McAllen

89 – Michael M. Guerra – From Guts to Glory

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with McAllen, TX trial attorney, Michael M. Guerra, to discuss his multiple 7 and 8-figure verdicts & settlements, recent “monster” settlement in a “legally tough case,” and advice on how to achieve verdicts like these in your cases.

Cowen and Guerra begin the episode by discussing Guerra’s background and how he got into doing plaintiff’s work. Guerra begins by explaining that he had an Allstate defense firm job waiting for him after law school and was “quickly terminated,” citing that his heart was not in it. Seeing as he was married right before starting law school, had a baby on the way and a mortgage to pay, he quickly took a job as a court-appointed lawyer; a position leading him to over 100 jury verdicts.

In 1995, Guerra was appointed Guardian Ad Litem in a death case in Plainview, TX, where he would meet Mikal Watts. This meeting would ultimately lead to Guerra opening Watts’s McAllen office, where we would work alongside Watts before going off on his own.

“Pushing trials and then just going in there and watching good defense lawyers do what they did. I learned a lot [from them].” – Michael M. Guerra

Guerra then goes into a harrowing story of a case he took on just after going off on his own; a case involving the death of his friend’s father, a high-ranking Sergeant Major in the Army who was killed after his RV exploded when he lit his morning cigarette. The explosion was due to a gas leak in the RV trailer.

Guerra began the case by enlisting the help of several experts; namely Mike Schultz (Illinois) to look at the trailer and Tim Dunn (Georgia) to investigate the gas system. Shortly after beginning the case, a call from a Sheriff’s deputy would change everything for Mike. “He [said], ‘Hey, Guerra, I’ve got to tell you. When we got into the trailer…we found the [gas] burner in the ON position.’” Understanding that the Sergeant Major had most likely left the stove on by accident, Mike’s original thought of a defect or leak causing the explosion was called into question. He couldn’t believe it.

Continuing past this unfortunate revelation, Mike began researching the trailer and oven manufacturers and came upon an interesting, and ultimately crucial, piece of information: the company sold the exact same trailer in Australia with one key difference, their stoves contained a “flame failure device.” This device, which automatically shuts off the gas once the flame goes out, was absent from American models of this trailer; a safety feature that would’ve cost the company only 99 cents per burner to install.

That case consumed me for 10 months, [as] we got it set for trial.” – Michael M. Guerra

The case was settled a week into trial for an amazing result and, more importantly, saw the trailer manufacturer agree to include the “flame failure device” safety feature in all future models.

The two then move on to discussing Guerra’s latest case out of the Port of Brownsville; a case involving “ship breaking,” the process of dismantling a ship to reuse parts or extract materials, a flash fire, and 2 men who suffered significant burns (one who was burned on over 80% of his body and passed away).

After discussing details of the case including the ship owner filing a Limitation of Liability Act, getting removed to federal court, and then returning to state court, the two begin to discuss Guerra’s invaluable 2-day, 36-person mock trial, which gave him the confidence to ask for huge numbers ($250-$300 million) in voir dire; a task that, Guerra confessed, scared him.

“It took a lot, for me personally, to [ask] for that kind of money; knowing people would throw hand grenades at me.” – Michael M. Guerra

When everything was said and done, calmed and confident from his meditations, prayers, and with some last-minute motivation from a Nick Rowley CD in his car on the morning of trial, Guerra couldn’t wait to get started. The jury was selected on Friday, presenting evidence was scheduled to begin on Monday, yet they would not have a chance to begin, as the case was settled on Saturday evening.

Cowen then shifts the conversation to what Guerra did to pressure the defense in the case. Guerra responds, “most jurisdictions from coast to coast have laws that create a duty for insurance carriers to use good faith when settling cases. In Texas, we call it the Stower’s Doctrine, which says that if an insurance company refuses to settle a case, that reasonably should have been settled within policy limits, the insurer can sue that carrier and they can be on the hook for the entire amount of verdict even above their policy limits.”

“It’s an everchanging, very dynamic area of law, in my opinion” – Michael M. Guerra

Guerra closes the discussion by talking about how he hired several different policy lawyers, including coverage lawyers specializing in reading insurance contracts, to help draft a demand to the carrier. “That really paid off in the end,” he says as he reflects on the impact of hiring those lawyers, including a quick note on the defense commenting on how expertly done the demands had been.

This podcast episode also covers the importance of working with and learning from great lawyers, advice for handling “monster” cases, why you should give your cell phone number to everyone, and much more.

