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54 – Michael O’Neill – Delivering Justice: From UPS Defense Attorney to Plaintiff Trial Lawyer

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with former defense attorney for UPS and current plaintiff attorney, Michael O’Neill. This show covers an array of topics, including the defense’s advantages in catastrophic injury cases, why O’Neill switched sides of the courtroom (and why it made him such a good plaintiff attorney), what companies can’t defend against, and why referring out cases can make you more money.

The episode kicks off with Cowen asking O’Neill why large companies use the same defense firm for cases around the country. O’Neill says the lawyer needs to know a very specific field, know the company well, and have a consistent defense. O’Neill would receive a call in the middle of the night or on a weekend and would need to travel immediately to the scene of a crash. UPS would refer to this as “boots on the ground.” He emphasizes that marshalling evidence while it’s fresh is pertinent to the success of any case. O’Neill shares a story of a time where he went to the scene and pointed out a detail the police missed which would have hurt their case on liability. He was also there while the police were writing their reports and describes how he could influence what was written. Cowen and O’Neill discuss the defense’s role in shaping the narrative of the case from the start, the role of psychology with the first responders, the defense’s advantage in this, and what plaintiff lawyers CAN (but most DON’T) do to combat this.

Cowen then asks what everyone’s thinking; why did O’Neill switch to the plaintiff’s side? O’Neill replies that the curiosity has always been there. He then describes a scenario, not uncommon to him, where he had a defense verdict on a case he believed “that’s an easy 7-figure case that should have been won and we zeroed them.”

The conversation shifts to what companies CAN’T defend. Both agree on exposing poor training programs as the key to winning “nuclear verdicts” in commercial vehicle and trucking cases. They discuss this and other factors which make the case about the 3 months before, as opposed to the 5 seconds before the crash. O’Neill then brings up a defense trucking podcast by FreightWaves which recently discussed the defense’s fear of “the second lawyer” and the impact of referral attorneys on the insurance industry. As a “second lawyer” himself, Cowen shares a recent example of an insurance company who learned once he became involved all prior negotiations at a much lower number were out the window.

One of the most important details for a successful catastrophic injury lawyer to accomplish is to make the case about the company, not the individual. Cowen shares a story of a case where the CMV driver was high on meth at the time of the accident. The case against the driver was already strong, but when asked by a colleague why he was working so hard on the case Cowen replied, “It doesn’t take much money to teach a meth head a lesson. It needs to be about the company and what it takes to teach the company a lesson.” O’Neill echoes this with another great example of a strong case that he made even stronger by putting in the work.

O’Neill and Cowen then praise trucking trial lawyer Joe Fried and how instrumental he has been on creating the current “abundance mentality” of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys (ATAA). The ATAA abundance mentality encompasses the idea that there are plenty of trucking cases to go around, and we all perform better when we share information and establish good law. “The tide raises good ships,” O’Neill eloquently responds. When comparing this to the defense bar, O’Neill says the difference is night and day. Information on the defense side is kept from one another because there are fewer clients and essentially everyone can be your competition. He goes as far as to say that the way the plaintiff’s bar shares information “terrifies the defense.”

They then move into a discussion on the transition process from defense to plaintiff lawyer. Cowen asks O’Neill what it has been like changing into a role where he works at a firm that now funds cases and isn’t paid by the hour. O’Neill discusses some transitional difficulties, but insists he has been made confident through his experiences as a defense attorney, stating, “You start giving big checks to mediocre lawyers and you start to wonder, why am I not on the other end of this conversation?” Cowen then describes his history of funding cases by sharing his expertise in finance management and smart firm growth.

The conversation concludes with a discussion on package car cases- What makes them different from trucking cases? Why can they be so complicated? O’Neill highlights the necessity for specialized knowledge in this area, stating, “There’s a million ways to skin a cat, but you have to know how to skin the cat.” Because shipping companies usually work with subcontractors as delivery drivers, it can be difficult to make the case about the company. O’Neill shares valuable insight into how he’s overcome this barrier.

This podcast also covers efficient docket size, the order of your depositions, networking, direct to public marketing versus B2B marketing, and much more.

