Texas Accident Attorneys

25 – Sonia Rodriguez – Defeating Defense Medical Experts

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock partner, Sonia Rodriguez, for another installment of TLN Table Talk to answer the questions of our listeners. This episode focuses on defense medical “experts,” or as Michael calls them, “paid opinion witnesses.”

Michael calls this spade a spade right from the get-go, in that the title of “defense medical experts” is a sham. Many times, he says, they are called “independent experts” when they are neither independent nor an expert, not to mention the fact that they are hand-picked by defense lawyers who pay them for their testimony. Michael believes it is a huge fraud being perpetrated on our clients, on the jury, and on the court system. He says, typically “we know what their report is going to say once we hear their name,” further exemplifying this flaw in the system.

So, Michael asks, “what do we do to expose this and show the jurors the truth?” Sonia believes it is critical we expose the relationships experts have with the lawyers who hired them, how often they’ve been used by that firm or the defense industry, as well as how much money they make from that business. She also uncovers what percentage of their business is spent on reviewing files for defense lawyers vs. practicing medicine, in some cases. All of which can go a long way in revealing these witnesses for what they really are, which is “paid opinion witnesses.” Michael also explains how he doesn’t like to even use the word “expert,” which gives them the mantle of that title. He goes on to discuss the harsh reality and his distain for medical professionals who misuse their degrees to go against the very oath they have taken to “do no harm,” while we represent legitimately injured clients, and they do it for money! They both agree how uncovering the financial ties and bias of these witnesses also says a lot about them because they could likely be making much more money by seeing patients, but instead are reviewing cases for a defense lawyer. Michael also talks through a real example of what he’s run into on how these medical witnesses come to find themselves making money in this way and how their path toward testifying can ironically parallel his client’s paths.

Michael and Sonia share a plethora of examples regarding their tactics on utilizing depositions, both past and present, to build their cases, ranging from networking with other attorneys and medical professionals to leveraging amazon.com in the middle of a deposition. Sonia explains how you cannot go into a deposition with a broad brush, but rather be laser-focused and able to drill down on even a single word, in some cases, to make your entire case. And to sum things up, Michael talks through the very polarizing two ends of the spectrum his preparations take him with defense medical experts, where they are likely to either be way “off the deep end” and obviously working as a paid witness, or he will focus his energies on essentially turning them to help his case. The strategies they both describe are pure methodical genius.

The conversation shifts to talk specifically about the tone and demeanor both Michael and Sonia use when deposing paid medical witnesses. They both agree the tone and demeaner you use in a paid medical witness deposition is extremely important, as it will likely be replayed for the jury at some point and jurors will also be watching to see how you handle yourself in this situation, the same way they do in the courtroom. We, as plaintiff attorneys, also need to be cognizant of how we are approaching the deposition so it leads the jury to come to their own conclusions regarding the credibility of the paid medical witness and their testimony. It also becomes reflective for the jury to feel the danger themselves of allowing these paid medical witnesses to get away with using their titles as a form of “expertness” in exchange for being paid by the defense. In other words, if we just “rip into them” it will likely backfire on us and not work at all in our favor. Not to mention, Sonia adds, that today’s juries are tired of the theatrics and enthusiastic approach of some lawyers, where the days of yelling and pounding your fist on the table are now long gone.

All in all, this Table Talk with Michael and Sonia was thorough and filled with an enormous number of real examples from their experiences over the years. As a trial lawyer, you will likely run into paid medical witnesses in trials often, and this table talk could be the one thing that prepares you most for success.

24 – Michael Leizerman – The Zen Lawyer: Winning with Mindfulness

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, host Michael Cowen sits down with a brilliant trial lawyer, national speaker/lecturer, and author, Michael Leizerman. Cowen has learned an enormous number of methods and approaches over the years from Leizerman who takes mindfulness to a whole new level in and out of the courtroom.

