negligence

104 – Jamal Alsaffar – Sutherland Springs: The Untold Story of a Foreseeable Tragedy

Warning: This episode contains details of the Sutherland Springs massacre. Portions of the show will cover issues of domestic violence, gun violence, and content that may be disturbing to some listeners. Listener discretion is advised.

This episode is dedicated to the memory of all those whose lives were taken in the Sutherland Springs massacre, the survivors, and their families.


In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with trial lawyer Jamal Alsaffar, who served as lead counsel representing the victims of the Sutherland Springs massacre vs. the United States Government, obtaining a $230,000,000 verdict.

They begin the episode with a look at Jamal’s background. Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, he moved to Austin to go to college, where he met his now wife and law partner. Today they are both partners at National Trial Law in Austin, Texas, along with Jamal’s mentor, Bill Whitehurst. Jamal has tried numerous personal injury cases involving medical malpractice and catastrophic injury but has found a rare specialty in Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) cases.

Michael then quickly asks Jamal how he got started in FTCA cases, as it is notoriously difficult to sue the federal government. He shares how his first FTCA case was a birth injury case at an Army hospital. Even though he had many hoops to jump through, he ended up obtaining a very favorable verdict and realized that military families weren’t receiving high level trial lawyer representation in their cases. From there, his practice spread, and now he tries FTCA cases all over the country.

As Jamal lists the many requirements to try FTCA cases, it’s clear why there are so few lawyers who specialize in them as they are fraught with land mines.

The tone shifts somber as Michael asks Jamal about what happened in the Sutherland Springs shooting. He describes how on November 5th, 2017, a former Air Force member walked into a small church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where he opened fire. 26 members of the congregation were killed, and 22 were injured. While this man was in the Air Force, he was convicted of multiple felonies involving domestic violence and put in jail. Federal law requires that the agency who convicted him report the felony to the FBI’s background check system, but the Air Force did not. Because of this, the shooter was able to legally purchase firearms and ammunition at Academy Sports, which he used to commit mass murder.

Diving into the legal difficulty of a case like this, Michael asks Jamal what legal challenges he faced with holding the federal government liable on tort liability for someone failing to report criminal convictions. Jamal shares how they faced a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss on this issue, and the government’s defense was they cannot be held liable for this failure to follow federal law. But as Jamal successfully retorted, of course they can.

As Jamal puts it, at the end of the day, they didn’t have an excuse for not reporting this felony. In fact, as they learned in discovery, this was not a one-time clerical error. There was a documented 30-year history of the federal government not reporting felonies to the FBI’s background check service on a massive scale. Various internal warnings noted between a 30-50% failure rate, which was even worse at the base the shooter was stationed at in New Mexico – where many employees didn’t even know they were required to report. This was clearly a systemic problem which had been going on for a very long time.

“What we found was a 30-year history of the federal government not reporting on a massive scale.” – Jamal Alsaffar

Michael asks if the government has since done anything to fix this problem, to which Jamal replies with two powerful examples:

  1. In the Air Force alone, there were over 5,000 unreported felons. As a result of this litigation, all 5,000 of those have now been reported.
  2. The entire system of reporting and checklist system has now been automated and modernized for every branch of the military. They now use the system Jamal’s expert recommended.

Reflecting on those successes is momentous – as trial lawyers, we often think about the good we’re doing for one family, but it’s so rare to have the opportunity to tangibly make the entire country a safer place.

The next issue the government tried to fight on was foreseeability. They argued they could never have foreseen this man would do what he did. Jamal explains how they were lucky with the evidence, but it wasn’t magic – this was gumshoe work and discovery. After being stiff armed so aggressively that they wouldn’t even give Jamal mandatory disclosures, the judge became so angry with the U.S. attorneys he sanctioned them (without Jamal even asking) and ordered they provide the documents and witnesses requested.

“The level of negligence and how high it went … all the way up to the Secretary of the Air Force.” – Jamal Alsaffar

It was immediately clear why the U.S. attorneys tried to hold onto this information. The contents of these documents were appalling.

  • The shooter’s violence was documented, and his domestic violence crimes were committed with guns.
  • He had been institutionalized by the Air Force for mental health twice, including for trying to use a gun to kill himself.
  • While in the mental hospital, his computer searches included “how to commit a mass shooting” and “how to get weapons”, and the government knew about those searches.
  • He had threatened to commit a mass shooting on the base, to his superior commanders,

This man was institutionalized by the Air Force while he was threatening and planning to commit a mass shooting.

