contributory negligence

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.

 

52 – Karonnie Truzy – Iron Sharpens Iron: How Practicing in a Tough Jurisdiction Makes You A Better Lawyer

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with attorney Karonnie Truzy from North Carolina. This show covers everything from contributory negligence, to gross negligence, making your case about the company, 1983 civil rights cases, and the simple things attorneys can do to help with diversity and inclusion in our industry.

The conversation starts with a discussion on how to maintain a work-life balance, as it is certainly a big issue for the legal industry. Simply put Karonnie believes, “people make time for things that are important to them.” He shares how hard his paralegals work to make sure travel takes place in the middle of the week so on weekends he can be with his family. His law firm is also supportive and will proactively tell him to take some personal time when he’s spent long hours at the office (a rarity you hear about at big firms). And he shares a great example of their care for him when he injured his Achilles last year.

Contributory negligence is the next topic discussed and an important one. North Carolina is 1 of 4 states with contributory negligence, essentially stating if you are found to be ANY percent at fault and responsible in ANY way for your injury you cannot recover damages. It is a complete bar, which is different from other states with a comparative negligence between the plaintiff and defendant. “Wow. So how do you deal with that?” Michael asks (clearly the same thought on everyone’s mind). It starts by accepting cases on a case by case basis. But it’s also incredibly important to do a lot of investigation work at the very beginning from talking with witnesses and law enforcement, to gathering video evidence. And while contributory negligence is difficult Karonnie also discusses “last clear chance” and “gross negligence” as ways to get around it.

Michael and Karonnie then discuss what can be done to make a case about a company and not just the driver in order to make it a bigger case. To begin Karonnie shares why it is important to have everything you need in discovery from employee handbooks to training materials. JJ Keller is often referenced, so Michael adds why these materials can be useful to plaintiff attorneys by giving an example of how his law partner Malorie Peacock is using the JJ Keller training to learn what the rules are and what people should be trained on for a unique explosion case. Karonnie then explains how he organizes his depositions and uses 30(b)(6) to know he is deposing the right people in the case (30(b)(6) is discussed in detail in episode 30 with Mark Kosieradzki).

Karonnie also handles 1983 civil rights cases, which leads to a discussion of qualified immunity with police officers. You’re usually not the attorney riding in on a white horse and most jurors already believe your client did something wrong. So how do you handle juror perception? In most cases like this the police department will hold a press conference and news stories will be shared, so Karonnie will use this footage to ask whomever made those statements “was this truthful, was this actually what happened?” He does this in front of the jury, so they can see how these statements before a proper investigation can skew their perception because the information was inaccurate. The same inaccurate information also aids in mean comments on media articles, which Karonnie purposely does not read. However, the conversation comes full circle when Michael shares he reads those mean comments to learn about hurdles he has on a case and Karonnie states he does this with focus groups whether it’s a civil rights case or a trucking case.

Explaining the dynamic of a family after they lose a loved one is critical in our industry. But sometimes we as attorneys have to explain to a jury why the value of life is the same no matter who it is. If our client was not the perfect person and lost their life, “we take away the opportunity for redemption” Michael poetically states. Karonnie responds with a heartfelt example of a case where in deposition the daughter of a deceased client describes why she is upset about the loss of her father when her relationship with him was not great. It’s a story that will undoubtedly resonate with everyone and may bring some to tears as they realize just how precious every day is in life.

The topic of “diversity and inclusion” is often discussed in the legal industry. Karonnie recently finished his 3 year role as Chief Diversity Officer for the North Carolina Advocates for Justice and shares how this role was created to work to on this issue. But change doesn’t just happen, it has to be real and not “just words on a paper” he explains. Michael shares his simple, yet effective, way of simply inviting new people to join a group. This leads Karonnie to describe the impact cliques can have within an organization, or when attending a CLE, and why it’s important for attorneys to realize when this happens you leave people out and it can create a problem. It’s a truly honest and open conversation on what can sometimes be an uncomfortable topic to discuss.

This podcast also covers sudden emergency defense, how the AAJ Trucking Litigation Group helps with industry standards, using the commercial driver’s license manual to show what is reasonable in adverse weather conditions, and so much more.

 

ABOUT THE GUEST

Karonnie Truzy is a North Carolina attorney where he practices as a Partner with the law firm of Crumley Roberts, LLP. Karonnie has been licensed to practice in the state of North Carolina since 2001 in both state and federal courts and he concentrates his practice on handling
complex injury cases, commercial motor vehicle cases, and wrongful death claims throughout the state of North Carolina in Federal and State Court. Karonnie earned an undergraduate degree from the University of South Carolina at Spartanburg (Upstate) where he played basketball and further earned his Juris Doctorate from the Wake Forest University School of Law. He is dedicated to providing quality legal representation to each of his clients has helped his clients obtain successful results throughout North Carolina.

 

Karonnie is an accomplished attorney and has received a 10/10 Superb AVVO rating. He is listed in the Best Lawyers publication and serves on various boards on legal associations in North Carolina. Karonnie has most recently served as the Chief Diversity officer for the North Carolina Advocates for Justice, the state’s largest Plaintiff’s bar. Karonnie has a passion for the practice of law but more importantly providing legal guidance to clients in need of assistance.

 

Karonnie is actively involved in his community and church. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his family, working within his church, basketball and more basketball! Karonnie is married and has one daughter and twin boys.

 

Education

• Wake Forest University School of law, Juris Doctorate, 2001

Order of the Barristers for Excellence in Trial Advocacy

• University of South Carolina Spartanburg, B.S., 1998

Professional Affiliations
North Carolina Bar Association
United States District Court for the Eastern, Western, and Middle Districts of North Carolina
United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
American Association for Justice
Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys
North Carolina Advocates for Justice

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