Monthly Archives: August 2009

On Being A Personal Injury Lawyer Blogger

Ok. If you are a really dedicated reader of the blogs written by Miller & Zois lawyers, you may have caught that the title above is a (sort of) facetious reference to Ron Miller’s post about the various types of law blogs out there.

My very own Baltimore Injury Lawyer Blog has exceeded the life expectancy of most new attorney blogs. As Ron notes, the Drug & Device Lawyer Blog reports that more than half of lawyer blogs fail in the first year.

This is not surpising, because most of them are horrible. Usually there are three culprits: 1) bad writing, 2) lousy content, and 3) infrequent updates. These are the “usual suspects” in the mystery of “why is your blog crappy?” Which makes sense, considering that the price of admission is low- a computer, an internet connection, and something to say.

I have now escaped failure for fourteen months. Go me! Some would consider this a surprise, but they are mostly people who thought that giving me an unedited pipeline to the world would be a recipe for disaster because of my tendency to say (and write) what I actually think. I think that is why this blog works.

My blog is not a chore because I like to write. I write about something that interests me, namely the law, specifically personal injury litigation. It would be a lie to say that marketing is not a reason I write the blog. It would be a bigger lie to say marketing is the only reason I write the blog.

Ron talks about his blog being a hybrid- the focus is on providing quality content that people want to read and come back to, but remembering to throw your keywords in there to keep our Google overlords happy. That is how I approach this blog.

Accordingly, here are my tips on keeping a personal injury lawyer blog from failing in the first year:
1) Be a person who likes to write. If you hate to write you will not update the blog, and it will fail.
2) Write about something you know about and like. The value of what you have to say is proportional to your level of knowledge of the subject. Lack of knowledge = crappy content= no readers= fail.
3) Have at least a basic knowledge of written English. You can’t write= crappy content=no readers=fail.
4) Provide actual content that might be of use to someone. Blatant marketing pitches are unhelpful. “I am a personal injury lawyer so you should hire me for your personal injury case” doesn’t give the reader much. Neither does veiled marketing like “Five Killed in Accident on I-97.” On the other hand, “Top Ten Deposition Tips” might actually be useful.
5) Be patient. It takes time to build a readership. If you give up, your blog will certainly fail.
If you are thinking of becoming a blogger, do it because you want to, not because some marketing consultant told you it was a good idea.

The Value of Client Preparation

I was just having a conversation with a former colleague who works defending against personal injury cases, mostly auto and truck collisions. We were discussing a trial he had recently finished, and he had remarked to me that he thought the plaintiff was poorly prepared for his testimony at trial. Basically, he thought that the jury would have awarded the plaintiff more money if he had been better prepared.

This confirms my own experience. Client preparation is something many personal injury lawyers do not do very well. I’m not sure if this is because of the time pressure created by a busy practice, or because of a simple lack of awareness of how important client prep is to success at trial.

At Miller & Zois, one of the fundamental principles of our personal injury trial practice is that we strive to get the most out of the portions of our case that we control. Perhaps the biggest thing in a trial that you have some degree of control over is the presentation of the client. The old saw that a personal injury trial is a “beauty contest” is true. If the plaintiff is not credible and likeable, it will be very tough to get a good result.

The client should never hear a question at trial that has no been gone over in prep. This is a twofold challenge. The client needs to understand the goals and structure of their counsel’s direct examination, and also needs to be ready for questions to be expected in cross-examination. I generally do at least one mock direct and mock cross with each client. The client needs to be aware of any prior injury claims, or any medical problems to the body parts at issue. The client needs to be familiar with their deposition testimony, and the answers to interrogatories. I make sure the client has copies of the following: all medical records and bills, answers to interrogaotries, deposition testimony.

At a minimum, the client should know and be able to relate the basics of the injury, its effects, and the medical treatment. I have found that clients who are well prepared get better results at trial. Generally the time spent is worth it.

If Frivolous Lawsuits Are Bad, What About Frivolous Defenses?

We are always hearing about these evil, un-American frivolous lawsuits that threaten the very fabric of our society. OK, I get it. I dislike frivolous lawsuits as much as anybody. They devalue the claims of the truly injured, diminish the reputation of the plaintiff’s bar, and waste time and money.

But what about meritless defenses that are made against non-frivolous lawsuits? Two great examples today.

First, Eric Turkewitz writes about a New York defense attorney making the argument that pain is not a “personal injury.” Riiiiiight.

Next, Walter Olson at Overlawyered blogs about attorneys defending a hotel against a negligent security case. The plaintiff alleged that the hotel’s negligent security led to her violent rape. The geniuses defending the case withdrew the defenses that the woman was contributorily negligent, careless, and that she failed to mitigate her damages. Good call guys. Blaming the victim may not be the best defense strategy in a rape case. Last time I checked, women were 50% of the population, and most likely the jury pool. As an aside, I like Walter’s blog because he calls out stupidity where he perceives it, on both sides.

So, tort reformers, take note. Beware of frivolous defenses that do nothing but burden the judicial system, cost everyone money, and set up unfair roadblocks to justice for innocent victims.

Personal Injury Claims Against Amusement Parks

A long time ago, I used do do tort defense work at a prominent Baltimore law firm. My caseload mostly consisted of defending injury cases filed against an amusement park. Summer is the busiest time of year for these operations, and lately I have been seeing a lot of amusement park commercials on television.