Michael then inquires if the shooting was random, or if the man knew people at the church. The answer is haunting – it was not random, but an act of domestic violence. It was the church his wife grew up in, and where she would go to escape him.

“It was not a random act. It was related to the very thing the Air Force convicted him of and failed to report on.” – Jamal Alsaffar

Michael then asks Jamal how he became the lead attorney on a massive trial team filled with heavyweights. The answer lies in one of Michael’s first questions: “What on Earth is the FTCA?” Jamal is one of only a handful of attorneys who try these cases regularly, but he also credits his communication, honesty, and preparation. He had an air-tight plan before he even filed the lawsuit, then meticulously drafted complicated pleadings where even a small mistake could ruin the case. But even with his vast FTCA experience and knowledge of how these cases work, he admits he had never tried a case like this before – in fact, only a few people have, and never at this magnitude.

“This is one of the most unique trials that’s ever been done in the history of the FTCA.” – Jamal Alsaffar

One big decision Jamal and his partner, Tom Jacob, made was to not depose any of the government’s experts. They knew the government wouldn’t settle, so there was nothing to be gained from taking a great depo. They did file one partial summary judgement, but they intentionally kept out some real bombshells they found in discovery and strategically saved them for trial.

As a result, they were able to surprise the judge with 2-4 new documents or facts he had never seen each day of trial that were “eye-popping.” As Jamal shares some of these, it’s easy to see why saving them was the right call. As the U.S. attorneys tried to defend themselves by saying this man was simply a monster, Jamal made it clear they knew this man was a monster and did nothing to stop him from harming the public, even after they banned him from accessing military bases and upped his security risk after he tried to access them anyways.

“He was a monster that you knew better than anyone else … even his family. And you let him loose.” – Jamal Alsaffar

Jamal continues by lamenting the fact that the judge only let him use one of his carefully crafted trial boards, but the timeline he was allowed to use showed a detailed progression of the shooter’s madness, aggressiveness, weapons purchases, and where he would have been caught and prosecuted if his felonies had been reported. It was a fantastic visual aid Jamal agreed to share with our listeners and can be found below.

Included in this timeline was one of the most shocking pieces of evidence in the entire case, which Jamal found by mining for third party discovery. The sheriff’s department had responded to a call at the shooter’s residence just 3 days before the massacre took place, where the exchange was caught on their body cameras. Because the man was acting aggressive and erratic, even threatening the cops, they looked him up in their database – where they found no record of his felonies because the Air Force didn’t report them. In this exchange, the man had a gun and stated he was armed, which he would have been arrested for carrying if the officers were able to see his felony conviction record.

Michael then asks how the trial was broken up. Jamal explains how the liability trial and damages trial were conducted separately. The liability trial took about 1 ½ months, but they had to wait another 2 months for the verdict. After the judge found the government to be 60% liable, he tasked Jamal’s team and the U.S. attorneys to get together and decide how to present this case efficiently. The result was an estimated 1-month trial for Jamal’s team, but an estimated 6-month trial for the U.S. attorneys. The judge decided to put faith in Jamal and agreed to a 1-month damages trial.

With so many plaintiffs and the delta variant spreading rapidly, Jamal had some challenges to overcome if his 1-month damages trial was going to be successful. He had to limit each plaintiff in the case to 1 hour of testimony, which required immense cooperation and preparation with his many co-counsels. To stave off the government’s fear of a Covid outbreak in the trial, Jamal even set up a Covid testing room in the courthouse, where each witness was required to test before entering the courtroom.

During the damages trial, Jamal shares some of the terribly heartbreaking stories told and how he used the actual courtroom to tell them, in lieu of the visuals he originally had planned. He tells a profound story of a realization he had one day, while sitting where the massacre took place and preparing mentally before trial. It’s a phantasmal story you have to hear in order to understand why every time the courtroom doors opened … people were on edge.

Part of the reason Jamal put so much effort into the verbal description is because he did not want to show the video of the shooting or the aftermath in the trial. After stating repeatedly to the government he would not submit the video into evidence, it was shockingly the government who moved to have the video entered the day before trial. And even though Jamal rejected it, the judge agreed to admit it because it is evidence. Jamal then asked for the video to not be shown to the media or the family members and placed under seal, which the judge agreed to.