Guest Bio

Michael M. Guerra was born and raised in McAllen, Texas. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from Texas A&M University in College Station and a law degree from Texas Southern University in Houston. While at A&M, he was a member of the Corps of Cadets. In law school, Mr. Guerra was an American Jurisprudence Award recipient in Constitutional law. Mr. Guerra has been licensed to practice law since 1993. He is certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in Personal Injury Trial Law and has served as a member of the Exam Commission. Mr. Guerra began his career by successfully trying dozens of criminal trials to jury verdict. He transitioned his practice to representing plaintiffs in civil litigation, including representing hundreds of landowners in an aquifer contamination case and representing the Plaintiffs in America’s first Ford Explorer – Firestone tire case to reach a jury. Since then, his efforts have been instrumental in compelling safety improvements in product manufacturing and premises management. Over his almost 30 year career, Mr. Guerra has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in recoveries for his deserving clients. His efforts have achieved astonishing results, including a $33 million injury verdict which was the record verdict in Texas for a case of its type, as well as multiple settlements of more than $20 million.

Mr. Guerra has been featured as a speaker in numerous civil litigation seminars and his articles have been featured in national publications. His cases have been profiled by, or he has been quoted by numerous major news organizations such as the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, CNN, and Fox News.

Mr. Guerra is a fellow in the International Academy of Trial Lawyers and a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA,) as well as the Attorney Information Exchange Group (AIEG). He has been named Texas Monthly – Texas Super Lawyer in multiple and consecutive years and he was named to The National Trial Lawyers – Top 100 Trial lawyers. Mr. Guerra is on the Advisory Board of the Texas Agriculture Lifetime Leadership (TALL) program and is on the Advisory Board of the McAllen Pregnancy Center. He is also a member of the President’s Board of Visitors for the Cadet Corps at Texas A&M University. Mr. Guerra was selected as the 2018 Ronald D. Secrest Outstanding Trial Lawyer Award recipient by The Texas Bar Foundation. The award recognizes a trial lawyer who, in his or her practice, has demonstrated high ethical and moral standards and has demonstrated exceptional professional conduct, thus enhancing the image of the trial lawyer.

Michael Guerra is married to Mindy Guerra and has three children.

 

33 – Julian C. Gomez – Autonomous Vehicles: People v. Machines

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with automotive products liability attorney, Julian C. Gomez, to discuss his expertise on product cases, specifically dealing with autonomous vehicles (AKA: Robot Cars). Most attorneys can relate, but the gist of every other talk Michael has ever heard on this topic, before Julian’s, was that we’re going to get robot cars, they’re never going to crash, and they’re going to put everyone out of business in 5 years. This is certainly what the automotive industry is trying to promise, but the data we have to date suggests otherwise.

Julian’s beginnings, getting into the field of automotive product cases, started back when he clerked for a judge who was the first in the country to try a Ford Explorer/Firestone case. He was able to sit through the trial and learn from some of the best lawyers in the country, which sparked his interest and set him on this path. When Julian started doing automotive product cases, he noticed the engineers were starting to address the legal issues as opposed to the engineering issues behind them. He points out that the engineering is really not all that difficult – the vehicle uses data gathering devices, puts the information into a data processor, which processes the data based on an algorithm, then an answer or result is spitting out, and makes the vehicle do something. Getting too far into the details can sometimes overcomplicate things, which Julian compares to the area of autonomous vehicles and states “I don’t have to be a computer engineer, to know that my computer is broken or to know that it’s working.”

Julian then describes the different levels of crash avoidance technologies (1-6) to include all sides of the vehicle along with the various types (signaling warnings to taking full-blown actions with the vehicle). He goes on to talk about how the levels start to gray out based on human data input as well as how there really are no “driverless” vehicles on the road today, despite what you hear on the news. He also discusses a recent AAA report addressing the confusion regarding the different types of autonomous systems due to the industry, and manufacturers, because there is not a standardized naming structure for these systems.

Interestingly, Julian explains the current way they are measuring the level 3-5 type autonomous vehicles is through disengagements, where the human driver has had to take over the car’s actions instead of it driving itself. In comparison, Apple had roughly 1 disengagement every 1.2 miles whereas, on the opposite end of the spectrum, Waymo had roughly 1 disengagement every 10,000 miles. And while there is a huge disparity between the top performers and the bottom, and numerous tragedies throughout the industry, Julian points out the real problem is there haven’t been enough vehicle miles driven to know how safe they are going to be. He also talks about the millions of vehicle miles driven each year compared to the thousands of deaths that occur on the road, and then extrapolates the data from when Uber had its recent fatality, based on the number of vehicle miles driven by autonomous cars at that point, to determine we would be experiencing around 1.6 million deaths each year. He brings this point home by stating even if you cut that number in half multiple times, it’s still much more than what is happening today on our roads.

