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Fresh off representing the widow of Boston Celtics captain Reggie Lewis in a high-profile and emotional medical malpractice case, attorney Neil Rossman said the one lesson he can impart on fellow litigators is this: focus on the basics. No matter what type of personal injury case or what side you’re on, the “hallmark of success” is incorporating the basics like thoroughly preparing for depositions, the Boston attorney told a group of lawyers at a Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education conference on personal injury Wednesday. Rossman, who represented Donna Harris-Lewis, used what happened before, during and after the trial as a way to offer advice about trying personal injury cases, particularly medical malpractice cases. Although he and his client lost the case when the jury came back earlier this week with a 13-3 verdict in favor of defendant Dr. Gilbert H. Mudge Jr., Rossman said he “tried the case I wanted to try.” When suggesting sticking to the basics, Rossman said that means understanding what the injury is, familiarizing oneself with medical records, conducting thorough preparation for depositions and serving up good experts. Before agreeing to try a case, lawyers would be wise to make sure they have an adequate budget for depositions and obtain qualified, well-spoken experts, he said. It’s also critical for lawyers to recognize whether they have a viable case, he added. “It’s essential because cases are so money intensive,” he said. SHOWING THE MONEY The issue of expenses came to the fore in the Lewis case, he said, noting that 87 depositions were taken, many of them out of state. Money was also spent on videotapes, airline tickets and lodging for witnesses and costs of reimbursing witnesses. Although press reports put the cost of the Lewis trial – and the mistrial last year – at $2.5 million, Rossman said there was a “significant amount of money spent,” but it was not $2.5 million. In the Lewis case, the plaintiff’s had four of the five foremost experts in a cardiology specialty, known as electrophysiology, testify, he said. Having credible, reputable, well-spoken and intelligent experts is critical in a medical malpractice trial, he said. But, unless the experts are able to “teach medicine to a jury,” you will not be successful, he said. “They have to be able to teach your theory of the case to the jury,” Rossman said. The hallmark in every case that his office has won, Rossman said, was that the expert was able to teach the jury, which he called the “single greatest strength” of the case. STRATEGIC MOTIONS Another critical piece of strategy Rossman offered was using motions in limine, which he described as the “most underutilized and least understood tool in a trial lawyer’s bag of tricks.” Motions in limine can be used to limit areas of evidence, find out where the court is likely to rule and to “figure out where the case is going to go before making an opening statement.” If any motions are denied, even in part, that will help you better prepare, he said. “It’s better to know these things before trial,” Rossman said, noting that he had an extensive number of motions in limine in the Lewis case, some of which provided direction for him. The single most critical element of trying a successful case is a lawyer’s ability to get a firm trial date, especially for a case that could take weeks like the Lewis case, he said. One of the “wonderful things” about the Lewis case was that Rossman knew he was going to start the trial on a specific date. If necessary, explain your needs to the trial clerk for a firm date, even if it means getting a later date, he said. “It was a big burden lifted off me,” he said, noting that not having a firm date can be destructive, disheartening and waste a lot of time and resources.

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