The government may have thought Jamal would want to show the brutal carnage at the church, but that was never something he considered. Instead, Jamal chose to use stills from the video to show the scene right before the shooting. Describing this loving space, the joy, and the sense of community, “the second before it turned to hell,” Jamal’s remarkable skill to visually tell the story with his words will surely bring a tear to your eye.

After sharing more examples of the other evidence used in the case, Jamal highlights how important it was for the judge to understand the sights, the sounds, and the smells of that day. He deftly narrates the poignant scene when each plaintiff and witness spoke on the stand, shared what they saw, and verbalized their pain. With each testimony, the damages case came together for the judge.

Once the trial concluded, the attorneys had to wait patiently for the verdict for MONTHS. Jamal says the liability verdict is more stressful than the damages verdict and shares the very moment he read the result – a historic $230,000,000.

Broken down, it’s a reasonable amount for each plaintiff based on the standard for deaths and injuries. This way, the verdict is much less likely to be appealed, though Jamal admits he wanted more. He praises the judge who handled the case and includes his well-researched, well-founded opinion which will be tough for the defense to overturn on appeal.

Jamal and Michael wrap up the episode with a look at how background check laws work and how successful the program is when agencies report felonies to the FBI as required. This foreseeable tragedy should never have happened – and thanks to the work of Jamal, all of his co-counsel, and everyone who worked on this case, it will hopefully never happen again.

Resources provided by Jamal Alsaffar:

 

Guest Bio:

Jamal Alsaffar is a partner at National Trial Law in Austin, Texas. Jamal represents victims of catastrophic injuries across the state of Texas and has a national practice prosecuting cases against the Federal Government under the FTCA (Federal Tort Claims Act). Jamal and his partner Tom Jacob recently obtained a $230 million verdict against the federal government for their role in the largest mass shooting in Texas history that took 26 lives and injured 22 others at the Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church. Jamal has chaired AAJ’s Federal Torts practice section several times over the past decade, and has served as co-chair of the AAJ MedNeg/Birth Trauma group. He has been selected as one of the 20 “Leading Lawyers” in Texas under the age of 40—way back when he was under the age of 40. And has been named by his peers as a “Super Lawyer” consecutively from 2014-2022. Jamal soon hopes to be hired for his dream job—a perfect fit as he’s been telling anyone who will listen over the years—the next manager for Manchester United football club in England. He has three kids with his wife, law partner and boss, Laurie Higginbotham.

 

95 – Jody C. Moore – A Righteous Claim: Fighting Elder Abuse

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with attorney Jody C. Moore out of Southern California. Jody is an established trial lawyer specializing in elder abuse who, together with Susan Kang Gordon and Jennifer Fiore, recently won a $13,500,000 jury verdict on a 10-plaintiff case, in a 4 ½ month-long, 100% Zoom trial!

Michael and Jody kick off the episode with a look at what elder abuse is and how Jody got started in the field. Jody shares that elder abuse cases primarily look at neglect and why it happened. It usually boils down to a corporate systemic neglect case.

Jody started her career in med mal defense, then quickly shifted to nursing home defense. During this time, Jody’s grandma went to live in a nursing home, where she was neglected. This truly powerful story concludes with Jody inheriting $500 from her grandma and using it to start her firm, where she’s been doing plaintiffs elder abuse cases ever since.

“If this is happening to her, what’s happening to the people who don’t have advocates?” – Jody Moore

When Michael asks how Jody built the skills needed to get a good verdict, Jody credits putting in the technical work but says she relied heavily on her instincts early on. She wavered from this after seeing her first success and started to read every book and follow everyone else’s methods, but found the results to be lacking. Recently, she has circled back to being herself and trusting her gut in the courtroom, which is where she has found the most success.

“At the end of the day, you have to be yourself.” – Michael Cowen

Michael then digs into the details of Jody’s case. Jody explains how 10 residents were neglected in an Alameda County nursing facility. The ways they were neglected ranged from wound management to dehydration and malnourishment, to an excessive number of falls- citing a gentleman who fell 42 times throughout his stay. Jody also highlights the complicated nature of California’s Elder Abuse Act, which only allows blame for elder abuse cases to be placed on the company or individual who is in “custody” of the resident. So, the trial team was tasked with proving the parent company’s control and responsibility.

After an intriguing look into the complexity of California’s Elder Abuse Act and recovery caps, Jody shares more on how the case was tried. The trial was 100% over Zoom and took 4 ½ months, but only occurred 4 days a week from 9:00 AM until 1:30 PM. This served to keep the jurors from having Zoom fatigue and helped the court stretch its limited resources.

