With any injury resulting from the negligence of another person or company, victims may seek restitution for the damage caused. In many cases injuries are relatively minor, pain and suffering is short-term, and recovery is reasonably quick. In these cases, some of which are for relatively low stakes, it is important to select an experienced and skillful attorney. It only gets more important as the injuries become more severe and the chances of full recovery grow slimmer. Perhaps the most severe of the many long-term injuries is a traumatic brain injury, with its attendant need for medical, rehabilitation, and other health services not just for a few months or even years, but potentially for a lifetime. It was with these concerns in mind that the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA) formed in 1980. The BIAA serves as a clearinghouse for information and support for the millions of Americans living with a traumatic brain injury.
Lay people sometimes have a tendency to see lawyers as a sort of multi-function tool. As though any lawyer has the training and skill to perform any needed task. In fact, the legal world is highly specialized, and just as one would not go to a dermatologist for open heart surgery, one should seek appropriate counsel for specialized legal tasks. Traumatic brain injuries often call for an attorney with a specialized legal skill-set. Some clients who have survived a brain injury need an attorney family law, estate planning, or even criminal law experience. With an eye toward these concerns, the BIAA has presented a brief guide to selecting appropriate counsel for brain injury survivors.
The questions suggested by the Brain Injury Association of America are excellent. these are questions that you or your family should be asking of your potential lawyer. Here is how my firm would answer these questions:
- Who else in your practice would you involve in my case? What role(s) would these people have? Describe their background and expertise. On each case, depending upon your situation, you might have as many as 5 different attorneys working on your case – together- as a team. My background includes 17 years representing individuals with brain injuries. I also sit on the Board of Directors of the Brain Injury Association of Michigan. Other attorneys would include Page Graves – former professor of Michigan Auto No-Fault Law at the Detroit College of Law in Lansing; Brad Wierda – a 12 year veteran in the insurance defense industry who is now handling plaintiffs cases through my office; James Baker – a No-Fault specialist with this office; Robert Whims – a seasoned trial attorney with over 300 trials under his belt including a number of multi-million dollar verdicts; and Andrew Shotwell – our probate specialist when we have issues involving Guardianships and Conservatorships for our clients. There will also be 4 legal assistants and a paralegal assigned to your claim.
- Who will be my primary contact with your practice? I am always the primary contact and you will be able to contact me by phone or email 24/7
- Are you or your law firm able and willing to advance as much as $50,000 in the investigation, preparation and presentation of my case? The proper handling and workup of any claim involving a closed head injury is a very expensive undertaking. We only retain and work with the most skilled experts in the areas of neuropsychology, vocational assessments, economic valuations and other areas of expertise. This requires 10’s of thousands of dollars. At Smith and Johnson, we have funded cases to the tune of over $100,000.00 to get the client the correct result. The proper funding of your lawsuit by this firm will not be a problem.
- How much of your practice is devoted to personal injury? The great majority of my practice is devoted to personal injury. I handle some other litigation issues from time to time, but the main focus of my practice is personal injury.
- Of your personal injury cases, how many are devoted to brain injury? I would estimate that approximately 25% of my current files involve a brain injury.
- What results have you achieved? The attorneys here have excellent success in trying cases throughout Michigan including a record verdict in one Northern Michigan county. I was recently recognized by the ATLA as one of the top 100 Trial Attorneys in Michigan. I was listed as an "A-List" attorney by Traverse the Magazine. I received the highest rating [AV] one can receive from Martindale-Hubbell as a 34 year old. I was listed as a "Michigan Super Lawyer" by Super Lawyer magazine which only lists the top 5% in each state.
- What have you worked on in the past six months? The last 6 months have included presenting a national webinar on "Endocrine System Dysfunction following TBI" to practicing attorneys throughout the country as well as reviewing and litigating TBI cases throughout Michigan.
- What special training or education do you have specific to brain injury or benefits that people can get after brain injury. I can’t point to any specific training per se other than representing individuals with closed head injuries and staying up to date on the medical literature by reading medical texts and journals. I do regularly provide training and education to other attorneys on how to properly handle cases involving a closed head injury. I am a frequent speaker through both the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association and trialsmith.com.
- What is your involvement with legal associations, local, state or national brain injury associations or other organizations? I sit on the Board of Directors to the Brain Injury Association of Michigan. I’m a member of the Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Section of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. I sit on the legal advisory counsel to the Sara Jane Brain Foundation.
- How do you stay up to date with personal injury law and brain injury issues? Through regular reviews and reading of new medical journals as well as active participation with the top brain injury attorneys in the country through the Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group
- How did you first become involved in brain injury cases? In 1993 I was hired by an individual to represent him in a case involving a traumatic brain injury. I have been a passionate advocate for the survivors ever since.
Many of the issues in a matter involving a traumatic brain injury are similar to those in any other personal injury or wrongful death: seeking legal help immediately following an injury, identifying the correct defendant, and protecting your funds following any judgment. The BIAA piece provides brief advice on all these issues and also contains links to a directory of service providers dedicated to the three million Americans living with a traumatic brain injury. However, the seriousness of the injury and the fact that a plaintiff may only have one chance at recovery mean extra care should be taken during the selection process. In the wake of any severe injury, talking to a lawyer may be the last thing on your mind. Thinking about these issues before you are forced to deal with them may make things easier should you or your family ever be involved in a serious accident.