Even plaintiff lawyer Mark Dubois was skeptical when he first took on the case of a client he dubbed “Superwoman.”
After all, how could he win, when his client had intentionally tried to stop a stranger’s rolling car to prevent it from hitting her loaner, only to injure her shoulder in the process?
But he was her lawyer, representing Superwoman in a personal injury suit against the stranger, who had neither asked for her help nor solicited her to take any action at all. And before it was over, he would done something even more improbable—but which led him to victory.
Dubois and other Connecticut attorneys say many difficult legal wins call for strategy. Some are more intricate and detailed than others, but all get the job done in winning the case for the client.
Here are how some attorneys turned uphill battles into victories.
Trust the Car Salesman
Dubois, an attorney with New London’s Geraghty & Bonnano, not only wasn’t sure he had a slam dunk, he also wasn’t sure he even had a case worth litigating.
Dubois’ client was in her loaner car from the dealership she worked at when she saw a car slowly rolling down a city street towards her loaner. “It was a standard and parked on a hill with no emergency brake,” Dubois recalled. “The car begins, by itself, to start going backward. It’s a narrow one-way street with cars parked on both side, and she sees she can’t get her car out of the way. ” Instead of getting out of the way of the moving car, Dubois said his client “ pulls on the driver’s side of the door of the moving car, and it’s locked. She then gets behind the car and tries to push it to stop. The car pushes her down the hill, and she injures her shoulder. Ultimately, she broke the impact by getting between the rolling car and her loaner car, and her loaner car was not damaged.”
Dubois said the woman told him, if her car was damaged she could have lost her job, thus she took no chances but to get between her car and the runaway vehicle.
“She had banged up a car before, and the dealership made it clear that, if she banged up another car, her job could be at risk.” Dubois said. Faced with what he thought was a dud of case, Dubois talked to his client and told her she’d have to convince the jury that what she did in injuring herself was not out of the realm of what a normal person would do.
“She got a job selling cars and an intuitive sense of how to communicate with people,” Dubois said. Although he had never let a client pick a jury without his input up to that point or since, Dubois said his client was positive she could convince a jury like the good car salesperson she was. So, Dubois said: “I listened to my client, which most attorneys don’t do enough, and let her pick the jury all on her own.”
The woman picked those people who she thought she could sell a car to, Dubois said. “There were people I would have never picked that she did. She told me, ‘I could sell this person a car,’” Of potential jurors who she didn’t pick, Dubois said, “She’d say, ‘No sale.’”
“She picked the jury herself, six jurors and two alternates,” Dubois said. “We tried the case, she testified, and we later learned from the jury foreperson that, once she started speaking, ‘the case was won.’ She sold everyone on the jury.”
Dubois’ client won the case and got damages.
Challenge the Doctor and Do Your Own Legwork
Attorney Kelly Reardon had a motor vehicle case she thought she might be able to win, but then the defense burst her bubble when their doctor contradicted her medical expert.
Reardon, of New London-based The Reardon Law Firm, was representing a woman who was in a 2008 car accident. The woman’s vehicle, Reardon said, got T-boned. “My client slammed her right knee on the dashboard. That was her primary injury and what we based our case on for damages.”
Reardon said her side’s orthopedic surgeon “got on the stand and relied on X-rays and MRIs. He was the orthopedic surgeon treating my client, and he said she had a tear on her meniscus on her right knee. He showed the jury the X-ray and the MRI.”
But then, Reardon said, something happened that she did not expect.
“Their doctor got on the stand and said my doctor was all wrong,” Reardon said, “The defense’s doctor said my doctor interpreted the MRI wrong. Their doctor said our doctor was looking at the left knee as the right knee and got everything mixed up.”
Reardon said she was devastated.
“After their defense expert testified, I went back to the office, defeated, and I felt like I lost the case,” Reardon said. “After I picked myself up, it occurred to me that maybe their doctor was wrong and mine was right all along.”
Later that evening, Reardon made a trip to the hospital and located the radiologist who took the films. “He told me the defense’s doctor had it all wrong. He had read an ‘L’ on the MRI as meaning ‘left,’ but it actually meant ‘lateral.’”
“It was a lateral view of the right knee,” Reardon said. “We got the radiologist to testify the next day, and I can see in the jury’s eyes that they thought their doctor was either a liar or an idiot. They awarded me almost everything I asked for.”
Brace for the Stalemate
Many years ago, attorney Robert Mitchell became involved in a struggle involving a Louisiana manufacturing plant, which had a class action race discrimination case leveled against it. In addition, employees were trying to unionize. The plant, which has since been sold, made 1½-liter soda pop bottles.
Mitchell represented the plant and thought one way to derail the other side was to wear them down with motions.
“My basis tactic was to start as many possible legal actions as I could. I filed a few lawsuits and motions. We filed everything we could think of in different forums.” said Mitchell of Stratford-based Mitchell & Sheahan.
“The union did what I did in filing motion after motion, and we ended up fighting ourselves to a standstill,” Mitchell said. “Because of the stalemate, they were willing to give up their claims. They were willing, I believe, to give it up because of the money they were spending in defending the claim. We had the staying power, and they did not. And, because of that, there was no union in the plant.”
Break the Ranks
At first glance, attorney Patrick Tomasiewicz appeared to have a tough legal case to handle: A police officer had said Tomasiewicz’s client was injured in lockup because he was punching the walls and banging on his cell.
Tomasiewicz, who is with the Hartford-based Fazzano & Tomasiewicz, was representing a man in what turned out to be a police brutality case. His client had three fractures to his back and injuries to his wrist. The police officer accused of excessive force maintained the man’s fractures were due his wife pushing him down a flight of stairs prior to the arrest. The officer also maintained that the injuries to the wrist were due to the alleged harm Tomasiewicz’s client did to himself in the cell.
Tomasiewicz maintained his client was telling the truth when he said handcuffs were on him too tightly and that the officer picked him up by the wrist and slammed him chest-first into a desk. His client was 5’3” and 130 pounds. “It would have been the officer’s word against my client’s,” Tomasiewicz said.
With the doggedness of his partner, attorney T.R. Paulding, Tomasiewicz was able to find a witness to the two hours his client was in lockup: a state trooper who saw his client the entire time through a glass window.
“It was not easy to find that trooper,” Tomasiewicz said. “We read all of the reports, dug, did a lot of homework and then found him and called him.”
The trooper didn’t see the alleged slamming of his client into a desk, because that apparently occurred in a different room. But, Tomasiewicz said, his client didn’t punch any walls or bang the cell, according to the trooper.
At trial, Tomasiewicz said, “I called the police officer as the first witness, and I questioned him about the conduct of my client in lockup.” The officer, Tomasiewicz said, reiterated that the injuries to his client’s wrist were self-inflicted and the fractures were due to his wife pushing him down stairs.
But the next witness Tomasiewicz called was the state trooper.
“That trooper directly impeached the officer’s testimony,” Tomasiewicz said.
The client walked away with about $700,000.