Another problem Julian points out is the conflicts that occur between an objective algorithm system in the computer within the car working with a human subjective system. He gives a great example of how we’ve all seen cars, even before we started driving, interact in different ways when the driver is planning to turn right (IE: roll slowly through the light, even if it’s technically not the correct way). As humans, we are able to gauge how much space/time we have between our vehicle and the vehicle turning in front of us, whereas autonomous cars look at it from the standpoint of what the rule is and how it will obey that rule.

Michael points out how the computers can only do what they are programmed to do, making the job of the engineers to think of every possibility and then the safest possible outcome for each of the scenarios unfathomably enormous. Julian notes that as humans, the second most common function our bodies perform (breathing being the first) is seeing. We have been “seeing” and processing things through our eyesight for our entire lives, since day one. Some even suggest for a computer to process the amount of data we have seen in our lives, the computer would be the size of a warehouse, much less the size of a car, or the size of a computer in a car. Julian also discusses the responsibility to predict the unknown, which is nearly impossible, as if to say “tell me everything you don’t know.”

Michael and Julian recount the unfortunate incident in Arizona with the self-driving Uber car, the details of which are likely not what you might have heard previously, nor are they what you might expect (hint, hint – the frontal collision system was turned off, but by whom? Listen to find out). Also, perhaps somewhat shockingly, was the fact that the case was settled in 10 days, which Julian notes, might give you a sense of how Uber felt about their culpability in the case. Michael and Julian also discuss the perceptions of the “auto-piloted” cars as set forth by the marketing departments of the vehicles and how they are not exactly in line with what the cars are actually equipped to do.

The podcast concludes with Julian revealing his process for evaluating which product liability cases to take on as well as the “why” behind them versus simply going after damages, the results of which could do more harm to the legal industry than good when the wrong type of cases are pursued. They also make some predictions as to the future of mass-produced autonomous vehicles and where they’ll likely be used. As this technology continues to evolve, this episode drives home (no pun intended) the vast areas of the unknown in the auto industry in regards to where blame should be placed in such an environment where humans are sharing responsibility with computers, along with the engineers and companies who design them, to keep our roadways safe for everyone.

“Please note the TLN19 discount code mentioned in this show has now expired.”

 

BACKGROUND ON JULIAN C. GOMEZ

Julian C. Gomez is an attorney in McAllen, Texas. Julian was raised in South Texas. Julian is a ninth-generation Texan and his family still ranches on their original Spanish land grant. Julian graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in Agricultural Economics and was a member of the Corps of Cadets while at Texas A&M.

After graduation, Julian spent time on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange as an analyst in the cattle futures and options pits. Julian graduated from the University of Houston Law School in 2000. Julian was a law clerk for Filemon Vela, United States District Judge, Southern District of Texas, Brownsville Division and a law clerk for Reynaldo Garza, United States Circuit Court Judge, Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. After his clerkships, Julian founded The Julian C. Gomez Law Firm and has practiced there since.

Julian has a national and international practice focusing primarily on catastrophic product liability and negligence cases, mass torts, and contingent commercial litigation. Julian is a past Chairman of the American Association for Justice’s Products Liability Section (the largest organization of plaintiffs product liability attorneys in the U.S.); on the executive board of and the vice president of continuing legal education for the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, on the board of directors of and co-chair of continuing legal education committee for the Attorneys Information Exchange Group (the largest organization of plaintiffs automotive product liability attorneys in the U.S.); has served on plaintiffs’ committees in national mass tort litigation; is a graduate of Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyer’s College; is a graduate of the American Association for Justice’s Leadership Academy; is the special liaison to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on behalf of both American Association for Justice’s Products Liability Section and the Attorneys Information Exchange Group; regularly speaks at international, national, statewide, and local continuing legal education courses on topics ranging from federal jurisdiction to products liability; is the 2017 Men’s 40-44, –69k Texas Weightlifting Champion; and has a 3:45 marathon time.

Julian is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed captain, is on the board of directors of the USA Weightlifting Foundation (the foundation for United States’ Olympic weightlifting athletes) the board of directors of McAllen Educational Foundation (the foundation for the McAllen Independent School District), and the board of directors of the Texas International Fishing Tournament (the largest fishing tournament in the State of Texas). In his free time, Julian loves spending time with his number one legal assistant, his daughter, Averri; and is an avid outdoorsman, rancher, photographer, snow skier, and tarpon fly-fishing angler.

For more information on Julian C. Gomez visit his website at https://www.jcglf.com/

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