The trial was broken into multiple phases, starting with the “care of custody” issue where the trial team presented evidence on corporate control. While every witness on the stand claimed they were simply a “consultant,” this defense quickly fell apart when it became clear the consultants were controlling everything. By the time the trial got to punitive damages, this story arc was very helpful to the case.

Michael then asks what the company did wrong to harm so many residents, and Jody shares the primary theory is understaffing. This facility was operating below the state-mandated minimum number of staff 1/3 of days in the past 3 years- something that sticks out compared to most other facilities. Michael commends this approach because it makes more sense to say the company didn’t have enough people there than to say the employees just don’t care. Throughout the episode, Jody commends the work of the attorneys who brought her in on the case just months before trial, who did an excellent job of working up the case before her involvement.

Jody and Michael shift the conversation to what an appropriate docket size is for an elder abuse attorney, which Jody insists is a very different answer depending on who you ask. She commends her partners and attorneys for the work they did while she was in trial for so long, keeping the rest of their cases moving.

After a brief conversation about structuring your practice to accommodate your life, Jody and Michael both credit the mindset work they’ve done with Sari de la Motte, a trial consultant, and 2-time podcast guest. By focusing on how they show up, rather than external factors out of their control, they’ve both been able to get to a better place where they can focus on advocating.

“It feels like there’s so much on the line… but what’s really on the line is how I show up.” – Jody Moore

Michael then shifts the conversation back to the trial by asking how Jody and the trial team told the damages story. While this is a difficult task in an elder abuse case, Jody credited her co-counsel Susan Kang Gordon who presented compelling evidence of what a relationship means. In a creative and impactful fashion, Jody was inspired to write a poem (“Love is” by Jody C. Moore) during the trial that she read to the jury during her closing statement.

“If you can convey the loss with love, then the jury does the rest of the work.” – Jody Moore

Next, they move on to cover the punitive phase of the case, where the trial team was tasked with finding the financial information to present to the jury. Again, her co-counsel Jen Fiore was instrumental in making sense of the company’s finances under tremendous time constraints. This story of a rapid turnaround time to analyze information and some restrictions on what could be discussed resulted in an impressive verdict from the jury – $8.9 million in punitive damages alone!

Lastly, Michael asks Jody a question she now has more credibility to answer than almost anyone – what was her general impression of the Zoom trial format? Shockingly, Jody replies that for this case, it was the perfect fit, citing the length and complexity of the trial, as well as the benefits to her and the team. They were able to use great technology to present a compelling story and noted that jurors were very forgiving of the inevitable technical difficulties.

The pair ends the episode on Jody’s top tips for anybody trying a case on Zoom:

  • DON’T do it alone.
  • Invest in good technology, including an exhibit management program.
  • Master the technology.
  • Practice being “in this little box,” focusing on your breathing, use of hands, and effective pausing.

This podcast episode also covers building a practice as a young lawyer, how the trial team was able to keep the case as one instead of separating them, structuring your practice so you can do what you love, the power of hearing a story for the first time during the trial, why the jurors were so impressive and much more.

Guest Bio:

Founding Partner Jody C. Moore primarily litigates cases involving claims of elder abuse and neglect in a nursing home or residential care facility setting, wrongful death, medical malpractice and other catastrophic personal injury cases.

Ms. Moore is dedicated to improving community safety through legal advocacy. Ms. Moore is an accomplished lecturer on the topic of Long Term Care litigation to lawyer groups across the United States.

Ms. Moore lives in Thousand Oaks with her husband Mike and her two sons, Joshua and Zachary.

If you would like to contact Jody C. Moore you can reach her via email at jody@johnson-moore.com or by phone at (805) 988-3661.

90 – Sonia Rodriguez – The Trials of War: Tactics, Strategy & Mindset

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with Cowen Rodriguez Peacock partner and attorney, Sonia Rodriguez, to discuss Sonia’s rediscovered inspiration and lessons from Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” and the strategies and tactics trial lawyers can utilize from it while still dealing with a pandemic.

Michael opens the episode by telling Sonia about his feelings of frustration about his upcoming case (which is less than a week away at the time of recording) being canceled due to Covid concerns. Sonia responds to this by saying this trend of “getting the rug pulled out from under you,” seems to be the “new normal” for trial lawyers during the pandemic.