The discussion begins with an in-depth look at the “beginner’s mind” and understanding how it adds to a case, and life, infinitely. Leizerman uses the example of the hierarchy of karate, where becoming a “black belt” is commonly misconstrued as becoming a “master,” when it simply means you are at the first level of Dan, meaning you are now a beginner once again. He also points out that he takes it upon himself to know when he feels like he has mastered anything, he needs to remind himself he is just a “beginner,” otherwise the jury will, his wife will, or life, in general, will remind him. As the discussion progresses, Leizerman and Cowen discuss the idea that in the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, whereas, in the master’s mind, there are few. Leizerman likes to bring this mindset to many aspects of his work and discusses how he uses it in depositions, saying, “There’s a feeling like I’ve never done one before” while holding confidence about himself knowing exactly what he wants to get out of the time.

In each case Leizerman approaches, he works to become mindful of what he calls “the 5 core truths,” which are also the basis of his book The Zen Lawyer: Winning with Mindfulness, as well as an essential part of the workshops he puts on with Joshua Karton [link to his episode] and Jay Rinsen Weik. He describes the mindfulness around the 5 core truths (Physical, Emotional, Logical, Motivational, and Zen) as being seen as simultaneous truths in every case and with the understanding that each core starts with the lawyer and their own understanding and experience. Leizerman talks through examples of each core including a powerful example where emotional truth was used in a case to show where a father’s simple love for his son led them to put the case on the line and not ask any questions of a witness. He also reveals how he used the 5 cores in a case which led to a record wrongful death verdict in Ohio and also why he believes lawyers don’t get large verdicts or are disappointed in verdicts. Hint, hint, it’s all based on these core truths.

Cowen and Leizerman agree sometimes trial lawyers forget that jurors, in general, want to see good done and want to help people and these core truths can motivate jurors to see their way to the best outcome based on their own truths. Leizerman also talks through the “curse of knowledge” we, as trial lawyers, have when we’re in front of a jury and it sometimes goes over the jury’s heads to where they feel “submerged” or lost in all the details.

Leizerman recalls coming to the conclusion after dissecting a case post-trial: we tend to bring the anger of a case to the courtroom without allowing the jury to experience it. Having a beginner’s mindset allows him to be the one who is grounded and the one who people look to for guidance vs. seeing him as the angry attorney who gets mad when things don’t go as planned. He finds that allowing the jury to experience the frustration for themselves when a defendant tells different stories that are contradictory instead of the lawyer pointing it out and calling them a liar, can become the lynchpin in a case. It comes down to letting the jury experience it for themselves vs. the jury trying to experience it through the upset lawyer. He makes note that when you get angry, it takes away the anger from the other party, even in many other significant relationships. In other words, if you get angry in the courtroom, often times it takes the anger away from the jury, the individuals you really want to experience the anger. He also points out if we were just analyzing the facts of the case, we could use a computer for that. We’re in the courtroom to live through the case and be the case that gets decided by the jury.

Cowen extracts many more nuggets of mindful wisdom from Leizerman throughout their conversation, including a hint to a possible addition to Leizerman’s authorship with a book on transformational storytelling, as well as how listeners can learn firsthand from him at the various workshops he holds throughout the year. This was definitely an exceptionally insightful interview with Leizerman and we look forward to learning more from him in the near future.

Guest Bio:

Michael Jay Leizerman is the co-founder of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys (ATAA). He concentrates his practice in select catastrophic injury truck collision cases across the country.

Michael is the author of the Thomson West/AAJ three-volume treatise, Litigating Truck Accident Cases. He was the first Chair of AAJ’s Trucking Litigation Group. Michael attended truck driving school and obtaining his Commercial Driver’s License while managing his law practice.

He has taken 14 truck and bus cases to trial in the last decade. He has received record-breaking truck accident settlements and verdicts across the country, including multiple verdicts with punitive damages. He has received over thirty multi-million dollar settlements and verdicts, including six settlements and verdicts in excess of $10 million.

