Trial Lawyer Nation

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

In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, 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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21 – Sonia Rodriguez – Winning (or Losing) a Case in Deposition

With overwhelmingly positive feedback from our listeners, TLN Table Talk is back again! This time featuring fellow partner at Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock, Sonia Rodriguez, for a discussion mainly focused on how to win (or lose) a case in deposition.

Michael is quick to note that many cases tend to settle before going to trial, making depositions an integral part of the process. Oftentimes it comes down to knowing the documents better than the defense attorneys while also knowing the right documents to order, which in many cases the defense may not have. It can also come down to a witness’s ability to know and articulate the truth in a deposition, which is frequently a direct reflection on those who have helped to prepare the witness (defense or plaintiff).

So how do Michael and Sonia prepare for depositions? Sonia explains her strategy of always looking back on the jury charge to see what exactly she is trying to gain from a witness, scour the defense record from production to find nuggets of useful information, dig into the foot notes, fine print, and back of pages to find what others might miss. She has also found social media to be useful to learn as much as you can on the person being deposed including who their friends and other contacts are, companies they’ve worked for, and digging in to find info on company manuals or other ways to authenticate them as an authority coming from a witness. Michael, on the other hand, points out the importance of networking and collaborating with other plaintiff’s lawyers as “we’re good at getting things and sharing information” such as prior admissions, reports, or testimony. There’s likely nothing more embarrassing for a witness, especially paid ones, than to be cross-examined with contradictory testimony they gave in the past. Sonia, who recently had a deposition with a defense doctor, shares how his past testimony was the exact opposite of what he was testifying to in her case, which obviously played to her favor.

When it comes to the right length of a deposition, Sonia shares her wish to someday be able to take a short depo, but currently has her attention to detail and thoroughness to “blame” for the style of her depositions, one which sometimes drives opposing counsel mad. She tends to feel unsatisfied leaving a depo if she hasn’t covered a lot of ground, knowing the jury will likely not hear most of it. She has also found that many times when she’s taking a deposition, she’s not just doing a trial depo of a witness, but also trying to prepare in advance for a summary judgement response and how they can also be helpful to lay the ground work for what she might need from another witness. In contrast, Michael prides himself on short but thorough depositions stating how it really depends on the witness and subject matter. He also admits the danger of taking shorter depositions in relation to “having a beginner’s mind” vs. the “curse of knowledge” where you might already know something, the defense already knows it, and the defense witness knows it, but the jury does not, and could lead to talking over the jury with jargon they might not understand. Both agree 100% no matter how you approach a deposition, you need to be actively engaged in listening to the responses and not just running down questions on an outline where you would likely miss the truly important parts of what the witness is saying, or not saying, which could make your case.

The conversation shifts to a lively debate heard in many firms of weighing the idea of “going for the kill” in the deposition vs. saving things for trial when you know the witness will be there in person. With different experiences from both Sonia and Michael prior to them partnering, each brings a unique perspective to the table from their mentors as well as from their personal experiences. Of course they agree these tactics both have their place, but Michael also brings up the point how oftentimes with expert witnesses, if they don’t know something at a deposition, they tend to come to trial more prepared with a response.

Michael and Sonia jam pack the second half of their discussion with everything from preparing their own clients for deposition, video-taping depositions, deposing the other side’s experts, guiding medical experts to slow down their testimony while not losing the jury with industry terminology, and exceptions to all of the above.

Trial Lawyer Nation plans to do more “Table Talks” in the future, as this podcast has always been about inclusive learning for all in our industry, which includes learning from each other! Please keep submitting your questions, comments, and topic suggestions to podcast@triallawyernation.com; and be sure to like, share, and subscribe to get the latest from the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast!

Find out more about Michael Cowen here.

Find out more about Sonia Rodriguez here.

02 – Joe Fried – From 0 to 60 as a Subject Matter Expert

In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael talks with acclaimed commercial motor vehicle trial attorney, Joe Fried, about his journey of going from 0 to 60 in becoming a trucking industry subject matter expert.

Joe’s calling to enter the field came from some unexpected sources as he explains to Michael the barrage of signs that led him to become a subject matter expert after finishing a large book of business against the Ford Motor Company. Joe describes the evolution of his role as a lawyer and the number one fear that was used as a driving force in his success.

On a larger scale, Joe encourages others to think beyond the boundaries of a case to serve a greater good by doing what’s right not only for the families affected but also what’s right for the industry and the families that can avoid having the same happen to them.

