In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with Founding Partner at The Penn Law Firm, Eric Penn. To start things off, Eric describes his decision to focus on trucking cases and how it came from the simple fact that we can all relate to them. In fact, everyone (including attorneys) share the road with 18 wheelers. Eric goes on to point out that the general viewpoint of “cases never looking better than when you first work them up,” while true at times, seems to go the other way with trucking cases where they get consistently better the more you roll up your sleeves and dig into them.
Speaking of rolling up sleeves and digging in … Michael and Eric pull back the curtain on what turned out to be an $89.6M verdict for the bulk of this podcast, which in and of itself is enlightening, educational, and impactful.
The brief synopsis of the case would likely have many attorneys passing on the case from the very start considering how things looked on the surface – A mother with 3 children in the car, running errands on a Texas highway, hit a patch of black ice, loses control of their vehicle sending them through the median into oncoming traffic and is struck by an 18 wheeler, and the police report indicating that there was no fault to be placed. Michael suggests that more than 98% of personal injury attorneys in the state would likely not take on such a case and the others might even look at it and see a $1-2M settlement, which obviously wouldn’t be enough once you hear the unfortunate circumstances the victims faced moving forward. But not Eric!
Eric’s reasoning behind taking the case stemmed from getting to know the case on a deeper level, understanding that the injuries were dramatic, and having an in-depth knowledge of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (the green book) and CDL Manual’s Safety Rules that are in place to protect all of us who share the road with 18 wheelers, citing one of the chapter’s intent is literally to “prevent crashes and save lives.” One might think that this type of case would revolve around the approximate 3-second sequence of the crash itself, but Eric’s explanation of how their focus became everything but those 3 seconds really shed a light on how this type of case can quickly grow to a much more substantial and just verdict. Spoiler Alert: Eric notes that EVERY case he has come into has 100% of the time been about the company behind the truck driver and how that company operates its fleet, making them much more responsible than they may like to admit. The compassion Eric demonstrates in describing his mental process in the decision to take on a case like this is palpable.
The details surrounding this case that Michael and Eric discuss are apt to be a significant learning tool from which any attorney can stand to learn.
Background on Eric Penn
Eric T. Penn believes that in order to keep our families and communities safe, we have to hold people or corporations who choose to violate safety rules accountable for the injuries and conditions they create. That is why he has been an outspoken advocate for seriously injured people for more than seventeen (17) years. He represents people who have been permanently and seriously injured through no fault of their own.
Eric is a born and raised Texan. He is a 1998 graduate of Baylor University. He received his Juris Doctorate (J.D.) from Baylor University School of Law. He was admitted to the practice of law in Texas and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in 2001.
A Trial Lawyer’s College (TLC) graduate, Eric is a frequent lecturer on Trucking litigation throughout the country. He is a member of American Association for Justice (AAJ) Trucking Litigation section, Attorney Information Exchange Group (AIEG), Academy of Trucking Accident Attorneys (ATAA) and the Texas Trial Lawyers Association (TTLA).
For more info on Eric Penn visit:
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66 – Dorothy Clay Sims & Dr. Oregon Hunter – The Lawyer-Doctor Duo: Exposing Deceptive Defense DoctorsBy Michael Cowen — 7 days ago
In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael sits down with attorney Dorothy Clay Sims and Dr. Oregon Hunter to discuss their research on defense-paid medical witnesses. They’ll discuss how the pair became involved in this research, Dorothy’s book “Exposing Deceptive Defense Doctors,” Dr. Hunter’s published study on the subject, and take an in-depth look at Dorothy’s favorite tactics for exposing deception in defense doctors.
The episode begins with a brief overview of what Dorothy and Dr. Hunter each do and how they became involved in it. Dr. Hunter focuses on watching video tapes of defense medical exams and generating charts of everything the “expert” lied about in those statements. In his initial study, he’s sad to say they lied or misrepresented the facts 100% of the time.
Dorothy explains how she used to have a large worker’s comp practice in Florida when she noticed a pattern – 60 of her clients were found to be malingerers by a Harvard-educated, smooth talking defense doctor. He was giving them all the same test, the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory). Dorothy decided to sit down with the doctor who first created the test and found that the defense doctor was completely misrepresenting the results of the test. She even got the doctor who created the test to sign an affidavit saying, “If he was a student, I’d flunk him.”