Michael is the author of the Trial Guides book The Zen Lawyer: Winning with Mindfulness, published in  2018. He puts on a series of workshops teaching his Core Method, including meditation, Aikido and theater skills for lawyers (along with co-teachers Jay Rinsen Weik and Joshua Karton).

Learn more at his website www.TruckAccidents.com.

14 – Steven Gursten – Remarkable Customer Service = Extraordinary Law Practice (and Life)

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with Michigan trial lawyer and owner of Michigan Auto Law, along with 3 other law firms, Steven Gursten. As an early adopter of internet legal marketing, Steven has built his firm to become extremely successful in Michigan and is recognized as having the TOP verdict in the state 8 out of the last 12 years, as well as success throughout the country.

Steven recalls in the first 10 years of his practice making it a goal to be a great trial lawyer and have attorneys all over the state refer him cases. To get there, he still recommends lawyers set aside 30 minutes to an hour every day to read and study some area of law. IE: Mondays would be opening statements, Tuesdays might be cross examining, Wednesdays – closings, Thursdays – medicine, and Fridays he wanted to become an expert on the Michigan no-fault law. Even now, Steven utilizes the massive amounts of information he’s accumulated, learned from, and still references. Similarly, Michael recalls and shares a story about learning through the process of proofreading a book another attorney in his office was writing and both agree the continuation of learning after passing the bar is extremely important.

Fast forwarding from 4 attorneys in his first practice to now having 20 attorneys across 4 diverse practices, Michael and Steven discuss the two very different disciplines of running a law firm vs. trying cases, both of which they do very successfully. He also goes into detail on some of the systems he has put in place as a solid foundation, in order to handle the hundreds of cases coming through his different practices, and how much he has embraced different technologies throughout the years. Steven also brings up a great point that in today’s online society, good lawyers will now more than ever be rewarded and bad lawyers will be punished because of Google reviews, Avvo, and other similar review sites, which makes customer service even more important. Meanwhile, those same systems are the ones which help great law firms stay on top of their cases and communicate with their clients to avoid the potential pitfalls easily avoided through systematic communication. Topics such as discussing what not to post on social media or making sure the client is going to their doctors’ appointments can have hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of impact on a case when communication is stagnant. Steven goes on to say that the same type of communication can also have a huge impact when it comes to keeping referring attorneys in the loop on shared cases, citing a recent case he referred to Michael in which he was extremely impressed with the follow up.

The conversation shifts when Michael asks Steven how he’s able to have the other 19 attorneys in his office use all of the systems he has in place. Without hesitation, Steven points to the culture of his firm which has guided everyone in the same direction, keeping them on the same page, regarding the inner workings of the practices. He is also quick to point out that establishing this type of culture starts with the ownership of a firm, and regardless of tenure no attorney should ever be above talking with their clients, which is something he tries to instill in each of his attorneys. Steven also shares some of the small things they do to build the culture, such as whenever they receive a great review, they send it out to everyone in the firm to further demonstrate its importance to the firm as a whole and praise those who are walking the talk.

So many great insights on running a successful firm (too many to list in this brief description) come from Steven and Michael throughout this episode, even down to the psychological testing Steven does with everyone in his firm which helps shed light on their ability to deliver a quality customer experience. Steven also shares several thoughts for those who are trying to build their practices, which any attorney can leverage to not only work in their practice but also on their practice.

The conversation transitions to traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) to which Steven again delivers a mountain’s worth of information in rapid succession. Steven is gracious enough to lay out not only the basics of how TBI cases are identified but also the more intricate and subtle ways clients who’ve suffered from a TBI are not only identified but also misunderstood, as Michael asks him questions to bridge the gap between customer service and delicate TBI cases. Steven’s view of customer service is engrained so deeply in him that even during this part of his conversation with Michael, he can’t help but note its importance when working with those who have suffered a TBI.  Things like displaying a positive image online in order to be seen as approachable, being cognizant of the tremendous diplomacy it takes to work with clients who have had a TBI, and doing everything in your power to genuinely make things as easy as possible on the them. Perhaps THAT is why he doesn’t encounter many of the problems or issues other attorneys do.

