8-figure

93 – Hans Poppe – David vs. Goliath: Winning the Uphill Battle

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with Kentucky-based trial attorney, Hans Poppe, to discuss his recent cases, the difficulty of trying med mal cases, and much more.

The episode begins with Hans going into his history as a trial lawyer. Hans began his practice in Louisville, Kentucky, and currently runs a small, 100% referral-based firm, focusing on catastrophic injury cases. He goes on to explain that he started his firm 4 years out of law school and gradually built his practice through the years by focusing on case selection and making sure everybody knew what he was interested in by utilizing marketing methods such as CLEs to maintain relationships and monthly newsletters.

Following a brief discussion on CLEs, Michael inquires on Hans’ trial record on med mal cases, to which Hans responds, “We’ve won 3 of the last 4 med mal trials, [and have] gotten punitive damages in all 3 of [those wins].” He goes on to say that he’s been focused on trying these cases differently.

To this, Michael asks Hans to explain more about his recent wins, adding that med mal cases are tough for plaintiff attorneys. Hans agrees and adds, in Kentucky, the defense win-rate is 80-90%, and how there’s a very small group of attorneys in the state who take these cases to verdict. He goes on to say even the top lawyers who are doing very well are still losing 80% of the time.

“You’ve got to be able to put $100,000 on the line and know there’s an 80% chance that you’re going to lose it.” – Hans Poppe

Continuing the discussion of the difficulty and uphill battle of med mal cases, Hans expresses the importance of being “hyper-focused” on case selection and realizing “every case is actually 3 cases,” (meaning the case you sign up on day one, the case you prepare for, and the case you try; none of which are the same) and how those factors need to be top of mind during case selection.

Building on the topic of trying med mal cases, Hans goes on to explain if you go into the courtroom and try against a physician just based on medicine, you’re going to lose. He outlines how defense lawyers who handle med mal cases are very good lawyers and work those cases hard, and how you need to “find something else” to bring to the table.

“If you can get past the medicine… and find [focus in on] the other angle… the other side is not used to that.” – Hans Poppe

To explain the concept of “getting past the medicine,” Hans goes into detail on his most recent case involving the suicide death of his client. He shares why it was an impossible case, considering his client committed suicide, but he chose to frame the case so it started before the suicide. He describes the business practice of this particular pain management clinic and the unavoidable outcome it produced of patients not receiving the care they need. This was due to patients only seeing doctors on their first visits and mid-level providers in subsequent visits.

In this case, the prescription given to his client was written 4 days before he’d even seen the provider and was for half of his normal dose. “What we focused on were the business decisions that were being made,” Hans says before delving deeper into the unethical business practices of this clinic. This case ultimately resulted in a $7 million verdict and was a zero-offer case, which Hans adds, “the defense had no idea.”

There were 15 doctors, and the doctors aren’t seeing the patients… each doctor has 4-5 nurses under him, they see a patient every 15 minutes, and so the doctor bills 4-5 doctor’s visits every 15 minutes.” – Hans Poppe

Following this discussion, Michael and Hans go into another of his recent wins, a $21.3 million verdict case involving an unnecessary pacemaker. In this case, Hans and his team focused on the business practices of the hospital, and how it entangled with cardiologists and encouraged them to perform heart procedures; essentially disincentivizing proper care in favor of profit-focused business practices. “You know what the problem is with incentives?” Hans says, “They work.”

He and Michael continue the topic by delving into the ugly side of the medical business, and how it really changes the dynamic of a case when you can focus jury’s attention on something other than “the white coat and the stethoscope,” before moving on to Hans’ 3rd recent case.

In this case, the audit trail (document that hospitals and physician’s offices are required to maintain, tracks every time the chart is logged into, and if any edits are made) revealed several days after the patient died, the PA got into the patient’s chart and modified the history. The PA had no idea during his deposition that Hans had the audit trail, and not only that, but Hans never asked him about it … UNTIL TRIAL!

“We’re not trying a case about what happened  the exam room … we’re trying a case on what business decisions were made and how those impact patient care [and leads to] a bad outcome.” – Hans Poppe

During trial, the PA had no explanation as to why he was changing the patient chart several days later. Hans had also obtained evidence the PA had a productivity bonus and had been running behind on the day his client was seen; a fact Hans argued was the reason he didn’t do a physical examination of the patient.

This episode also covers the willingness to risk losing and why the ability to recover is so important, the impact of your mindset, appearance, and self-confidence, how incentives can go bad and how to highlight it in your case.

 

Guest Bio

Hans is licensed in Kentucky and Indiana; however, he has a national reputation for handling catastrophic injury and death cases as well as contingency fee business-to-business litigation.