 

ABOUT THE GUEST

A northeastern Pennsylvania native, Attorney Michael O’Neill handles catastrophic injury litigation, including representing those who were in motor vehicle and truck accidents, medical malpractice, product liability, and premises liability. A former senior litigation associate at DLA Piper LLP, and a founder partner at a national litigation boutique law firm, O’Neill has served as first chair trial attorney in over 25 jury trials, or their equivalent, in ten different states. All of these complex litigation matters involved disputes of seven figures or more and resulted in successful verdicts or settlements.

With more than 20 years of complex litigation experience, O’Neill has appeared multiple times on NBC-10 television in Philadelphia, numerous radio broadcasts and national podcasts as a legal expert and to discuss cases he is handling on behalf of catastrophically injured people.

O’Neill is admitted to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Supreme Court of New Jersey, and the Supreme Court of New York, as well as the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Middle District of Pennsylvania, Western District of Pennsylvania, District of New Jersey, and the Northern District of Texas.

O’Neill also has a distinguished military service record as a veteran of the United States Army. He is an honors graduate of the U.S. Army Officer Candidate School and the U.S. Army Aviation and Warfighting Center, was commissioned as a second lieutenant and trained to fly helicopters for the Army and the Pennsylvania National Guard. He remained active in the National Guard until 2005 and is a member of the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry, one of the oldest recognized organizations in the United States military.

O’Neill earned his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Scranton and received his Juris Doctor from the Villanova University School of Law in 1998. While at Villanova, he focused on litigation-related curriculum and after graduation taught trial advocacy for seven years as an adjunct professor. A lifelong athlete, he played collegiate football and baseball and was inducted into the Wayne/Pike County Area Sports Hall of Fame in 2018. He also has held a civilian aviation license for more than 30 years.

Michael O’Neill joined the offices of Fellerman & Ciarimboli in Philadelphia on March 1st.. He can be reached by phone at (215)776-5070 or by email at mjo@fclawpc.com.

 

23 – Tom Crosley – TBIs: An invisible, yet very real injury

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with accomplished trial lawyer and national speaker, Tom Crosley, who has been incredibly successful in trying cases involving Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs).

Tom’s start in TBI-specialized cases began with a case involving a plumber who had a neck and shoulder injury with seemingly normal readings on his CT and MRI scans. The more he worked on the case, the more he found out through his client’s wife that his client just wasn’t the same as before the incident. It was when the defense lawyer was taking the plaintiff’s deposition that Tom realized his client likely had a TBI. All the things a plaintiff’s attorney cringes at in a depo were happening, from his client flying off the handle at the defense attorney, to forgetting his kid’s birthdays. Basically, all the things you think are going to be bad for your case. By the end of the deposition, Tom went from thinking this was a neck and shoulder injury case worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to thinking this could be a TBI case more than likely worth millions.

This sent Tom off to learn as much as he possibly could about TBIs, all in the face of having normal scan results, which back then were seen more as a barrier to proving TBI cases. His research inevitably led him to finding a case study where war veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan were not displaying outward signs of TBIs, nor were their CT or MRI scans showing any abnormalities, but were found to have TBIs through additional testing. Not to give the whole story away, but Tom tracked down the lead researcher, his client was tested and found to have a mild TBI, the case was won with a verdict over 20X the initial offer given pre-trial, and Tom’s specialty for TBI cases had begun.

Since then Tom attributes his ability to go from never having tried a TBI case to now being one of the country’s top TBI lawyers, to his penchant for reading medical literature and going to legal and medical conferences in order to gain knowledge of the cutting-edge science happening with TBIs. He also admits it’s not all brain science with TBI cases, but it also includes some very human nature elements sometimes overlooked. Things like before-and-after witnesses who can relay their own experiences with a plaintiff in a meaningful and impactful way, having nothing to gain from doing so. This puts the decision on the jury to conclude that this invisible injury (which many defense lawyers will proclaim isn’t real if it can’t be seen) either has a lot of people lying about it for the benefit of the plaintiff, or there is something very real about it given those who have first-hand accounts of seeing the plaintiff’s evolution from pre-injury to their current state. Michael shares his own firm’s experience about the timing of getting other witnesses involved in TBI cases and the hard lessons that experience has brought with it.