These places are popular because of the thrills they promise. I think most customers assume these places are a safe place for thrill-seeking because they are inspected and regulated. You’d be wrong about that. Because of the forces applied to the human body during most amusement rides, injuries are commonplace. But most people don’t know that the regulatory scheme varies from place to place, and is usually dictated by state law.

Most amusement operators vigorously defend injury claims. Next time you go on a roller-coaster, take a good look at the signage. If you ride and are injured, you may end up facing an argument that you were contributorily negligent by failing to follow the ride instructions. Or that you assumed the risk of your burst fracture at L4-5 because you rode the coaster anyway, despite knowing that you had a sprained back in 1994 (where the signage says folks with back problems shouldn’t ride.)

Remember the description in Fight Club of what a recall coordinator does? To paraphrase, if the cost of the recall ends up being more than the average lawsuit payout times the number of expected claims, they don’t do one.

I once defended an injury suit against a park made by a rider who alleged that he had broken his tailbone when he skidded across the stop pool on a water ride and collided with the pool wall. Over the prior few years, four other people had the same problem. Common sense would tell us that the landing pool was simply too small. Unfortunately, it was also the most expensive proposed fix. So the park tried a few stop-gap measures, but folks kept getting hurt. I don’t know if they ever just extended the pool. I do know that all of the riders who filed suits faced defenses like the ones outlined above.

So some advice for personal injury lawyers considering ride injury claims against amusement parks. First, expect to go to trial. These places are typically aggressive on claims. Second, locate a liability expert early on in the process. Park staff and their attorneys are very knowledgeable on these issues, so you will need to level the playing field. Familiarize yourself with any state regulations and reporting requirements. Subpoena the inspection file from the regulatory authorities. Fight during discovery to make sure you know of any prior problems with the ride at issue. Get copies of any instructions or signage. Act quickly to pin down witnesses. Most park staff are students who quickly disappear at the end of summer, often to foreign countries. Consider whether there may be a negligent design or failure to warn claim against the ride manufacturer. If you do not have experience in product liability claims, consider locating more experienced co-counsel.

Million Dollar Verdict In Baltimore City Trucking Injury Case

I have now resurfaced after a hard-fought four day trial in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. This is the case that Ron Miller references here.

Laura Zois and I were privileged to obtain a verdict of $1,063,807.37 for our client, who was a 22 year old mother of a one year old at the time of the accident.

This was a hotly contested liability case. Our client contended she was injured when the Defendant, driving a full gasoline tanker, ran a red light. The defendant claimed he had a green light, and that our client must have had the red light. The accident happened at the intersection of Pennington Avenue and Church Street in Baltimore City. Our client’s car was totaled, and the gas tanker was damaged, which caused a gasoline spill. Our client had her one-year old son in the car when the crash happened and had to watch him scream for his mom in a stranger’s arms while our client was trapped in her car due to her badly broken leg.

There were liability witnesses on both sides. The pivotal witness was a young neighborhood boy was eleven years old at the time of the accident. He testified that he saw the gas tanker run the red light. The primary witness for the defense was a man who had been having a few beers that afternoon on a front porch near the scene of the accident. He testified that the gas tanker had a green light as he went under it. Based on conversations with the jurors after the verdict, the jury was persuaded by the young boy’s testimony. He is a very bright young man who made an excellent witness.

Our client had a horrific right leg injury. She fractured her tibia and fibula, and required two surgeries. Now she has a plate and eighteen screws in her leg, permanent scarring, and walks with a limp. Her treating doctor testified at trial that her injuries are permanent, and that she will need a fusion surgery in the future.

She was 25 at the time of trial, and her life expectancy is 52.8 more years. She lost nearly a year of her life recovering from this accident.

Our trial judge was the Hon. Sylvester Cox. Judge Cox is a former Baltimore City prosecutor who has tried many, many jury cases as a lawyer before being appointed to the bench. Appearing before him was a pleasure. His rulings were fair, although they did not always go in our direction. He was attentive to the arguments of the lawyers, and he was great at putting the witnesses and jurors at ease. He was a stickler for details and expected excellence.

Cases like this remind me of why I chose to become a lawyer representing injury victims. It is a great feeling to represent people who need our help. Our client is a remarkable young woman who, in spite of adversity, stayed upbeat and kept her faith that everything happens for a reason and that in the end justice would be served. During the three years between her accident and the trial she stayed focused on her job, her education and her son and did not let anything keep her down.

This case should remind us all that our justice system works. Our lawyers believe that helping a person who has a terrible injury as a result of someone else’s negligence is always a case worth pursuing, even in a contributory negligence state like Maryland. The only settlement offer in this case was $25,000.00, and that did not come until two weeks before trial. That is less than the client’s medical bills of $63,807.37 (which must be repaid to her health insurer).
This was a case that had to be tried. Laura and I are very thankful that after a lot of hard work and worry, we were able to achieve a great result for a deserving client with a tremendous need for the justice the jury delivered.

I’ll Be Back…

A quick note to the Baltimore Injury Lawyer Blog regular readers (allow me to pretend, please): I got back from vacation and have spent pretty much every waking minute getting ready for a jury trial in Baltimore City that starts on Thursday. I will get a verdict early next week – likely the subject of my next blog post whether we win, lose or draw – and will get back to this blog. Wish me luck!