Bell Law Firm had two big wins in 2017—a $26 million medical malpractice verdict and a $3.8 million premises liability verdict.
The $26 million verdict came in a case from Columbus in which the plaintiff was rendered blind, brain-damaged and in a wheelchair after a neck surgery led to a complication that severely reduced her breathing capacity. Firm principal Lloyd Bell reported that research from his team revealed that a defense witness had testified in a previous case that a hematoma similar to the one at issue in the Columbus case was the biggest he’d ever seen and required treatment the plaintiff did not get in the current case. On cross-examination, Bell said the witness had to concede that the plaintiff’s hematoma was the biggest he’d seen—but he maintained his testimony supporting the defense.
The $3.8 million verdict came in a case where the plaintiff’s foot was injured when a heavy chair at a restaurant fell on her foot, causing complex regional pain syndrome, a chronic condition. The plaintiff had been a paralegal at a law firm that generally represented defendants, so lawyers who typically opposed Bell’s clients testified in support of their now former paralegal.
Here is our Q&A with Lloyd Bell:
In your experience handling cases that resulted in verdicts of millions of dollars, how have you assessed settlement offers in which your clients could have ended litigation without risking a complete defense verdict?
The client ultimately has to make the decision whether to settle the case, so whenever the door opens to serious settlement discussions in a high value case, it is critical to involve the client in a meaningful way. The client has to fully understand the risks and benefits of trial and evaluate settlement accordingly. In multimillion-dollar cases, clients tend to rely more heavily on the attorney for advice, since few clients have a good frame of reference for such numbers. Is $5 million reasonable? $10 million? $15 million? By the time serious discussions take place, I have developed a strong relationship with my clients and built up trust and rapport where the client will often say, “Do whatever you think is right” or “I’m OK with anything you decide.” Under those circumstances, it is particularly important to keep the client involved and ensure they understand and appreciate the risks involved in trial versus settlement.
What should plaintiffs’ lawyers focus on most when deciding to represent a client?
Plaintiffs lawyers should focus on their feelings when deciding to represent a client. What do you feel when you first meet the client and hear their story? Outrage? Empathy? Fear? Hope? Ambivalence? Suspicion? Boredom? It is a sacred commitment to agree to represent an injured person, and your feelings about the client and the case will drive your level of commitment. No plaintiffs lawyer should undertake a high value case if they do not feel some measure of outrage for what happened to the client.
What do you consider a crisis in litigation, and how do you recommend lawyers handle a crisis?
There are any number of possible crises that can arise in litigation. A key witness may disappear or die before trial. The defense may try and bury you with motions to distract you from trial preparations. A judge may decide on Thursday to call a case for trial the following Monday. The list goes on. To handle a litigation crises, the most important thing is to recognize when you need help. Trial lawyers tend to project the appearance of invincibility, but in truth, there are times when we all need help to get through a crises. Sometimes that involves associating outside counsel to help with trial or brief-writing. Other times it involves reaching out to opposing counsel or the trial judge and asking for more time to meet deadlines or some other accommodation. But it is critical to recognize when you need someone to help pull the oars and get you through whatever storms threaten your case.