This sparked a deep interest in the subject, and she began researching other tests to see how they’ve been manipulated to serve the interests of the defense. As her work gained more attention, she began receiving phone calls from David Ball himself telling her, “You’ve got to write a book, dammit. You’ve got to do it!” So, she complied and wrote “Exposing Deceptive Defense Doctors,”which Michael describes as “the Bible” for any case where you have a doctor on the other side.
Dorothy goes on to share some of her more shocking findings, from 40% of defense doctors lying about their degrees, to a doctor who was fired for stealing from a poor patient’s medical fund to pay for prostitutes. She also shares some creative resources she uses to find this information and implores all plaintiff attorneys listening to do their due diligence whenever there’s a doctor on the other side trying to discredit their client.
Dorothy then shares her detailed, organized method for marking up her depo notes, allowing her to go into every defense doctor deposition prepared with the pertinent information (and a record of their lies). She has now compiled 30,000 pages of information on thousands of defense doctors, which she is willing to share with any plaintiff lawyer interested.
The conversation shifts to Dr. Oregon Hunter, whose published study on the subject. He explains how if you look at the medical exams from defense doctors, they will appear at face value as an exam of a perfectly healthy person. But when he watches the video tape of the exam, all he can say is, “Oh my god.” He goes on to share countless examples of doctors who claimed they conducted a test, but either didn’t conduct the test at all or were so sloppy about it that there’s no way they could actually tell if the client was injured or not. He also shares how they’ll often use templates which contain information that has nothing to do with the person they’re examining. For example, a patient’s ankles were described as “normal,” but there was just one issue – the patient’s legs had both been amputated.
Michael then asks Dorothy, what are some other things we need to look out for when they’re “trying to pull the wool over our eyes?” Dorothy shares her experience with brain scans and the defense doctor showing slices of the scan which do not show damage, when there are other slices which show the damage much clearer. She continues with other examples of similar practices with different injuries and concludes by emphasizing the need to always be on the lookout for “false choices.” For example, the defense will say a client who had preexisting arthritis cannot have a herniated disc from the crash, when in reality you can have both.
Michael continues on this note by sharing a story of a radiologist who attempted to re-define the word “trauma” for the sake of the defense argument. After finding the book the doctor was referencing (MRI of the Brain and Spine by Scott Atlas) Michael uncovered a paragraph which states, “there is no legal or factual basis to date when a herniation happened from looking at an MRI.” After bringing this up in the deposition, he effectively ended the radiologist’s testimony career.
The episode concludes with Dorothy’s final words of advice for deposing defense doctors. She recommends numerous helpful strategies, including having the plaintiff present when the doctor calls them a liar, having your own doctor present to induce what Dr. Hunter calls “the halo effect,” and finally (and most importantly) do your research. Does the doctor say they are board certified? Look into the organization (one even certified a cat). Does their CV say anything about Harvard? Definitely look into that, as she’s found 80% of defense doctors with Harvard on their resume are lying about it. Utilizing this advice and the excellent resources mentioned in this episode will ensure that even if the defense doctor is lying through their teeth, you won’t let them get away with it.
They also discuss gaining permission to video record defense doctor exams, sociopathy in defense doctors, what “grossly normal” on a report really means, the importance of reading the literature the defense doctor cites, and so much more.
Dorothy Sims and her team combine decades of experience in medical, legal, and research fields.
On a daily basis, Dorothy consults with attorneys throughout the U.S., to provide methods of expert testimony cross-examination. If an attorney requests, Dorothy can depose experts herself. For more information about her consulting, visit the Consultations page .
Dorothy’s practice includes numerous other projects and philanthropic work. She is frequently invited to in-house seminars for lawyers and law firms on researching and cross-examining. She has given over 350 speeches internationally on medical/legal issues throughout the world and is often invited as the state keynote speaker. She has spoken in almost every state in the United States including Hawaii and Alaska. She has also been a featured speaker in Paris, France, Jaipur, India, and twice in Kyoto, Japan.
