were defining as the rules.

Michael asks Paul if there are any buzz words or behaviors which can alienate a conservative jury. To which Paul expresses how it can actually work against you if you focus too much on trying to make jurors feel sorry for a client because it was a horrific injury. He goes on to say that jurors have become hardened over the years having been exposed to so much that empathy or sorrow will not carry a case alone anymore. You really have to find the rule or the “why” moment in a case of how the wrongdoer should be held responsible.

The conversation culminates in a discussion about how “non-economic damages” are viewed by jurors and the conservative spin which has likely brought us to where we are today. Paul first directs his attention to the argument regarding the caps placed on non-economic damages in some states and how some view these decisions as unfair toward particular sets of people (ex: stay at home parents) where there is no pattern of lost wages or income. He then digs deeper in a couple of examples to really make you think a little harder about what’s “real” to those who have been catastrophically injured while using plain English to cut through partisan lines and strike the core of most every human. It’s truly fascinating how Paul thinks about these things and we were glad he was willing to share his thoughts and insights with us and the rest of the Trial Lawyer Nation.

Background on Paul Byrd

Paul Byrd has been representing deserving injured victims for almost 30 years.   After clerking for a trial court, Paul went into private practice in 1988. Paul’s practice has focused on civil litigation with an emphasis on representing consumers in product liability actions, both individually and in Mass Tort Litigation. He is the Immediate Past Chair of the AAJ Product Liability Section and on the Board of Governors of AAJ.   He has spoken on “How to Talk to Conservatives” all over the United States and has a current video on the topic published by Trial Guides.

In November of 2000, he was featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal due to his work in the case of Brownlee/Whitaker vs. Cooper Tire and Rubber Company.  He also appeared in a Dateline NBC documentary regarding the same case in January of 2001.

Paul has also represented farmers in agricultural litigation regarding genetically modified crop contamination that had global as well as national and local implications.

Paul is a past President of the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association. His message to his fellow members as President was “You went to law school to make a difference!”.

In 2012, Paul was a co-recipient of the Outstanding Trial Lawyer of the Year Award from the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association.

He is the managing member of the Little Rock, Arkansas office of Paul Byrd Law Firm, PLLC.

He has an “AV” rating in the Martindale-Hubble Legal Directory, has been recognized by the Mid-South Super Lawyers, and is also a life member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.

Affiliations

  • Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association
  • American Association for Justice
  • American Bar Association
  • Arkansas Bar Association
  • Pulaski County Bar Association
  • St. Thomas More Society

21 – Sonia Rodriguez – Winning (or Losing) a Case in Deposition

With overwhelmingly positive feedback from our listeners, TLN Table Talk is back again! This time featuring fellow partner at Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock, Sonia Rodriguez, for a discussion mainly focused on how to win (or lose) a case in deposition.

Michael is quick to note that many cases tend to settle before going to trial, making depositions an integral part of the process. Oftentimes it comes down to knowing the documents better than the defense attorneys while also knowing the right documents to order, which in many cases the defense may not have. It can also come down to a witness’s ability to know and articulate the truth in a deposition, which is frequently a direct reflection on those who have helped to prepare the witness (defense or plaintiff).

So how do Michael and Sonia prepare for depositions? Sonia explains her strategy of always looking back on the jury charge to see what exactly she is trying to gain from a witness, scour the defense record from production to find nuggets of useful information, dig into the foot notes, fine print, and back of pages to find what others might miss. She has also found social media to be useful to learn as much as you can on the person being deposed including who their friends and other contacts are, companies they’ve worked for, and digging in to find info on company manuals or other ways to authenticate them as an authority coming from a witness. Michael, on the other hand, points out the importance of networking and collaborating with other plaintiff’s lawyers as “we’re good at getting things and sharing information” such as prior admissions, reports, or testimony. There’s likely nothing more embarrassing for a witness, especially paid ones, than to be cross-examined with contradictory testimony they gave in the past. Sonia, who recently had a deposition with a defense doctor, shares how his past testimony was the exact opposite of what he was testifying to in her case, which obviously played to her favor.