While lots of lawyers hold themselves out as “trial lawyers,” Hans actually is one.  According to the 2020 Kentucky Trial Court Year in Review, only three plaintiff lawyers in Kentucky have tried more cases to verdict than Hans since 2005.

In fact, since 1998, only four lawyers in Kentucky have more verdicts over one million dollars than Hans (2020 Kentucky Trial Court Year in Review.) Hans had the largest Kentucky verdict in 2016 and the second largest Kentucky verdict in 2008. Hans has multiple seven and eight figure verdicts and settlements in medical malpractice, insurance bad faith, and FELA cases.

In 2016, ALM VerdictSearch Top 100 Verdicts of 2016 recognized Hans’ $21,274,786 verdict in Wells v Catholic Health Initiatives, Inc as the 94th largest verdict in the United States.  The Wells case was one of over 400 cased filed by the Poppe Law Firm in London, KY alleging unnecessary cardiac procedures were performed in order to boost profits.  Three more cases went to trial and ultimately all the cases were globally settled the night before the verdict in the Owens v. CHI trial.  The work done by Hans and his team also contributed to a $16,500,000 Medicare qui tam recovery from the hospital and $380,000 from two doctors.  Additionally, the work done by the Poppe Law Firm helped lead to the arrest and federal conviction of two other cardiologists for Medicare fraud.  One was sentenced to 42 months and the other was sentenced to 30 months.

At the same time he was handling the London unnecessary procedure litigation, Hans and his team found a similar fact pattern in Ashland, KY involving King’s Daughter’s hospital.  Hans filed over 500 lawsuits in Ashland also alleging unnecessary cardiac procedures. Two months later the Department of Justice reached a $41,000,000 settlement with King’s Daughers for allegations of unnecessary procedures. The civil suits were settled in a 2019 confidential global settlement.  The work done by Hans and his team also helped lead to the conviction of a third cardiologist who was sentenced to 5 years and $1,000,000 in restitution.

Hans was selected by his peers as the 2020 Lawyer of the Year in Medical Malpractice-Louisville by Best Lawyers®. Only a single lawyer in a specific practice area and location is honored with a “Lawyer of the Year” designation. Additionally, Hans was recognized in the same edition of The Best Lawyers in America for his work in Personal Injury Litigation and Professional Malpractice Law.

Hans was named a 2021 Top 50 Kentucky Super Lawyer by the prestigious Thomson-Reuters Super Lawyer peer review rating system.

Also in 2020, Hans was nominated and elected by his legal peers to be President of the prestigious American Board of Trial Advocates’ Kentucky Chapter.

Hans’ advocacy and professionalism recently led the U.S News & World Report to recognize The Poppe Law Firm as a 2021 Best Law Firms in Kentucky-First Tier Law Firm.

In addition to being a courtroom trial lawyer, Hans has had five cases go before the Supreme Court of Kentucky.

Contact Hans:

E-mail:  hans@poppelawfirm.com
Phone: 502-895-3400
Website: www.poppelawfirm.com

91 – Sara Williams – Beyond Discomfort: Pushing Through & Seizing Opportunities

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with award-winning trial attorney, professor, and trial coach, Sara Williams, to discuss Sara’s history and transition into plaintiff law, the importance of pushing through discomfort, her recent monster case, and much more.

The episode begins with Sara talking about her “army brat” upbringing, including living in various places such as Germany and Holland, before attending law school in Birmingham, Alabama at Cumberland School of Law. She practiced insurance defense for the first 7 years of her career (including a trucking defense practice) until she “could not do it anymore,” resulting in her move to plaintiff law with Alexander Shunnarah Trial Attorneys.

Michael then inquires further about what made Sara want to be a plaintiff lawyer. To this, Sara responds, “When I was in law school I wanted to be a plaintiff’s lawyer, but, at that time, plaintiff firms in our market weren’t really hiring directly out of law school.” Sara then goes into the story of her last big case as a defense lawyer, a wrongful death case involving the drowning of a 9-year-old. Less than a year after winning the case, she would leave defense law.

It didn’t sit well with me… it was the first time I ever won a trial, went home and did not celebrate it.” – Sara Williams

After discussing Michael’s disbelief at Sara labeling herself an introvert, the conversation shifts to the differences between what is needed to be a successful plaintiff lawyer as opposed to a defense lawyer. “What I do now is so much harder,” Sara responds, before referencing the view on the defense side in retrospect, “[…] the bar was not as high, I feel, now that I’ve done it on both sides.” She goes on to say that she’s done so much more to develop and hone her skills as a plaintiff lawyer than she ever did as a defense attorney.