She has authored chapters in books with individuals such as David Ball and Don Keenan as well as Dr. Michael Freeman. Dorothy donates a percentage of her book profits various organizations including the American Association for Justice and the International Federation for Human Rights. Her book, “Exposing Deceptive Defense Doctors ” was a best seller for 3 years in a row and went into reprint status soon after publication, unheard of in the industry. She has also authored two children’s books for parents who are injured. The books are available for free upon request. She has also authored articles in national publications to include the Champion Magazine, Trial Magazine (The American Association for Justice Journal) most recently on the cover of the December, 2015 issue, and Brain Injury Professional.
About Dorothy Sims
Dorothy received both her undergraduate and law degree from the University of Florida; and studied international law at Oxford University. She is licensed in the state of Florida, US District Court – Northern District of Florida, US District Court and the Middle District of Florida. She has also cross examined experts in many states throughout the US.
Dorothy initially represented miners in Kentucky who were denied black lung benefits. Going down into the bowels of a mine in Eastern Kentucky, she felt vibrations as the miners “shot coal” (exploded portions of the face to loosen the coal). Despite wearing a mask, her trip left her coughing and sneezing coal dust for days; leading to a newfound respect for the dreaded pneumoconiosis suffered by miners who had spent decades in the mines.
After representing coalminers, Dorothy began representing workers who were injured and denied medical care. She co-founded the Florida Workers’ Advocates – the state’s first watchdog over the insurance industry devoted to serving injured – and eventually served as president.
For over a decade, Sims volunteered time to lobby on behalf of the injured and was the first woman to be elected Chair of the Florida Bar Worker’s Compensation Section in its 22-year history. She also served as President of the Marion County Bar Association.
While practicing law, she began to notice an alarming pattern. Forensic experts hired by the other side were reaching conclusions by (1) misrepresenting the science (2) ignoring the science (3) misrepresenting the facts and/or their examination and/or (4) testifying beyond their own training and education.
About Dr. Oregon Hunter
Dorothy’s most recent addition to her team is Dr. Oregon K. Hunter, MD – a medical doctor licensed in Florida – who currently works on cases with Dorothy and other lawyers to determine if misrepresentations are made about the science. If you provide notice to defense counsel, he can attend a deposition as a non-testifying consultant. He can remote in for mediations to explain medical issues to the defense in support of the plaintiff’s case. He watches videotapes of defense exams and provides an analysis for lead counsel explaining what the other side’s expert misrepresented. For an example of an evaluation of a case conducted by Dr. Hunter in which the expert’s exam was videotaped contact us here.
Dr. Hunter is board certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and practiced medicine in Hawaii, California and Florida. He joined Dorothy’s team in 2015 and is an invaluable asset in reviewing cases.
Dr. Hunter is also available to attend mediations by video and explain weaknesses in defense’s position. Attorneys Evan Lubell (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Dan Ramsfeld (email@example.com) can be contacted as references for Dr. Hunter’s recent participation in their case.Post Views: 487
By Michael Cowen — 2 years ago(1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
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 a 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 footnotes, 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 judgment response and how they can also be helpful to lay the groundwork 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, videotaping 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 firstname.lastname@example.org; 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.Post Views: 3,770
By Michael Cowen — 2 years ago(6 votes, average: 4.83 out of 5)
In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with an accomplished trial attorney, Jack Zinda, for an inside look at his bustling personal injury law practice. Built from the ground up in a county where seemingly no one wanted to start a law office because the juries are so conservative, Jack has built his practice up to include 3 offices with 63 people on his team, 23 of which are lawyers.
Jack’s humble beginnings working in his father’s restaurant washing dishes and waiting tables, contributed to him becoming a great trial lawyer by teaching him to learn how to talk to people, which he says was “great training.” Michael admits that he actually looks for “waiting tables” on the resumes of his potential lawyers as he understands that such experience comes with being able to deal with people, even when they are being unreasonable, among other reasons.
As they dig in deeper to Jack’s practice, he directly correlates the growth of business to an exercise he did after reading the book “The E Myth” where he laid out a plan for where he wanted his firm to be in the future and worked backward from there in order to develop a plan of action. He also made sure to account for his core values and not giving up practicing law seeing as one of his top motivators for getting into Personal Injury law was to help people, and he never wanted to lose that. Michael and Jack also talk through their views regarding the use of consultants and how egos sometimes get in the way of success in this industry. Jack makes it extremely clear that “none of what [he’s] done is original” and that he’s simply taken what he has learned from others and built upon it to become successful. It also, from Jack’s perspective, comes down to the systems that get put in place and following them consistently; an example being that each lawyer in his firm is highly encouraged to attend two networking events per week in order to continue to build relationships.
