When attorney Tom Metier calls an insurance company asking for the policy limits for a client, they listen. And it’s not just because he won $52 million at a 2016 trial, the largest personal injury verdict ever awarded in Colorado.
Defendants know that Metier will have his case ready to go to trial at the initial mediation. They also know that he’ll win at the trial, and will also pursue a second trial if necessary to collect bad faith damages.
It is this readiness to go to trial that is the foundation of The Metier Law Firm, where he practices with seven other attorneys. After 36 years as a lawyer, he still tries up to eight cases per year. “If you stay focused on being a trial lawyer, the business will take care of itself,” he says.
His trial prowess, combined with a strategic decision 10 years ago to add a motorcycle injury niche practice to his firm with Law Tigers, has grown his firm into seven offices in Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska. Law Tigers brings his firm 150 new motorcycle cases per year. They fit perfectly with his practice representing catastrophically-injured people with brain and spinal cord injuries, burns, wrongful death and psychological injuries and PTSD suffered in plane crashes, trucking accidents, oil field and industrial workplace injuries, medical negligence and insurance bad faith.
Metier believes a trial attorney must practice his or her craft on a constant and continuing basis. “I will ask attorneys, ‘when is the last time you did an opening statement, direct examination, or cross examination?’ If they have to look at a calendar instead of their watch, they need to up their game,” Metier says.
Metier has taught trial skills at Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyer’s College since 1995 and trains lawyers in numerous seminars and speaking engagements across the country. In 2017 he was named to the Top One Percent List of the National Association of Distinguished Counsel. Metier is a Board-Certified Trial Advocate, a member of The National Trial Lawyers Top 100 Trial Lawyers, a Regent of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys, and a Trustee of the National College of Advocacy for the American Association for Justice. He’s been listed as a Colorado Super Lawyer each year since 2006 and is named to The Best Lawyers in America.
Traumatic brain injuries
Metier initially earned his national trial reputation by representing clients with traumatic brain injuries. “Thirty years ago, I had my first brain injury case and realized they are very big cases. I learned the medicine and the psychology of how the brain works and began taking these cases to trial.”
That’s when Tracy, a 21-year old college student, came to his firm. Though her car was slightly damaged in a crash, her face had slammed into the steering wheel. She couldn’t remember her homework assignments, she got lost frequently and was overwhelmed by the ordinary noise of a grocery store. She cried constantly and had seizures. She had a traumatic brain injury and he agreed to represent her.
“As trial lawyers we are confronted by great mysteries. How is it that a person with these accomplishments won’t be able to navigate life? The injury doesn’t show up on an MRI, imaging or x-ray. How do we put a juror into the skin of my client to viscerally understand what she can and cannot do? This is all about trial skills.”
Faced with a plaintiff with a serious TBI but no outward injury, jurors will say, “you can’t give money for that.” This is where Metier’s genuine sincerity and storytelling skills come in.
“The juror is saying they don’t know how to evaluate those losses. They don’t know how to believe those losses. They don’t know whom to trust,” Metier says. “A trial lawyer must understand that most humans only think about 18 months ahead. The future beyond 18 months is foggy and unfocused. We need to take the jury on a trip into the future to understand what the plaintiff and her family are going to experience over their lifetime, and how our client’s life will change. It’s not an event in the past, it’s about what her life will look like over time.”
“A trial lawyer needs to understand what does aging do, what does therapy do, what does medication do. It’s not just numbers and future surgeries and treatment, but what it means in a person’s lifetime — 15 years from now they’ll have another surgery. What does that mean to their self-concept and their ability to live?”
$52 million verdict
In November 2016, a Denver District Court jury returned a $52 million verdict for Metier’s client, a mother of four small children whose car was hit by a negligent driver. Mendy Brockman and her husband were driving south on Interstate 25 near Denver when a motorist crossed into their lane and hit them. In the collision, her car rolled over, broke her neck and left her a tetraplegic — paralyzed from the cervical spine down with some residual arm function. “She is capable of wheeling her wheelchair, but can’t transfer in or out of her chair,” Metier said.
Metier and his team sued the negligent driver, windshield glass maker AGC Glass, seatbelt maker Takata and Honda. He settled with Honda and AGC Glass and went to trial against Takata and the driver. “The verdict was a product of the jury coming to understand what her life and challenges were going to be.”
Except for one juror, the jury was composed of young Millennials between age 21 and 30, unmarried and without children. “We had to teach a jury with no children what it’s like for a mother of four not to be able to even brush her daughter’s hair. It is a combination of bringing our client’s experience of the past and the future into the courtroom in real time present tense, so the jury experiences them as their own,” Metier explained.
He is now pursuing bad faith claims against Travelers to collect on the judgment.
“Some people ask me why I am I so dedicated to representing those that are seriously injured. If you are a trial lawyer you could do criminal defense work or corporate work or chase the big money. But helping people who are seriously injured for me is more meaningful.”
Motorcycles and law practice
During his free time Metier is an athlete who loves to ride motorcycles. Metier owns a pearl yellow 2007 Harley Davidson Road King Custom. This is a 96-cubic inch machine with big fenders and saddlebags that is designed to ride cross-country to the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in the Black Hills.