Background on Steven Gursten
Steven Gursten is recognized as one of the nation’s top attorneys handling serious auto accident injury and wrongful death cases, and No-Fault insurance litigation. He is head of Michigan Auto Law, the state’s largest law firm handling car, truck and motorcycle accident cases for more than 50 years.

Steven has recovered top-reported verdicts and settlements for car and truck accidents for multiple years, including a $34 million truck accident settlement in 2014 with Ohio co-counsel.   In this capacity, Steve was named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly “Lawyer of the Year,” after recovering one of the largest truck accident settlements in Michigan history, as well four other top-reported trial verdicts in previous years.

Steven frequently lectures at legal seminars throughout the country on trial advocacy, trucking litigation, and traumatic brain injury cases.  He is the annual moderator and speaker at the “Advanced Motor Vehicle Litigation Seminar,” offered through 360 Advocacy.   He is the current President of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and a Past Chair of the American Association for Justice (AAJ) Trucking Litigation Group.  Steven is also the chair-elect of the AAJ Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group.

In addition, he serves on the executive boards of the Melvin M. Belli Society and represents the state of Michigan in the Taos Trial Lawyers Society, an invitation-only group of distinguished trial attorneys from around the country.

For more info on Steven Gursten visit:
https://www.michiganautolaw.com/firm_profile/attorney-steven-gursten/

12 – Eric Penn – $89M Worth of Experience

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with Founding Partner at The Penn Law Firm, Eric Penn. To start things off, Eric describes his decision to focus on trucking cases and how it came from the simple fact that we can all relate to them. In fact, everyone (including attorneys) share the road with 18 wheelers. Eric goes on to point out that the general viewpoint of “cases never looking better than when you first work them up,” while true at times, seems to go the other way with trucking cases where they get consistently better the more you roll up your sleeves and dig into them.

Speaking of rolling up sleeves and digging in … Michael and Eric pull back the curtain on what turned out to be an $89.6M verdict for the bulk of this podcast, which in and of itself is enlightening, educational, and impactful.

The brief synopsis of the case would likely have many attorneys passing on the case from the very start considering how things looked on the surface – A mother with 3 children in the car, running errands on a Texas highway, hit a patch of black ice, loses control of their vehicle sending them through the median into oncoming traffic and is struck by an 18 wheeler, and the police report indicating that there was no fault to be placed. Michael suggests that more than 98% of personal injury attorneys in the state would likely not take on such a case and the others might even look at it and see a $1-2M settlement, which obviously wouldn’t be enough once you hear the unfortunate circumstances the victims faced moving forward. But not Eric!

Eric’s reasoning behind taking the case stemmed from getting to know the case on a deeper level, understanding that the injuries were dramatic, and having an in-depth knowledge of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (the green book) and CDL Manual’s Safety Rules that are in place to protect all of us who share the road with 18 wheelers, citing one of the chapter’s intent is literally to “prevent crashes and save lives.” One might think that this type of case would revolve around the approximate 3-second sequence of the crash itself, but Eric’s explanation of how their focus became everything but those 3 seconds really shed a light on how this type of case can quickly grow to a much more substantial and just verdict. Spoiler Alert: Eric notes that EVERY case he has come into has 100% of the time been about the company behind the truck driver and how that company operates its fleet, making them much more responsible than they may like to admit. The compassion Eric demonstrates in describing his mental process in the decision to take on a case like this is palpable.

The details surrounding this case that Michael and Eric discuss are apt to be a significant learning tool from which any attorney can stand to learn.

Background on Eric Penn

Eric T. Penn believes that in order to keep our families and communities safe, we have to hold people or corporations who choose to violate safety rules accountable for the injuries and conditions they create. That is why he has been an outspoken advocate for seriously injured people for more than seventeen (17) years. He represents people who have been permanently and seriously injured through no fault of their own.