When it comes to the right length of a deposition, Sonia shares her wish to someday be able to take a short depo, but currently has her attention to detail and thoroughness to “blame” for the style of her depositions, one which sometimes drives opposing counsel mad. She tends to feel unsatisfied leaving a depo if she hasn’t covered a lot of ground, knowing the jury will likely not hear most of it. She has also found that many times when she’s taking a deposition, she’s not just doing a trial depo of a witness, but also trying to prepare in advance for a summary judgement response and how they can also be helpful to lay the ground work for what she might need from another witness. In contrast, Michael prides himself on short but thorough depositions stating how it really depends on the witness and subject matter. He also admits the danger of taking shorter depositions in relation to “having a beginner’s mind” vs. the “curse of knowledge” where you might already know something, the defense already knows it, and the defense witness knows it, but the jury does not, and could lead to talking over the jury with jargon they might not understand. Both agree 100% no matter how you approach a deposition, you need to be actively engaged in listening to the responses and not just running down questions on an outline where you would likely miss the truly important parts of what the witness is saying, or not saying, which could make your case.

The conversation shifts to a lively debate heard in many firms of weighing the idea of “going for the kill” in the deposition vs. saving things for trial when you know the witness will be there in person. With different experiences from both Sonia and Michael prior to them partnering, each brings a unique perspective to the table from their mentors as well as from their personal experiences. Of course they agree these tactics both have their place, but Michael also brings up the point how oftentimes with expert witnesses, if they don’t know something at a deposition, they tend to come to trial more prepared with a response.

Michael and Sonia jam pack the second half of their discussion with everything from preparing their own clients for deposition, video-taping depositions, deposing the other side’s experts, guiding medical experts to slow down their testimony while not losing the jury with industry terminology, and exceptions to all of the above.

Trial Lawyer Nation plans to do more “Table Talks” in the future, as this podcast has always been about inclusive learning for all in our industry, which includes learning from each other! Please keep submitting your questions, comments, and topic suggestions to podcast@triallawyernation.com; and be sure to like, share, and subscribe to get the latest from the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast!

Find out more about Michael Cowen here.

Find out more about Sonia Rodriguez here.

20 – Alexander Begum – A Practice Built by The Law Giant

In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with founding shareholder of the Begum Law Group LLC, Alexander Begum, who has offices in San Antonio, Brownsville, Laredo and McAllen. Alex admits early on in his conversation with Michael that he didn’t originally know he wanted to be a lawyer. He didn’t have any immediate connections to the law field, and friends and family members initially forced him to study for his MBA as a fallback. A blessing in disguise, this actually helped him to bring a business perspective to the field of law.

From early on, Alex found himself valuable by leveraging his business and finance education. He turned down a $75k/yr position at a defense firm, having his sights on something better, only to take 4 years to break the $100k mark. He first started with just about any case he could bring in the door from child custody to divorce to criminal and corporate, but eventually transitioned to personal injury when he got a big “break” from an owner of a managing agency who saw him in the courtroom as a defense lawyer who won a settlement against the plaintiff through a counterclaim. They liked what they saw so much they essentially fired another firm they had been working with and sent all their car wreck defense cases to his office. Listening to him tell the story is reminiscent of something from the movies with a van full of case files, in varying stages of pre-lit and litigation, being dropped at their front doorstep. Jumping right into the cases, it didn’t take long for him see the limitless potential in the personal injury world. After having been exposed to several practice areas of law and through the process of elimination, Alex landed on plaintiff personal injury. The fact that his father was an immigrant further solidified his decision to fight for the small guy, beat all odds, and led him into representing people who had been victimized in some way.

The conversation fast-forwards and switches to a more “tactical” view of trial strategy involving the practice of NOT including medical bills in a trial. The studies that Michael and Alex have both reviewed are striking, but the actual implementation of this in Alex’s practice has proven to be successful with 6 and 7-figure verdicts on cases – some of which have $4k of medical bills! The explanation from Alex on why he thinks this practice works is extremely insightful to say the least and shows that litigation without medical bills may become the standard practice by necessity. Michael points out that, ironically, he believes the industry is going to end up with bigger recoveries. They also talk through the effects the different strategies have on juries in awarding damages and how one of the tactics can anchor down the numbers, whereas the other can allow jurors to think about the true impact of what’s been taken from a client and their family.

Alex shares some of his insights on how he balances the administration of running his firm and keeping cases on track with trying cases himself. He shares everything from the software they use to his endless checklists, which Michael is able to draw a parallel to from a brief past in aviation where pilots are known for going through their checklists regardless of how many times they’ve flown the airplane – all in the name of quality control.

Michael asks Alex about the journey of advertising, which they both agree is “painful.” But, Alex goes on to talk about the evolution of advertising in the legal industry and the importance of dominating a niche market with examples like “The Jewish Lawyer,” “The Hammer,” or in his own case, “The Law Giant.” He talks about a significant focus group he conducted that helped him realize the overwhelming weight given toward recalling a branded nickname/persona more than any other factor in an attorney’s practice. In Alex’s view, things like trial experience, verdict history, or even the name of the attorney play very little into the public’s perspective of who to call. Some of the examples he gives of niche type tactics are tried and true when it comes to advertising on everything from billboards down to business cards.