He is currently having a bike custom built – using a 2016 Harley Super Glide. He’ll add a turbocharger to the 103-cubic-inch engine, which he may bore out. It will have a unique paint job and will be a little longer than earlier Harleys. “I want it to be a bike so that anybody who sees it says, ‘that’s an adventure.’”
It was a near-death crash on a motorcycle that first got him into law practice. At age 22 he was riding his Triumph Trident 750 in Illinois when a Toyota pulled in front of him. He hit it at 55 miles per hour, flying into the passenger window. He wore a helmet, but still suffered a concussion and knee injury. He woke up helpless and alone in a hospital — but was relieved to find that the motorcycle community was already helping him get his bike fixed.
“So I decided to go to law school in order to represent injured motorcyclists,” he says. After law school at the University of Iowa, Metier moved to Colorado and entered private practice, focusing on getting as much trial experience as possible across a wide variety of cases. Metier now provides trial and co-counsel services to clients and law firms across the country. Metier Law Firm has offices in Denver, Colorado; Cheyenne, Wyoming; and Omaha, Nebraska, as well as other locations.
150 new cases with Law Tigers
One way that Metier has built his firm is to become one of the first members of Law Tigers, a professional association of motorcycle injury lawyers founded in 2001.
Law Tigers generates 150 new motorcycle cases per year for his firm, and that number is increasing. “The power of niche marketing, until you’ve experienced it, is unbelievable,” he says. “An attorney can have their own practice and identity, and also be a Law Tiger attorney. Being a Law Tigers member doesn’t limit who you are, it adds to who you are. Not only was it a great business decision, it’s a personal privilege.”
One of the problems for personal injury lawyers is they’re marketing to people who are already hurt. “But imagine you could have a community that looks to you before they are injured. With Law Tigers, you become an important part of the riding community first. As a result, for most riders there aren’t any alternative law firms in the riding community,” he says.
“There is a wonderful marketing program that Law Tigers provides to us,” he says. “We incorporate that into our practice in an ongoing team approach.”
The Law Tigers strategy is to dominate the niche of motorcycle injury cases in a particular state. This is accomplished through the green-eyed tiger brand, which is ubiquitous on TV, on the internet and in outdoor advertising. The brand is coupled with a grass-roots marketing program that makes an attorney a partner in the community of riders, reaching them where they shop, in motorcycle clubs they belong to and at events they attend.
“We have an ongoing relationship with motorcycle community, and as a result of that our phone rings with people who are motorcycle riders with new claims,” he says. “Not only are you able to prosecute a lot of very good PI cases, but the depth of appreciation and feeling of belonging with a niche market is extremely powerful. It’s Nirvana for somebody who loves to help people.”
“For attorneys who have an ongoing successful practice, Law Tigers will more than justify itself. Adding a niche practice doubles up your success. For attorneys who are looking for a great way to build a practice, Law Tigers is golden.”
Metier is also known in his community for giving back. He is a major sponsor of Realities for Children, a local charity that supports children who have been abused or neglected, and have been put into foster care. The program helps children with scholarships, school supplies, donated bicycles, monthly youth activities, and funds for emergencies.
“A lot of people have been abused as kids, and the motorcycle community is not immune. In the motorcycle community, there is a high devotion to kids who were abused and neglected,” Metier says.
Every Memorial Day, Metier’s firm is a major sponsor of the 2013 Guinness World Record largest-ever motorcycle poker run benefiting Realities for Children. Riding the Law Tigers scenic ride, motorcyclists pay an entry fee and got playing cards by visiting various locations. If they collect a winning hand, they win a prize. “Our firm annually generates hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities each year, by facilitating opportunities for others to give,” Metier says.
“Attorney rescue” cases
Metier also grows his practice with what he calls “attorney rescue cases.” This is when an attorney has taken a serious injury case, “and they realize they don’t have enough horses in the corral to take the case to trial.” As a strategy, insurance companies will try to swamp a plaintiff attorney in pre-trial motions so that they can’t focus on properly preparing for trial. Lawyers with substantial injury cases face stumbling into trial not fully prepared and exhausted. That is where Metier and his team come in.
“When we co-counsel a case, we meet very early, hopefully shortly after the case is taken. We’ll develop the damages and liability as it will be presented at trial. We test with focus groups. Every day a personal injury lawyer is not attending to trial preparation, they are being put on their heels. We bring our team in and overwhelm the defense with actions that they must respond to. Meanwhile, we’re putting the trial together, so when we get to mediation, we know what the value of the case is, we have witnesses, and everything is put together. If we can’t achieve our bottom line in mediation, we go to trial,” Metier says.
“Strength when you need it” is the motto Metier offers to attorneys who are co-counsel. “We want to help our brothers and sisters in the bar, and if we are able to help, we will.”
“Most lawyers settle cases. That’s never been my model,” Metier says. “I encourage every lawyer to be willing to take cases to trial.” Certainly, there are cases that should be settled, such as when the value of the injury exceeds the insurance coverage.
“However, for me, I couldn’t sleep at night if I thought I was settling cases that need to be tried. Insurance companies often won’t pay what they should for a brain injury, and so they won’t offer their policy limits. They won’t pay what they should without being forced to trial. We offer them the opportunity to settle for what makes sense for the client, and to the attorney. But if they won’t, we’ll go to trial and get a verdict. And if there is a second trial to get the insurance company to pay it, so be it.”