Eric is a born and raised Texan. He is a 1998 graduate of Baylor University. He received his Juris Doctorate (J.D.) from Baylor University School of Law. He was admitted to the practice of law in Texas and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in 2001.

A Trial Lawyer’s College (TLC) graduate, Eric is a frequent lecturer on Trucking litigation throughout the country. He is a member of American Association for Justice (AAJ) Trucking Litigation section, Attorney Information Exchange Group (AIEG), Academy of Trucking Accident Attorneys (ATAA) and the Texas Trial Lawyers Association (TTLA).

For more info on Eric Penn visit:

https://thepennlawfirm.com/about-the-firm/our-attorneys/

07 – Matthew Wright – Finding Additional Liability in Shippers and Brokers

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with Tennessee trial attorney, Matthew Wright who discusses finding additional liability in shippers and brokers.

Matthew hits the ground running with an all too familiar scenario where a trucking case is brought to your attention, only to find out the trucking company is small with minimal insurance (most people are shocked to learn these companies only carry $750k of insurance). Unfortunately, in these cases it generally doesn’t make sense for a family who has suffered a catastrophic loss to go after these small companies, however, this is where Matthew’s keen awareness of liabilities lying with other parties involved (brokers and shippers) comes into play, and it’s not always obvious. In fact, it’s taken Matthew some time to understand it all, but there is a business model that surrounds the industry regarding how cargo flows from the shipper, ultimately to the receiver, and he’s found it “interesting” how these small trucking companies are getting these loads from the large shipping companies. In these cases, a simple $750k verdict can turn into a $2M, $5M, or even as much as a $10M verdict when the overall liability is investigated beyond just the “mom and pop” trucking company for the sake and benefit of the client.

Michael continues the conversation while overlaying specific scenarios with Matthew to fully understand this process, the parties involved, and investigative tactics trial lawyers can specifically use when combing through documents relating to the case. Matthew even goes into detail by drilling down to the specific terminology used in these cases, such as the differences between a “bill of lading” and a “load tender.” Matthew continues to unveil, piece by piece, some of the pervasive maneuvers used throughout the trucking industry which can jeopardize public safety. Truly an informative and enlightening conversation, even for trial lawyers who only run across these cases every so often. One that will help you gain knowledge about these cases, so you don’t pass over millions of dollars in verdicts for yourself, and more importantly your clients.

The episode concludes with Matthew sharing his journey: the start as a law student to becoming a trial attorney focused on trucking cases … the explanation will likely either surprise you or be completely relatable to your own path as a trial lawyer. Nonetheless, Matthew and Michael alike are always willing to share their knowledge and point to several periodicals and groups that have been instrumental in both their success throughout the years as sources for great knowledge of the industry in the truest form of sharing.

Background on Matthew Wright

Matthew E. Wright devotes his career to representing victims of catastrophic truck crashes and improving roadway safety. Frequently associated as co-counsel across the country, he helps identify adequate insurance coverage by exposing the key corporate actors in the supply chain, including primary motor carriers that attempt to shield themselves from liability through captive brokerage divisions and other shell games.

An alumnus of Vanderbilt Law School, Mr. Wright currently serves as Chair of the AAJ Trucking Litigation Group Journal, serves on the group’s Executive Board and has given several talks on truck safety and contributed articles to trucking-related publications. Mr. Wright has served on the Tennessee Trial Lawyers Association Board of Governors, is a member of the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum, the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyers’ College, the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys, and the National Trial Lawyers Top 10 Trucking Lawyers.

Mr. Wright lives in Franklin, Tennessee with his wife Lindsay and four children, Helen, Sadie, Isaac, and Celie, and is the founding member of Wright Law, PLC.

For more info on Matthew Wright visit:  https://www.truckinjurylaw.us/about-matthew-wright/

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