Michael wraps up the episode by asking on behalf of all the aspiring PI lawyers listening, “How did you get to where you are?” Alex’s reply is priceless and timeless all at once: “It’s funny how the harder I work, the luckier I become.”

Background on Alexander Begum

Alexander Begum is a founding shareholder of the Begum Law Group LLC, with offices in San Antonio, Brownsville, Laredo and McAllen. Mr. Begum completed his undergraduate studies at Trinity University in San Antonio earning a double major in marketing and finance. Thereafter, he attended Harvard University in Boston where he studied finance and legal writing. Following the completion of his undergraduate studies, Alex acquired a Juris Doctor and a Masters of Business Administration with a concentration in finance from Texas Tech University.

After graduating law school, Alex did not cease in his quest for learning and improving his skills. In 2010 Mr. Begum was chosen to be among the elite few who are accepted into the Trial Lawyers College. This intense program is intended to push each individual student toward a greater understanding of themselves and others. Every attorney that graduates from the Trial Lawyers College walks away knowing they have improved not only their skills as attorneys but have improved their “personhood” as well. Attending such a program is not an easy task. Alexander Begum made the choice to be away from his home, family and law practice to devote the time to attend and graduate from the Trial Lawyers College. He willingly made this sacrifice for a singular purpose. He wanted to be better able to help his clients and serve his community.

For more information on Alex Begum, visit https://www.texaslegalgroup.com/Attorneys/Alexander-Begum.shtml

 

19 – Malorie Peacock – Trial Tips: Voir Dire, Visuals, and Technology

Every month, our podcast receives questions from our listeners (which we love by the way, keep them coming) and we take the time to respond to each individually. After 8 months of being on the air, we thought it might be fun and valuable to dedicate an episode to reflect and respond to some of these questions in a new series we’re calling “TLN Table Talk.” In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, sought-after trial lawyer and fellow partner at Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock, Malorie Peacock, flips the script and puts Michael in the “hot seat” for an open discussion to answers questions from our listeners.

Malorie digs right in with a note from a listener that asks – “Knowing that we all need to try more cases to get better, and sometimes you just can’t get to trial for one reason or another, how do you practice for the big moment of going to trial?” Michael reveals how he personally prepares for each trial and his approach toward different types of cases and jurors, along with his thoughts on prepared scripts. He goes on to share outstanding insights about planning and practicing for voir dire, where you don’t know what the jury panel is going to say; and allowing the truth to be acknowledged without letting it throw you off your intended path. Interestingly enough, Michael’s use of pizza and beer to get a deeper understanding of a case, while simple in practice, can also be incredibly useful in the courtroom. Michael also opens up about his rekindled respect for inclusive voir dire with a recent example of a case that turned a $125k offer into a $1.25M verdict, seemingly built in voir dire, before any evidence was ever discussed.

From there, Malorie talks with Michael about the firm’s strategy in trying most cases in pairs and asks him why he believes it’s better. His answer is perhaps not what you might expect, and the discussion shifts toward courtroom perceptions. Michael and Malorie both agree that every perception matters: from how you dress, to how you interact with your staff, to how people see you drive away in the parking lot. The same goes for your client too! Both also agree that understanding visual communication is extremely important as a trial lawyer.

Trial technology seems to be a hot topic for our listeners with all kinds of questions around what types we use, how we utilize them, and the thoughts around why we use them (or not). Michael is quick to point out that we all need to remember the purpose of the tech and the need to tailor the tech to the case, so you don’t look too slick when the other side brings in a manila folder and a legal pad. He does recommend that if the courtroom, and your budget, allows, there are some specific pieces of technology that are far better in his opinion in helping jurors understand pieces of evidence, so long as you are comfortable with it and prepared to proceed when it doesn’t work.

Michael and Malorie close the conversation in talking through strategies on figuring out how much money to ask a jury for and how to actually ask for it, the details of which you’ll have to listen to learn. Trial Lawyer Nation plans to do more “Table Talks” in the future as this podcast has always been about inclusive learning for all in our industry, which includes learning from each other! Please keep submitting your questions, comments, and topic suggestions to podcast@triallawyernation.com; and be sure to like, share, and subscribe to get the latest from the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast!

For more information about Michael Cowen, go here.

For more information about Malorie Peacock, go here.

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