As Jack reflects on the continued growth of his practice over the years, one of the most important decisions he discovered was who he hired to work at his firm. To prove his point, he describes the scenario where if you hire the most brilliant and amazing people to work for you in every aspect of your business and you have poor systems in place, chances are that you will likely still be successful. Whereas, even if you have the most robust and well-oiled systems in place, if you hire people who are unmotivated and don’t want to work hard, you are likely to fail. He goes on to say that even experience can be overrated when looking to hire someone. At the core, when looking to add people to your organization, people need to be hungry and driven, they need to be smart and organized, and they need to be hard working. Michael and Jack also talk through their hiring processes to get the “right people” into their firm. Surprisingly, the interview has very little to do with it and sometimes… neither does a candidate’s aspirations of working with your firm!
The conversation shifts to internal systems where Jack has gone so far as to hire a developer to create their case management system to his specifications. And not only has he found it to be a great way to customize his practice to run the way he wants it to but also works as a great training tool for everyone in his firm, even the most seasoned attorneys. Jack points out that even the simplest of things go into the firm’s checklists and procedures such as “read the local rules,” which, as easy as that might sound, he points out that it can be vital when working in as many jurisdictions as his firm does. Jack has also raised the bar on training and development within his firm by creating a position that solely focuses on it. Listening to Jack’s description of how he came up with and implemented this position is likely to deliver shock and awe to anyone who runs a firm, as it did for Michael during this podcast.
Michael wraps up the podcast with the question that is likely on everyone’s mind – How much of a “life” do you get to have, running a firm of this size and as successful as yours? Jack boils it down to really deciding what success means to you, first and foremost. What do you want to get out of the practice (note the sentiment of beginning with the end in mind)? Jack explains that he sets hard and fast rules on family time and personal time and has become VERY intentional about it, down to the alarm on his phone that goes off at 6 pm that reminds him to “go home.” Michael points out that there is also a difference between being in the room with your kids and being present with your kids. Jack goes on to describe how he turns off his phone when he gets home and puts it in a drawer, making it harder for him to somehow “find” it back in his hands, IE: working when he shouldn’t. “Willpower is overrated. I think you’ve got to set yourself up for success by setting the atmosphere to do what you want to do in order to be successful,” which is certainly a great mantra for us all to take away from this conversation with Jack.
John C. (Jack) Zinda is the founder and senior trial lawyer at Zinda Law Group.
Jack has served as lead attorney on a wide range of complex catastrophic injury cases across the United States, including:
- Fire death cases
- Gas explosions
- Wrongful deaths
- Governmental torts, including wrongful death cases caused by law enforcement
- Federal tort claims act cases
- Traumatic brain injury cases
- Commercial litigation
- Motor vehicle collisions
- Premises liability
- Interstate 18-wheeler collisions
- Product liability
As a trial attorney, Jack takes tremendous pride in giving a voice to individuals and families who need help battling Fortune 500 companies and large insurance conglomerates. His firm balances aggression with a strategy to maximize the outcome for clients, and every case is handled with a focus on getting ready for trial. He also knows the importance of communicating with his clients and ensures that they are part of the process. He is dedicated to always putting the needs of his clients first.
A native Texan, Jack graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business and political science from Southwestern University, where he distinguished himself as president of the Interfraternal Council and as a member of the Student Congress, the Student Judiciary, Phi Delta Theta, and the Pirates basketball team.
Jack went on to earn his Juris Doctorate from the prestigious Baylor University School of Law, which is perennially ranked as one of the top law schools for trial advocacy in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. While there, he was one of the finalists in the Bob and Karen Wortham Practice Court Competition.
Over the years, Jack has earned a reputation as a thought leader in the legal industry, and he has been featured as a speaker for numerous groups across the country, including the Brain Injury Association of Texas, the Williamson County Bar Association, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Jack has also benefited his professional community through leadership positions in a variety of legal organizations. He has served as president of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association, as a member of the board of directors of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, and as a member of the American Association for Justice, the Texas Bar Association, the Austin Bar Association, and WCBA. He is also involved with a number of consumer advocacy organizations.Post Views: 8,904