Dan — congratulations! A verdict of $2,160,000 for your clients! Can you give us a little background about the case and how you won it?
This is a case that I worked up at the Ranch when I was there last September ’15. My client, Lori, is from an 859 person town called Waverly, Missouri. Lori is a widow in her 50’s with 2 kids. When her husband died she ended up taking over the rental business they had. She had to learn how to roof, plumb, tile — do all contract work. She did it. She was a physical laborer. She is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. She was in the middle of working on a house when she flew out to L.A. with her mother to care for an elderly aunt. They got off the plane and went to a women’s restroom inside the terminal. Someone had spilled a big iced coffee on the floor and left it there and the trash was overflowing the little bin inside the stall. When Lori opened the door to the stall, her foot hit the coffee, she slipped and fell and hurt her back. Her leg went numb. After that she continued to have back problems which kept getting worse and worse. A year and half later, she had a lower back surgery and there was some complications. She didn’t really get much better from there. She was not able to go back to work, which not only impacted her livelihood, but she could no longer do what she really loved to do for others. At the trial, we had to prove that LAX (which is owned by the City of Los Angeles) was at fault. It was difficult to sue the city because it’s not just straight negligence. You have to prove that they knew about the dangerous condition for a long enough period of time that it was unreasonable for them not to have fixed it. We were able to prove our case. Originally, we thought we would go after the fact that they hadn’t cleaned up the mess, but it was difficult to prove the timing and that they had no system in place to clean the restrooms in a frequent enough amount of time. Another avenue was to check to see if they tile used was slip resistant, as per LAX policy and the industry standard. Thru that effort, we discovered that the type of tile they had installed in the restroom was in fact too slippery when wet and it was below the industry standard. But even with that, I needed to convince a jury that the city of L.A. was responsible for somebody else spilling coffee and not cleaning up after themselves, and my client not walking around the spill. I spent a lot of time at the ranch really developing the story. When I came home, I spent a ton of time with the client. We got very close to each other. We reenacted the scene over and over to develop the story about how she was before and after the accident. All that time paid off because in the end, the jury ended up falling in love with her. Five jurors came up and hugged her afterwards. She had $105,000 in medical bills but we waived them to get more credibility with the jury. It was a risky move, but it ended up paying off. We asked for future care and they gave her more than we asked for. We asked for pain and suffering for the past and future. It ended up being $2,160,000 verdict.
What do you think was the most powerful technique that you used to get them into that story?
It was really spending a lot of time with my client and getting her into the scene emotionally and mentally. I worked with her over and over and over and over again and got her back there. It was really tough because she didn’t want to relive it, but I had to make her persevere. I was able to get Lori back to the scene and have her talk about it in present tense without any commentary about how bad she was hurting so the jury would get it. It’s the show, not tell. We showed them, got them into the scene. That was by far the most effective.
Did you have her act anything out in the courtroom?
She is still in bad shape, so she couldn’t move around too well. But I stepped in with their experts. Their liability expert had this theory about the way that she fell that just didn’t make any sense. I reenacted his theory for the jury while I was cross examining them to show them how ridiculous it was.
What happened during jury selection?
Jury selection was two days. Another TLC strategy that I used was highlighting my danger points right up front and talking about these issues with them. No one really likes a slip-and-fall, you have to hold the City of L.A.responsible, and we had an out-of-state client. So all those were danger points.
But I just started talking to them about those issues and they really opened up. I shared that when I hear “slip-and-fall on coffee”, my radar immediately goes up. Once I described that, the jury was inspired to talk about their biases too. As they talked, I listened — really listened as I had been taught to do at TLC. And I was very appreciative of their honesty. We eliminated 14 jurors that didn’t feel this was the right case for them. They were very honest about it. I think they were honest because I was bringing out the danger points and sharing my own feelings. It really does enable the jury to open up and be honest with us. That’s a huge lesson I took from the College.
When did you feel like there was a turning point in the case?
Voir dire. We were really fortunate to connect with the jury, and they trusted us because I was being very honest with them. Then we were able to get their expert during cross exam to look like a fool on the stand without being too aggressive on him. We let him hang himself. Initially, I did a soft cross and then I started to get more aggressive once I saw the jury was kind of allowing me to go after him.
What happened during the cross examination?
This particular expert testifies all of the time so I had him talk about all of the things that he testified as an expert in. He slowly and slowly kept going and going. He sounded like a classic hired gun. I had him talk about what the LAX policies are for tile. He admitted the tile fell well below their own safety standards but he still said that the tile was safe.
Is this your first case where you were able to completely apply all the TLC methods you learned at the College?
Yes. I have another one coming up, but this was my first one since the Ranch.
What’s your favorite part of working a case?
I’m pretty addicted to trial as a whole but I would definitely say jury selection and cross examining experts are the most fun parts. During jury selection, I really enjoy connecting with different people from all different walks of life. Finding out how they feel about very personal issues and being able to open up with them and build a rapport and get conversation started.
Is that the way you felt about it before you want to TLC?
The way that I come at jury selection is completely different now. It’s really about opening people up and getting a really good conversation started. It is completely different than the way I did it before. I used to be scared. I was scared that people would say horrible things about my case. But what I realized at the ranch is that is okay. People are going to feel that way, and it’s better to get them talking. I say thank you so much for your honesty that’s exactly what we asked for, this is exactly how this system works. You want to get an open line of communication with everyone because if people aren’t talking, then you have no idea what they feel or what their background is or what their biases are, so I actually heavily encourage people to say bad things.
Is this something new since attending the Ranch?
Yeah, before, I would want to get people talking about my case in a good way because I thought that would convince other jurors. That’s not how it works. People don’t change their long held beliefs because some random juror says something. I don’t think it’s an effective way convince and reach people.