The two then go into several of the methods Sara has found the most useful to develop her trial skills, which include:

“When we’re in the right state of mind … that’s when we can really tap into the emotions, the empathy, the vulnerability, and best communicate that to a jury.” – Sara Williams

The conversation then shifts to Sara’s work as a professor and trial coach with Trial Advocacy. She explains her love for teaching students, especially those like her when she was starting out: quiet, shy, and introverted. “When they realize and cross over from good to great, and they own themselves, and they’re just being who they are; that really motives me.” She goes on to say that coaching also keeps her skills sharp when she’s not in trial herself.

After covering topics ranging from Sara’s partnership with Alexander Shunnarah, to the importance of making connections at conferences and really utilizing your time in those environments, the topic shifts to Sara’s recent $12 million verdict.

Sara then outlines the details of the case, in which a bus driver in Birmingham, AL fainted while driving, causing the bus to turn over and fall into a ravine. She goes on to talk about the primary plaintiff, a woman whose injuries resulted in the amputation of her leg above the knee, and how she tried to gain control of the bus after noticing the driver had fainted, which ultimately resulted in the handicap ramp falling onto her leg when the bus turned over. This woman was one of 17 plaintiffs in the case.

“When [our primary plaintiff] limped up, I will never forget it, there were people in our panel laughing at her […] we knew we had an uphill battle in terms of developing the emotion of the case.”– Sara Williams

Sara continues by discussing the facts of the case, including the drivers history with fainting spells, and what they did to get the jury mad at the defense. “We knew [from] depositions that they had no system for tracking prior medical conditions of their drivers … since that time, they had NOT developed any!” Sara admits she assumed they had not implemented this system, noting that though she was taught to never ask a question if you don’t know the answer, her intuition led her to ask. Sara believes this was a pivotal turning point for the jury in the case.

“I don’t know what it is,” Michael says in agreeance with Sara’s decision to follow her intuition, “I don’t know if it’s God or magic – but you get in a space when you’re in the moment at trial, and you feel it … 9 times out of 10, you get gold when you do it.”

The episode concludes with the pair discussing what’s next for Sara. She explains that she’s at a point in her life where she’s focused on her legacy and the impression she’s going to leave on the world besides the number of cases tried. She goes on to discuss the challenges that women in the legal industry face and how she aims to be a mentor and inspiration for them to seize the opportunities they’re given without fear.

This episode also covers taking care of yourself and maintaining a healthy mindset, being a confident leader in the courtroom, Sara’s inspirational social media presence, and how the loss of connection in the digital age can affect us in the courtroom.

Guest Bio

Sara Williams currently practices at Alexander Shunnarah Trial Attorneys headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, where she handles primarily trucking litigation and wrongful death litigation. Sara has collected over $30 million in verdicts and settlements on behalf of her clients, including a $12 million dollar verdict against the Birmingham Max Bus system in 2017.

In 2017 at the age of 37 Sara took over as managing attorney of the firm. During her tenure the firm more than doubled in size. Alexander Shunnarah Trial Attorneys now has offices in 9 states. In 2021 Sara made the decision to step away from the managing role to focus on her campaign to increase the visibility of women trial lawyers and return to litigation.

Sara is an adjunct professor of Trial Advocacy at Cumberland School of Law where she teaches Advanced Skills in Trial Advocacy-Civil and Depositions and Technology. She also serves as a coach for Cumberland School of Law’s nationally ranked mock trial teams. She is a 2003 graduate of Florida State University and a 2006 graduate of Cumberland School of Law.

Contact Sara:
E-mail: swilliams@asilpc.com
Phone: 205-983-8140
Website: www.sarawilliamsesq.com

81 – Mallory Storey Ulmer – Baptism by Fire: When Tenacity Defeats Tenure

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with attorney Mallory Storey Ulmer from the Walton Law Firm in Auburn, Alabama. Mallory is a young lawyer who recently achieved a $15 million settlement for her clients in a not-so-plaintiff-friendly state. She and Michael discuss her path to such early success, the details of how she worked up the case, and her advice for other young lawyers who want to make a big impact on a big case.

They begin the episode with a bit on Mallory’s background. After working as a paralegal for 8 years, she decided to go to law school with the intention of becoming an insurance defense lawyer. While in law school, she received a prestigious internship at a plaintiff firm and fell in love with plaintiff work, stating “once you’re on the right side, you can’t switch over.” She and Michael then discuss the emotional toll of plaintiff work, especially in a state like Alabama that’s “no plaintiff’s paradise,” but agree the satisfaction of representing people who need it most can’t be beat (as long as you have the right mindset).

This leads Michael to ask Mallory what she’s done to develop her skillset. She says that one of the best decisions she made was joining an excellent firm with a great reputation. Walton Law Firm has robust systems, great lawyers, and makes education a top priority. She’s been able to learn from some of the best minds in the legal industry both in her office and through a wide variety of legal seminars.

