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$3.5 million truck accident jury verdict: "With a little help from my friends"

Steve Gursten explains how friends from around the country helped in most recent trial, in Jackson County

The Beatles wrote “With a little help from my friends.”

It certainly applies to the help I received from many good friends getting ready for my last trial. Last Wednesday, a Jackson County jury returned a verdict of $3.5 million for my clients, Jim and Kim Fairley, who were seriously injured in a truck accident on April 4, 2008. The insurance company had only offered $1 million to settle the case.

I count myself as truly fortunate to count as good friends many excellent personal injury lawyers from around the country. Here are some of my friends I’d like to thank for the help they gave me getting ready for my latest trial.

Ken Levinson, Chicago. Ken is a good friend and fantastic lawyer from Chicago. He also teaches at the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyers College and at seminars around the country. Ken graciously drove all the way from Chicago to my client’s home in Jackson, so we could spend the day together better understanding what my clients have gone through. Ken helped me to better present the human story at trial. Psychodrama is a powerful weapon for lawyers that helps us tell the “human story” of what our clients have truly gone through. It helps us tell the story better, and gets us beyond the sometimes mind-numbing picture that we would otherwise get from medical records and doctor depositions. Thanks, Ken.

Morgan Adams, Tennessee. Morgan is also a very good friend, and top-notch truck accident lawyer to boot. Morgan is past chair of the American Association for Justice Truck Accident Litigation Group, assuming the presidency the year after my own term expired. We’ve become good friends through the Truck Accident Litigation Group and other organizations that we both serve. In addition to being a good friend, Morgan is one of the most dynamic lawyers I know. He’s one of those people who seems to somehow have about six more hours to the day than everyone else.

Morgan helped me prepare for the live cross-examination of the owner of Schiber Trucking Company at trial, and was another very helpful set of eyes when I was reviewing the log books. Together we counted a number of FMCSA violations that Schiber Truck Company and its truck driver had violated in the 30 days before this terrible truck accident.

In this case, I realized right away when I first looked at the truck driver’s log books that he had falsified logs. I normally would have noticed the safety director’s deposition and aggressively pursued this issue in discovery. The problem from past cases is that Michigan has no punitive damages law. Often, the trucking company will admit negligence and all of the evidence of negligence t will not be allowed at trial. Terrible public policy for the citizens of this state, and something that makes us all more unsafe.

After realizing that Zurich would be taking a hard-line position in this case, I decided to keep the negligent entrustment and negligent supervision claims under wraps, saving it for trial. I always believe you should hold one good surprise for trial, and in this case it took the defense completely by surprise. I should add the defense cooperated wonderfully by playing games and refusing to admit negligence on behalf of Schiber before the trial.

Without having any discovery on this, Morgan, myself, and Roger Thon from my office created a mousetrap for Schiber at trial.

Dorothy Sims, Florida. What can I say about Dottie? She is wonderful. She also helped me put together a cross-examination of Dr. Rosalind Griffen, the defendant’s psychiatrist, that literally destroyed her credibility in the courtroom. I’ve spoken and moderated many seminars on traumatic brain injury, including the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association (MAJ) seminar in Novi, Michigan with her two years ago. We’ve become friends, had dinner together, and truly enjoyed working together both on cases on the American Association for Justice Traumatic Brain Injury listserve. It really cannot be emphasized how incredible Dorothy Sims is. She is, in my opinion, one of a small group that also includes my friends Michael Freeman, Rick Friedman, and David Ball, that is revolutionizing our practice. It is impossible for people who are not lawyers, and who don’t do this type of work every day, to understand the enormous amount of fraud that exists today with so many experts hired by the defense bar. These experts are paid enormous amounts of money in the “soft” sciences of psychiatry and neuropsychology to find nothing wrong with honest people. Dorothy has simply been a God-send to helping lawyers who care truly serve their clients. I’m honored to have her as a friend.

Phil Miller, Tennessee. Phil has become a good friend, and he is a very accomplished lawyer and trial consultant who works with trial lawyers from around the country, helping them prepare for trial. Phil’s become something of a good luck charm for me, and has helped out on several of my biggest recent trials including Broeren v. Bates, a $5.6 million truck accident verdict in Macomb County last year. Phil was gracious enough to review my opening statement on Sunday morning – from San Diego, no less – where he was teaching an AAJ Case Workshop Seminar. We discussed case strategy and order of proofs.

Randy Musbach, Chelsea, Michigan. Randy is a friend and excellent lawyer. Randy’s office is based in Chelsea, right outside of Jackson. He also grew up in Jackson and has practiced there for more than 20 years. Being intimately familiar with the city and its neighborhoods, Randy graciously agreed to sit with me during voir dire when we were picking a jury. Thanks for helping me identify the family member of a local defense insurance lawyer, Randy.

It was incredibly generous and kind of Randy to take a full morning off to help me out and help me pick a jury. Randy is a true friend. Thanks again, Randy. Now you just have to teach me how to use my Ipad.

Richard Jenson, Austin, Texas. Richard is simply fantastic. He is one of the most respected jury consultants in the business today. When I was president of the Truck Accident Litigation Group, I asked him to come and meet with lawyers on their truck accident cases at a seminar in Chicago. His insights are always top notch. Richard and I discussed the list of jurors together before we started jury selection. Thanks, Richard. Still have to make it to Austin for a game one of these days.

Tom James, Roger Thon, Kathleen Johnson, Michigan Auto Law, Farmington Hills. Special Thanks to my colleague Tom James for helping me throughout the trial. Tom and I tried the case together, and Tom did an excellent job with the key lay witness testimony and motions throughout the trial. Thanks also to Katie Johnson for her research on various issues, and to Roger Thon for helping me rip apart the falsified driver logs and put together the list of FMCSA violations — 165 by our final count. Great job, everyone.

Mark Granzotto, Royal Oak, Michigan. Mark the best appellate attorney in Michigan. Thanks for dropping everything to come to my office for an afternoon and give me your thoughts on how far I could push on certain issues. Knowing Mark proofed my case for appealable issues made it easier to be aggressive and ultimately helped lead to the great verdict we got for my clients.

Thanks to Zurich Insurance Company. Your decision to push this case to trial and refuse to negotiate in good faith made a great verdict possible, and for far more than my client’s would have settled for (see Tuesday’s blog on the full Zurich story). My clients thank you as well.

Finally, and most importantly, thank you to my clients, Jim and Kim Fairley. You are wonderful people. It was my honor to be your attorney. Being able to help people like you is the reason I became a trial lawyer. It is the reason I handle truck accidents. To know you were harmed, through no fault of your own, and then to see the indignities that you have been forced to endure by Zurich Insurance Company in the two years leading up to and throughout the trial certainly makes the long days and sleepless nights more than worthwhile. I will always go through walls for you.

Steven M. Gursten is a partner of Michigan Auto Law and one of the most renowned truck accident lawyers in the country. He is past president of the American Association for Justice Truck Litigation Group, and has received the top-reported trial verdict in Michigan for truck accidents. Steve was named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly Leader in the Law for his efforts in promoting truck safety.

Related information:

Things to know after a Michigan truck accident

Michigan Auto Law truck accident cases

Tires falling off trucks and causing preventable deaths and truck accidents

Michigan Auto Law exclusively handles car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state of Michigan. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Sterling Heights, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Detroit to better serve you. Call (800) 777-0028 for a free consultation from one of our truck accident attorneys.

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