Written by Partner Chris Finney
I want to share the story about a verdict my cousin Craig Schlapprizzi and I received last night in a disputed liability car crash case here in St. Louis.
The jury found damages to be $1,500,000, with 80% fault to defendant. The net verdict is $1,200,000. The last offer was $40,000 the day of trial and the defense lawyer recommended in closing that the jury give $5,000 and assess 50% fault. The policy was $100,000 and I demanded it a long time ago—AAA responded with $23,000.
The Defense Lawyer
The defense lawyer has practiced for 41 years and tried over 200 trials and he is vicious in trial. No one is off limits. He has tons of antics and inflections. We just sat through it all, not taking the bait. It was not easy at first—but then, it lost its effect. We didn’t play into it. This defense lawyer is more than willing to play the villain. Just let him. What I didn’t realize is how much trust that takes in the jury.
We have tried some very tough cases this year and been kicked in the mouth. We have had good clients being hit with 90% and 85% fault in our last two trials. The damages were low (net $7,500 and $30,000). It has been a long slog this year—tough on us and, more importantly, our families.
We’ve spent long nights and early mornings wondering what in the hell was going on. How were people getting these verdicts and we can’t get anything? But, as lawyer Bill Barton says, one day to savor the wins and two for the losses.
The Continued Fight for Our Clients
When we would get our teeth kicked in (including the embarrassment of our large requested damage amounts that the defense lawyers insisted on being in the Lawyers Weekly Articles), we would learn our lessons and pick up on the next one. When something bad would happen, we would look at each other and say “who gives a damn,” and keep moving.
We would keep training, keep getting better, and keep going. During jury selection, we talked about just being honest. It had a definite impact. Working the case as a team made all the difference. Trusting your co-counsel takes a huge weight off. Admittedly, I was reluctant to co-counsel because of greed. I didn’t want to share fees. It was greedy and selfish. It only hurt my clients and me.
We had no special damages, no MRIs, no X-rays, no surgery, no complaints at the ER, and no future cost report. Our client was diagnosed with a rib avulsion about 1.5 years after the crash. She is a tough woman who never gave up, who did everything she could to get better.
We didn’t have a power point or reconstruction. We had no media except TrialPad. No flipcharts. No reference to the jury instructions in closing. We just had our client, her friends and the treating doctor testify. It was all about brutal honesty and delivering the facts as they were.
The Deliberations and Reading the Verdict
The jury was out for 4.5 hours. When the verdict was read, the defense lawyer left the room immediately with his cell phone in hand. He left his 23 yr old client crying at the table for 20 minutes while he made his calls.
An appeal hasn’t been filed yet, but we’re sure it’s coming. The insurance company will do everything it can to not pay, even if that’s dragging our client and its insured through an extended legal battle. But we’ll be there, still fighting, because that’s what we do.