Next, Michael explores how Tom transitioned from having success with just one TBI case to building up the number of TBI specific cases to become successful. To which Tom explains that the sequence of your evidence at trial makes a big difference on the outcome of the trial and shares a perfect example based on his experience of the order where he has found the most success over time. Tom discusses the patterns which tend to work for him, although his process is nothing close to being cookie-cutter, and shares “just like no two snowflakes are alike, no two brain injury cases are alike.”

Michael and Tom both reference a shocking study which shows upwards of 56% of TBIs are misdiagnosed or go undiagnosed completely. Tom digs in and goes over some of the reasons WHY they get missed, starting with the most obvious in a traumatic medical situation where other orthopedic injuries tend to get the attention; i.e., someone goes to the ER with a bone sticking out of their leg and a concussion – the doctors focus on the bone first. Another challenge Tom points out is while a TBI is an invisible injury, their symptoms can also be described as things not brain injury related, such as age, depression, PTSD, psychiatric history, which also cause symptoms that mirror those of a TBI. So, the challenge becomes, in these cases, to figure out how those symptoms are related to brain damage and not related to something else. He goes on to discuss the lack of training most physicians receive on what to do with concussion patients, which adds another layer of complexity to many TBI cases.

Michael asks the question on all trial lawyers’ minds who work on TBI cases, and that is “what are some of the things that we should be doing when we get hired on these cases early in order to have the best possible chance of winning the case?” Tom explains the number one piece of advice when trial lawyers run into these types of cases is that as long as the plaintiff/patient is experiencing symptoms, they need to be getting documented in the medical records. You don’t want to go to trial with a gap in records where these life-changing symptoms are occurring, which Michael also points out is likely no different than the advice that you would give to a friend or a family member.

Michael and Tom explore several other nuances of TBI cases; but in the end, Tom explains, we are painting a portrait of a person whose life has been changed forever. Similar to a wrongful death case where the person who existed before is no longer; helping a jury understand the impact a TBI has on a person, their family, and the future and how this person no longer exists as they did before is EXACTLY what can turn a $100k case into a $16M case.

About Tom Crosley

Tom Crosley received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas in 1988, and his law degree from the University of Houston in 1992. He was admitted to the bar in the State of Texas in 1992 and is also admitted to practice in the United States District Courts for the Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western Districts of Texas, as well as the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Prior to forming the Crosley Law Firm, P.C. in 2005, he was a partner with Branton & Hall, P.C. in San Antonio, where he worked for ten years. He began his legal career in Houston as an associate at Brown McCarroll, LLP.

Mr. Crosley is “AV” rated by Martindale-Hubbell, and is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and is board certified as a Civil Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is a past president of the San Antonio Trial Lawyers Association in 2002. In 2001, he served under appointment by the Bexar County Commissioners Court to the Advisory Board for the Bexar County Dispute Resolution Center and he served in that position until 2006. He is a member of numerous legal organizations, including the American Association for Justice. He has been an active member of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association (Director, 2005-present, Advocates Director, 1999-2001), the San Antonio Trial Lawyers Association (Director, 2000-2001, President, 2002), the American Board of Trial Advocates, San Antonio Chapter (inducted 2004, Secretary, 2014, Treasurer, 2014, Vice President 2015, President-Elect 2016, and President 2017), the American Bar Association, the Texas Young Lawyers Association (Director, 1997-2001), the San Antonio Bar Association (President-Elect, 2018-2019, Vice President, 2017-2018, Secretary, 2016-2017, Treasurer, 2015-2016, Director, 2004-2006 and 2013-2016), the San Antonio Young Lawyers Association (Director, 1997-2001, Vice President, 2000) and the American Inns of Court. Mr. Crosley is a Life Fellow of the Texas and San Antonio Bar Foundation and is a member in good standing of the State Bar of Texas. Mr. Crosley has tried 50 cases as first-chair trial counsel, nearly all of them from the plaintiff’s side of the docket.

Mr. Crosley frequently serves as an author and speaker at legal seminars, usually on topics related to personal injury trial law. Mr. Crosley has been selected as a Texas Super Lawyer each year since 2004 and has been named as one of the Top 50 Lawyers in Central and West Texas by that publication for the last several years.

Mr. Crosley’s docket of cases includes personal injury and wrongful death cases arising from automobile and trucking accidents, defective products, medical malpractice, and related areas. In 2006 ($28,000,000), 2010 ($16,000,000), and 2016 ($11,485,000)

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