June 20, 2007
By: Richard Cohn
Ten years ago, a young medical malpractice defense lawyer, who had been practicing law for just two months, was asked by the supervising partner of his fifty lawyer firm to write a Motion for Summary Judgment. The motion was to focus on the failure of the plaintiff to file her complaint within one year after surgery on her right hip resulted in paralysis of her left leg. If the motion were to fail, the partner noted, then the liability for the medical negligence would be clear. The statute of limitations defense was the only hope of knocking out the claim of this otherwise deserving victim. The young lawyer went to work on the motion, truly ignorant of the ramifications that his legal training — now being put to use for all the wrong reasons — might have on the very real life of the plaintiff, a lovely 82 year old woman who any juror would adore. The motion argued that even where the treating doctor (now the defendant) persuaded the that she was going to get better over the course of a year, she was nonetheless “on notice” of her injury from the outset, thereby triggering the one year limitations period to begin running from the date of the surgery.
The hearing on the motion was the young lawyer’s first ever appearance in court. After a nervous and awkward oral argument, the motion was granted. The plaintiff’s case was dismissed. The lawyer strolled slowly back to his nearby office and reported the result, receiving abundant praise. He, however, did not feel proud. He never cracked a smile. Several days later, the lawyer resigned from the firm, and obtained a new job as an associate attorney at a small law firm representing people like the 82 year old lady he’d so badly wronged only days earlier.
Within 90 days, the young lawyer was sitting second chair in the trial of a complex medical malpractice case — representing a young man who had been blinded and brain damaged as a result of the negligence of an anesthesiologist during a simple ankle surgery. The client, in his mid-twenties, had been an honor student at San Diego State University with intentions of going on to receive his MBA, and had served as a Huntington Beach lifeguard for the past several summers. During trial the young lawyer dedicated every minute he had to the case — sleeping less than four hours per day, and doing everything in his power to help (even as second chair) win the case. The young lawyer was struck with the most profound sense of responsibility by the fact that if the trial was lost, the client’s future was in every real sense doomed. The client’s parents would not live forever to take care of him. He would need care, housing, income to provide for his daily needs, all for life — and if the trial was lost, he would have nothing but questionable government assistance. The young lawyer’s most memorable moment of the trial was when the client — a man virtually the same age as the young lawyer himself — took the stand and testified that the thing he missed the most due to being blind was being unable to see the smiles on the faces of his parents. The entire court room welled up with tears, including virtually every juror. A $3.8 Million verdict was the result.
Of course, by now you have now figured out that the young lawyer in the story was me. I have never been so ashamed as a lawyer as when that motion for summary judgment was granted against that poor elderly woman. I have never felt so proud as a lawyer as when the jury verdict came in for our client on the Chavez trial. All of this within my first few months practicing law.
This experience made it obvious to me that I had found my calling as a plaintiff’s trial lawyer. The essence of being a trial lawyer is the passionate commitment that comes with knowing you are representing the right client on the right side of a case. That is why I am a trial lawyer. That is why the Orange County Trial Lawyers Association is a noble organization that has earned the commitment of my emotion, time and effort.
I am extremely honored and humbled to take over the leadership of the Orange County Trial Lawyers Association. I am honored to have the opportunity to serve an association of lawyers who, on a daily basis, demonstrate their unparalleled commitment to the representation and preservation of individual and consumer rights in the civil justice system. I am humbled to find myself in this position of “leadership”, when there are so many within our organization who I have grown to know, respect, and even idolize. Together, we will shape the agenda for the upcoming year — and consistently remind ourselves that our clients need this organization to flourish.
Contact Aitken * Aitken * Cohn today to learn more.