The two then begin to discuss how this impacts your case outside of the courtroom, specifically having to invest time and money into a case multiple times due to cancellations, the need to find flexible experts, and the pandemic’s “giant wrench” in your damage evaluations.

“We all know that, even in non-pandemic times, the certainty of a trial date was never really that certain. But now, the prospect of having to prepare multiple times for the trial setting is going to multiply the cost.” – Sonia Rodriguez

The conversation then shifts to what trial lawyers can do in times like these to maximize the value of their cases. Sonia begins by discussing her re-reading of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” and its impact on her successes in 2021.

“I’ve been practicing law for almost 25 years, and I’ve never made more money in a one-year period than I have during this pandemic,” Sonia says leading into her first citation from the book (with a notable twist for trial lawyers); “Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without [a trial].” This, she notes, is similar to the modern-day strategy, “If you want peace, prepare for war.”

Sonia then delves deeper into this concept by discussing how she prepares for war, or in this case trial, by hiring and preparing our experts, paying for exhibits, and (probably most important) laying plans and evaluating her cases strengths and weaknesses.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”– Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”

Building on the subject of the importance of evaluating your case, Sonia presents one of her touchstones for case valuation: Remember torts 101, negligence has two parts. She presents that it’s easy to fall into the rut of evaluating your case based on your client’s damage model. However, if you look at your case carefully, based on liability factors you believe, and go to battle fairly evaluating both components, you will add value. Michael agrees with this, adding that if the defense did something really bad, you’re more likely to get a bigger result.

The two continue this conversation with Sonia explaining how mediators only want to talk about low property damage and pre-existing conditions; subjects to which she responds, “I spit on that!” Instead, she wants to talk about this trucking company, how they have no training protocols, how they’ve had the same types of crashes for the last 3 years, and so on; ultimately aiming to change the framework of the conversation to focus on liability.

“No one really knows what a case is worth. There is no magic formula … . If we, in our heart of hearts, believe it’s worth more, we can get more.”– Michael Cowen

Sonia then shifts the conversation to “attacking by fire,” or, in other words, always coming from a position of strength, even if you have weaknesses in a case. Regarding the weaknesses of the defense, however, Michael adds, “you always want conflict in the other room.” We want to add pressure to the other side to the point that they want out. Adding a final point to the subject of “attacking by fire,” Sonia hones in on her “fun” way to strategize; namely finding the pressure point of the defense and exploiting that weakness.

Moving on to discussing and evaluating the actions of the defense, Sonia cites Chapter 9 of “The Art of War,” entitled “Assessing Strategy Based on the Actions of Your Opponent.” Here, Michael and Sonia discuss how noticing aggression, “frenetic” activity, or threatening motions from the defense are clear signs of fear and, more importantly, weakness. “Especially when you respond with calm,” Michael says, “There’s nothing like that calm, quiet confidence.”

On that note of quiet confidence and taking power from the defense, Michael begins to take the conversation in a different route, breaking down his feelings about the results of cases and how that relates to his self-worth as a trial lawyer.

“It’s not that I don’t care about the result, it’s that my self-worth is detached from the result.”– Michael Cowen

This prompts the closing topic of conversation for the episode, mental health in the practice of law. Michael and Sonia discuss the trials and tribulations of their profession including starting and ending trials, letting go of trials (win or lose), the discipline required to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and being compassionate to yourself. “I think perfectionism is something a lot of lawyers struggle with,” Sonia says, “The struggle holds us back.” The two end the episode by sharing their own strategies for coping with the struggles of practicing law and close with a positive note of constantly seeking to be better in their cases, mental health, business, and practice.

This episode also discusses finding the weaknesses in your case and how to overcome them, the importance of obtaining key information during the initial client meeting, and trusting your intuition.

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

41 – Malorie Peacock – Resources, Doctor Referrals, and Process-based Focus

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock partner, Malorie Peacock, for another TLN Table Talk to answer the questions of our listeners. This episode focuses on resources for trial lawyers, doctor referrals, and the process behind highlighting what’s most important to your case.

