symptoms

63 – Sonia Rodriguez – “You Got Me”: Discrediting Defense Paid Opinion Witnesses

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his law partner Sonia Rodriguez for an overview of deconstructing defense-paid opinion witnesses. They highlight many of their favorite strategies to use when dealing with a witness who won’t answer your questions, their favorite unexpected “gifts” from witnesses, and the importance of why someone becomes a defense-paid opinion witness in the first place. This episode is full of shocking real-life examples you don’t want to miss.

Michael begins the episode by highlighting the defense strategy to hire someone to discredit their client. He asks Sonia, “What do you do to deal with this?” Sonia describes the first action she takes, which is reviewing what organizations they show they are affiliated with on their CV (curriculum vitae). Most professional organizations have ethical guidelines which these witnesses must abide by. She’s found success in displaying these guidelines to the witness during the deposition and using them to prevent the witness from stating biased information.

Michael then describes the common narrative these witnesses all portray which every plaintiff attorney listening is sure to relate to. Any injury from the crash goes away in 6-12 weeks, but any injury from 10 years ago is most certainly the cause of everything today, even if they haven’t been to a doctor for it in 9 years. Sonia has combatted this in medical witnesses by focusing heavily on the client’s description of pain. Most doctors will admit that the patient’s description of pain is a very important part of the diagnosis. She uses this information to put the witness in a position of saying, “the records aren’t adequate,” which does not play well with the jury.

The conversation then shifts to the difficult but highly effective strategy of turning the defense paid opinion witness into your witness. Sonia explains why this is so difficult to do successfully, but has maneuvered these difficulties by focusing her depos on what she knows she can get from them. She shares an example of this where she was able to build up the witness’s credibility, then use it to get some simple, clear concessions.

On the other hand, Michael says his primary goal in every defense paid opinion witness depo is to make them his witness. Instead of fighting with them in an area where he does not have credibility, he spends his time researching the witness, reading prior depositions, and trying to find what they will give you based off those prior experiences.

Michael elaborates further on the importance of reading past testimonies by sharing a shocking example with a biomechanical engineer who claimed his client could not possibly have a herniated disc from the crash. Before trial, Michael read several of his previous depositions and went through all of the literature the witness cited in the case. He then shares an example of how he used those prior depos to discredit the witness, how his voir dire helped him do this while also relating to the jury, and why reading the literature can help your case.

Sonia wholeheartedly agrees and gives her real world experience using the literature to your advantage. She shares an example where a neurosurgeon used a study about the prevalence of herniated discs to claim her client’s pain wasn’t caused by the crash. After reading the article, Sonia found that it only referred to a specific type of herniated disc, which was not the type her client had. After revealing this, all the witness could say was, “You got me.”

Another all too familiar roadblock is the witness who just won’t answer your questions. While Sonia and Michael both agree this will always be a barrier, they both share insightful techniques on how you can overcome this. Sonia does this by always recording the testimony, so she can show the jury the witness was refusing to cooperate or concede to basic things. Michael then offers another strategy he employs with uncooperative witnesses – using basic, fair questions in a true or false format. While you may still need to ask the same question 10 times to get a response, you can always cut out the first 9 asks. The key to this is to never appear mad or frustrated because it doesn’t present well to the jury. Sonia agrees with this strategy and points out how well-suited it is for a Zoom deposition.

On a lighter note, Michael and Sonia share their favorite unexpected “gifts” they’ve received from paid opinion witnesses. Sonia details her experience of utilizing past testimony to prove an orthopedic surgeon was simply touting lies for money and highlights the importance of sharing information with other members of the plaintiff’s bar. Michael’s favorite “gift” was an ex-sheriff providing testimony on a drunk driving case, who made an incredibly racist statement in his deposition. The judge insisted the case not be made about race, which Michael had no issuing agreeing to. But when Michael asked the sheriff the same question at trial (assuming the witness had been prepped not to make the same mistake), he made the SAME racist statement he made in the deposition.

While these unexpected “gifts” are a huge blessing, they’re hard to come by on most cases. Sonia and Michael conclude the conversation by exploring why people become paid opinion witnesses in the first place. He accurately states, “This isn’t why people want to become doctors or engineers.” Michael explains how many of them either just weren’t good at their jobs or experienced an injury that rendered them unable to perform surgery.

This podcast also covers using before and after witnesses, focusing on the symptoms instead of the diagnosis, whether or not to “go in for the kill” in a deposition, verifying the qualifications of a witness, and so much more.

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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