Throughout the podcast, the topic of hyper-specialization is explained both from the positive perspectives of becoming the only person who understands such a narrow subject, but also the trade-offs and sacrifices that need to be made in doing so with your practice. Joe also emphasizes the importance of inclusivity in the industry and using that mantra as a resource instead of something to be afraid of as he gives listeners a generous offer.

Background on Joseph A. Fried:

Joe Fried is one of only a few lawyers in America who limits his legal practice to handling truck and other commercial motor vehicle crash cases.  Based out of Atlanta Georgia, Joe has handled commercial motor vehicle crash cases in over 30 States and has helped recover more than $500 million for clients. He holds several record settlements and verdict.

When he is not actually handling cases, Joe is writing about and teaching other lawyers how to get the best results possible in commercial motor vehicle crash cases.  He has authored books, book chapters, peer reviewed articles and a Trial Guides DVD specific to this unique field and has given over 250 presentations around the Country specific to this field.

Joe is a nationally recognized leader in trucking litigation.  He is the founder and Founding Director of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys, immediate past chair of the Chair of the American Association of Justice Trucking Litigation Group, and President of the National Trial Lawyers Trucking Division.

Joe brings a diverse background to each case.  He is a former judge and police officer, has real world training in accident investigation and reconstruction, physics, engineering, and human factors.  At the same time, Joe has hundreds of hours of training in psychodrama, neurolinguistics and story development and is known for his unique ability to find and tell the compelling human story that underlies each of his cases.

For more on Joe Fried visit https://www.frg-law.com/the-firm/joseph-a-fried/

01 – Joshua Karton – Turning off the “Act” in the Courtroom

In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Joshua Karton joins Michael for an introspective discussion on trial psychology and communication.

Joshua’s perspectives on turning off the “act” in a courtroom and getting back to just being (real) is deep and enlightening to listeners at all levels of the industry. The idea of “getting out of your own head” is turned upside down as Joshua challenges attorneys to embrace their role not as one there to protect themselves or their own ego, but rather as someone who is there to defend and protect their client and thereby connect with jurors who could see themselves in the position of the client one day and wanting the same protection.

Joshua shares what he believes allows people to trust through using everything you’ve got and not leaving anything in reserve. Joshua also breaks down the concept of not using negative objectives (such as not wanting to bore the jury, not wanting to piss off the judge, not wanting to embarrass yourself) that can’t be done, and instead committing to objectives that are incompatible with the negative. Michael shares an application of this concept through the evolution of his own practice and how it’s propelled his success and allowed him to alleviate many of the stresses that tend to plague and follow most lawyers.

Joshua expounds on the power of goodness and how the recent political landscape has challenged this approach of connecting with jurors and how deep the need to be right has become a critical hurdle in the courtroom. Michael takes these ideas a step further by discussing how they have affected even the validity of eye witness testimony and the influences of psychodrama sessions.  Self-awareness weaves its way throughout the podcast as a main theme that bolsters the success of attorneys in the right frame of mind and holds back others.

The episode concludes with a thoughtful discussion on the lens jurors see things through and how being aware of how you are setting yourself up to be perceived can change dramatically based on a single choice all attorneys have control over.

Background on Joshua Karton:

JOSHUA KARTON, president of Communication Arts, specializes in the application of the communication techniques of theatre/film/television to the art of trial advocacy. He serves on the faculties and develops curriculum for AAJ, the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyer’s College, NITA, the JAG Corps, ABA, NACDL, National Criminal Defense College, Loyola and California Western Schools of Law, state t.l.a.’s and criminal defense associations, as well as maintaining a professional practice of individual case consultation and witness preparation. Thirty years of work in this field culminated in his preparation of the winning oral argument to the United States Supreme Court in Hamdan v Rumsfeld, and the 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Advocacy from Stetson University College of Law’s Center for Excellence in Advocacy. He co-authored Theater for Trial, released by Trial Guides November 1, 2017.

For more on Joshua Karton visit https://www.trialguides.com/authors/joshua-karton/

Michael Cowen – Introduction to Trial Lawyer Nation

Michael Cowen and his guests explore critical topics distinctive to the legal profession – specifically focusing on developing extremely efficient law practices, securing a competitive edge in the industry, and wildly excelling in the courtroom.

Podcast Host
Michael Cowen is not only a founding attorney at a Texas law firm, but an accomplished author and sought after speaker. Specializing in personal injury cases involving trucking, commercial motor vehicle, catastrophic injury, oil field accidents as well as product liability, Michael celebrates 20+ years of practicing law and is devoted to passing on his years of experience and lessons learned along the way, to his peers in the legal community.

Click here for more information on Michael Cowen

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