By Rich Lomurro of Lomurro Law
I recently read Disney CEO, Bob Iger’s autobiography “The Ride of a Lifetime.” The book goes through Iger’s leadership taking a struggling Disney company and revolutionizing it back to the top of the entertainment industry. In his time, Disney acquired Pixar, Marvel, ESPN, Star Wars, a portion of 21st Century Fox, created Disney + and opened new parks in Asia and Europe. The company’s value skyrocketed and remains one of the most profitable companies in the world.
The main theme of Iger’s book is “Innovate or Die”. He stressed that the continuation of success is driven by forward thinking. Those who stand still are left behind. With the Covid crisis putting the practice of law into a standstill in many areas, Iger’s theme is more relevant than ever.
Covid has shown us we cannot rely on timelines dictated in our court rules to resolve cases. We must push forward with innovative ways to tell our client’s story and make the insurance companies appreciate our cases so they may agree that resolving them now is best.
If there is one thing we have learned over the last few months, it is that cases are still settling. The insurance companies are still collecting premiums. They are balancing the future risk and benefit of each file while we are stuck in this crisis. They want to get large risk cases off their plates, so if we ever return to normalcy, they are not ambushed.
The question for plaintiffs’ lawyers is how can we capitalize on this time freeze? How will you tell your client’s story so an adjuster or adversary can truly appreciate their suffering and recommend settlement?
Using visuals and innovative “outside the box” thinking can be crucial to telling your client’s story. These tools can help personalize cases as we move further into a “virtual” world. Your client is not a stack of records. They are a person. How can you personalize their suffering?
The following example is from a recent mediation that occurred 100% virtually during the Covid crisis and strategies we used to be innovative and aggressive while much of the State was closed.
The Story of Peter F’s Virtual Mediation
**** The following former client knows that I use his case to explain showing suffering and strategy in PI cases. He has given expressed consent to the use of these exhibits and his stories in this article.
Peter was rear ended by an ambulance and badly hurt his neck and back. The problem, however, was that he had a long history of neck and back treatment. In fact, he was at the ortho and doing PT as recent as two months before the crash. Bad start, right?
Although Peter eventually went through a three-level fusion surgery to repair the herniated discs in his neck, the defendant’s insurance company refused to give fair value to his case because of his history.
By Rich Lomurro of Lomurro Law
When Covid hit, we pushed hard to mediate the matter as our client was struggling with medical bills piling up, a mortgage to pay and he was unable to work. If we didn’t innovate, the case could sit for two more years, or longer.
We approached the insurance company about a virtual mediation, the idea was quickly shut down. The insurance company did not see the case’s value anywhere near where we did. We kept pushing and they agreed to accept a demand package, leaving the door open for us to push our way in. This is how we got them to mediation, where the case eventually settled, all during Covid. Our initial victor was simply getting their attention.
Part 1: Fusion illustration
As I prepared the package, I recapped the surgery and its gruesome details. But I felt a text document alone was simply not enough. What Peter went through deserved more. How could we up the ante without being able to be in the room with our adversary? We have weekly Personal Injury team meetings at my office. After crunching ideas, we decided an illustration of the fusion surgery could really take the mediation brochure to the next level.
Then, we put Peter’s actual face in the illustration. When the illustration was done, we knew we had it right. You could literally see Peter’s struggle. Both of our expert doctors amended their reports to opine that the illustration was accurate. We let the adjuster know we intended to blow it up and show it to a jury if this case didn’t settle at mediation.
Client had an extensive history of neck and back issues.
The initial offer on the case was under $50,000 and never reached 6- figures before mediation. It settled for $650,000.
Part II: The Screwdriver
I also had the doctor send over a sample “kit” used for fusions. It was extremely helpful to show just how these surgeries are done, not much different that screwing brackets into the wall of your garage.
In fact, the screwdriver and screws are essentially the same. I assured the adjuster that the jury would find a new appreciate for the bruteness of the
procedure as they held the hardware in their hands.
Part III: Karaoke
Finally, I knew we had a wonderful plaintiff in Peter. I wanted the insurance company to understand that the jury would love him and his family and feel horrible about the life he no longer had because of the crash.
Peter sang Karaoke at the American Legion. The guy sounds exactly like Johnny Cash. We had “YouTube” videos of him performing before the crash, pictures of him with his grandkids picking pumpkins, videos of him dancing at weddings, all ready for the adjuster to watch.
If they still wanted to say his injuries were pre- existing, our story was going to prove otherwise.
After review of our package they agreed to mediate. We conducted it entirely virtually from my office, with Judge Dennis O’Brien mediating through “Zoom.” A full day of back and forth later we settled the case for over 10 times the value of the original offer.
Conclusion: “Even When I Stand Still, I’m Making Moves” – P. Diddy
Peter was able to pay his medical bills and is no longer struggling the way he was before the case settled. His pain and suffering will continue, but the stress of the lawsuit and constant financial hardships are finally over. The only reason we were able to resolve this case during the Covid crisis was innovation at a time of stagnation. If we took the traditional snail-paced discovery route we would still be on the slow pace to arbitration, lucky to settle this case in a few years.
Instead, we figured out how to tell his Peter’s story effectively now, despite not being able to be in person with our opponents. Innovate or die may be a little dramatic, but you get the message. Now is the time to think outside the box and get aggressive. Our client’s cases and our practice will be stronger for it.