While these opportunities helped build her knowledge base, she and Michael agree at some point you just have to jump in and start trying some cases (or as Mallory calls it, “baptism by fire.”) Michael also notes the importance of networking with other lawyers, to which Mallory agrees. Because of her networking and impressive resume of cases, she is now being invited to speak more often at legal conventions.

Next, the pair jumps into the nitty gritty of the $15,000,000 case Mallory recently settled. While she can’t share too many details due to a confidentiality agreement, she agrees to share what she can within those boundaries. This case had an incredibly complex liability sequence, which stemmed from a series of car wrecks and resulted in catastrophic injuries to her client. In fact, her client’s crash occurred when the defendant driver was not driving a commercial vehicle, further complicating the regulatory guidelines for the company.

Another difficult aspect of this case concerns the venue: Alabama, which is no “plaintiff’s paradise” and has contributory negligence, similar to North Carolina as discussed in our episode with Karonnie Truzy. In short, this means if the client is ANY part at fault for the wreck (even 1%), they cannot receive any compensation. This causes worry in any case, but in a case of this size, Mallory knew she needed a plan to combat this defense if the case went to trial.

She then describes a genius argument of wanton (willful) conduct which would have taken away the contributory negligence defense. While she was never able to use the argument because the case settled, this is an incredibly impressive strategy she plans to “keep in her pocket” for future use.

After discussing the importance of discovery and depositions in the case, Mallory shares why she decided to frame the case as a “systems failure.” This boils down to the fact that juries don’t like to award a large verdict against one driver; they’d much rather award a large verdict to a company where the driver was a victim as well.

Michael and Malorie then have a brief conversation about why it’s necessary to work with others (even if you don’t agree). This starts with politics and ends with an astute observation from Mallory about how this also applies to defense lawyers.

Moving back to Mallory’s case, Michael asks how Mallory found rules and systems to apply to her case when the defendant was not driving a commercial vehicle at the time of the crash. She decided to fall back on the company’s materials, training, and supervision. Regardless of the type of vehicle the defendant was driving, those standards should still apply.

Michael chimes in that his firm’s strategy for a case like this is “compared to what?” He will look at what other similar companies do and argue that while something may not be a regulation, it is certainly the industry standard. Mallory agrees with this strategy and adds that those publications are perfect for getting excellent sound bites in depositions and appealing to an educated jury pool who may sympathize with business owners but understand companies should care about and know these things.

The episode concludes with Mallory’s tips for other lawyers who get a big case like hers. Her first piece of advice is to posture aggressively from the beginning, meaning to act like you’re taking the case to trial. This is especially true in a case with large damages because there’s too much at stake. She insists that this is scary for defense lawyers who don’t want to try the case. Her second piece of advice is to “prepare, prepare, prepare.” She’s found this shuts out any fear that may creep in. It takes a LOT of time and energy, but it has always worked to her advantage as the defense is never as prepared as she is.

Mallory’s last piece of advice is to know what you don’t know, and don’t be afraid to pull somebody else in if you need help. She urges other young lawyers to not be afraid of “looking stupid,” and be willing to spend the money you need to on experts and co-counsel. “You will most likely earn that back three-fold, and you’ll be glad you did it.” In the end, pulling in people who are experienced to guide you will result in a better fee for you and a better result for your client. Then next time, you can use what you learned, and you may not need to get as many people involved.

If you’d like to get in touch with Mallory to discuss a case, ask her to speak, or to learn more about this case, you can reach her by email at mallory@waltonlaw.net, or by phone at 334-321-3000. She’s happy to talk strategy or help in any way.

This podcast episode also covers the importance of discovery and depositions in Mallory’s case, proposed Texas House Bill 19, why you should try to work with defense attorneys (and what to do when they’re unbearable), Mallory’s approach to jury research, and so much more.

 

Guest Bio:

Mallory Storey Ulmer is an attorney at Walton Law Firm, P.C., in Auburn, Alabama. Prior to joining Walton Law Firm, P.C., Mallory gained experience in whistleblower, fraud, and employment litigation while working at Beasley Allen Law Firm, with some of those cases gaining national attention on merit. Mallory’s current practice is focused on representing victims in personal injury litigation, including the areas of wrongful death, motor vehicle and trucking litigation. She has experience handling cases in the Southeast and Midwest at state and federal court levels. Mallory recently obtained a $15 million settlement in a contested liability case arising from a crash that caused catastrophic injuries to our client.

Mallory is an advocate of the Alabama Head Injury Foundation, which provides resources for members of our communities affected by traumatic brain injuries, and she is passionate about representing people who have been seriously injured and families of those killed as a result of the negligence of others.

Mallory and her husband, Dr. Matthew J. Ulmer, and their daughter, Amory, reside in Auburn. They enjoy traveling, visiting with family, finding good local eateries, and being outdoors.

 

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