The first question brought to the table is about what the best resources for newer lawyers starting out in the personal injury trial lawyer world. Michael notes his favorite books today would likely not be his favorites for someone just starting out. Having said that, he recommends starting with books like the AAJ Deposition book by Phillip Miller and Paul Scoptur, pointing to the reality in which 90% of cases are likely going to settle and this book focuses on taking good depositions, increasing the likelihood of a higher value settlement for your clients. He also recommends David Ball’s book, Damages 3, which breaks down how to argue a case in a logical and coherent format, avoiding holes in your story, as well as Rules of the Road by Rick Friedman and Patrick Malone, that focuses on simplifying cases. As a follow up to reading all these great books which are meant to help simplify cases, Malorie poses the question of why it is important for lawyers just out of law school (where everything is so complex)  to make the transition to presenting to a jury where you have to make things simple, and why it is so difficult. Michael explores this idea and feels that it takes a lot more work to make things simple, and the complexity is what we hide behind to mask our own insecurities. They both agree that complexity and confusion are great defense tools and by presenting a bunch of confusing ideas to a jury could end up playing right into the defense’s hands. To top off the discussion about resources, Michael adds several other courses, trial colleges, information exchange groups, and other programs that are offered and can help lay the foundation for up and coming trial attorneys and also suggests choosing an area to really focus on, since no one can really know everything about everything.

Beyond books and seminars, Malorie brings up the idea of going to trials and second chairing trials as another great way to gain real life learning experiences. Michael also describes his approach to pairing up attorneys with each other based on where they are in their career to gain practical experience in the courtroom. It’s also noted, in cases where your might be trying them on your own, it can still be beneficial to bring in other attorneys who have done what you are about to do, to strategize and help you prepare. Malorie talks about a specific instance of this coming up for her, where she plans to help a friend through voir dire in their upcoming case. Michael also reminisces about several times back in his early days, enticing friends to come over and practice voir dire and openings with pizza and beer in exchange for their feedback. Although, these weren’t professionals or experts, this practice did help him get more comfortable with talking to people while getting useful feedback.

Another question from our listeners is about lawyers referring people to doctors and the perceived issue that the people getting referred are not actually injured but are being sent to a doctor who will work up some medical documentation to make them look like they’ve sustained an injury in order to make more money for the lawyer. Michael describes his personal experience with this issue in that, he faces it head on and is upfront about it, thereby avoiding any awkwardness or perceived deviance on his part. For him, it basically boils down to having a client in pain, who asks for advice on what doctor to go see. They’re not sure what doctor to go see. They don’t know any specialists in this area. What should I do? Most people would say, tell them to go see a doctor and give them a name. In other words, if you own it, you’re not ashamed of it, and you haven’t done anything wrong and just talk about it, it doesn’t seem to be a problem. He also points out that he’s never lost a case on this issue. Malorie also notes, whatever you make a big deal about to a jury, is likely going to be what they think needs to be a big deal, and by confronting it in a matter of fact type way, people take your cues that it is not something to harp on but rather, just being human to one another.

The next question from our listeners is why is it so important for lawyers to make the case about the company and not the low-level employee, and how do you do that? Malorie digs right in, talking through how there are really two main reasons why the company is the bigger villain in a case: 1. The company is where the deep pocket is, and 2. Oftentimes, the individual that did something wrong is likeable. It becomes much “easier for people to dislike a company than it is to dislike an individual who made a mistake,” Malorie explains. Furthermore, “when a company puts an individual in a position where it’s inevitable that they’re going to make those mistakes, and it’s inevitable that they’re going to hurt someone, then it really is the company’s fault.” Michael expands on this idea with an example of a defendant driver, who is usually making a mistake over a period of seconds. Whereas companies that don’t have good safety programs and often make choices, not mistakes, over a period of months or years. So, “it’s just harder to forgive them, whereas it’s easy to forgive someone for making a mistake, for taking your eye off the road for a second, for being distracted for a minute, for driving a little too fast. It’s harder to forgive someone for knowing that you need to have a company safety program and you just don’t do it.” Malorie continues to explore the many types of negligence that can be aimed at companies in how they treat their employees (IE: negligent training, negligent supervision, negligent monitoring, negligent entrustment, etc.). They continue to explore the “how” to make the case about the company, which brings up some truly fascinating ideas and tactics.

Michael and Malorie continue to explore several other topics throughout this episode like testing theories and hypotheses, root cause analysis, reassessing your case throughout the process, and the curse of knowledge. They also explore the processes of walking people through your case one step at a time so that on their own, it inevitably leads to the conclusion of who the good guy is, who the bad guy is, what’s right, and what’s wrong. It takes a lot of work to get there, but Michael and Malorie agree, it’s so worth it.

These Table Talk podcasts also could not happen without the interaction and questions that are submitted by our listeners, for which we are eternally grateful for and encourage you to continue to send us your thoughts, ideas, and questions as we love sharing our experiences with them.

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