NTL member LaBarron Boone helps secure $151M in Ford Explorer rollover trial

Ford ExplorerA Dallas County, Alabama, jury found defendant Ford Motor Company at fault for a rollover crash of a 1998 Ford Explorer that left Travaris “Tre” Smith paralyzed and awarded Smith $151,791,000. The verdict includes $51,791,000 in compensatory damages and $100 million in punitive damages. The jury agreed with Smith in finding that Ford failed to meet its own safety guidelines for the Explorer’s rollover resistance requirement and attempted to cover up the vehicle’s defective design. Beasley Allen lawyers and National Trial Lawyers member LaBarron Boone, Greg Allen and Kendall Dunson along with Bill Gamble of Gamble, Gamble, Calame and Jones, LLC represented Smith.

“We represent a 24-year-old young man who cannot be left alone to care for himself in any way,” said Dunson. “This verdict represents justice for Tre and his family. Thanks to a courageous jury he will now be able to access basic necessities within his home and have access to the care he needs.”

“Tre had the misfortune of riding in a vehicle Ford knew could and did hurt him, but the jury’s verdict will allow him to reclaim some level of hope for a better future, with less dependence on others,” said Boone. “Ford failed Tre and so many other consumers. The jurors in Dallas County held Ford accountable for yet another tragedy in a decades-long saga of the company’s efforts to cover up the shoddy design and its refusal to adequately address the problems.”

In August 2015, Smith was a passenger in the 1998 Ford Explorer traveling in Dallas County. The driver swerved to miss an animal that appeared to be crossing in the vehicle’s path, causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle. The action is called an accident avoidance maneuver and because the Explorer’s design is prone to rolling over, especially during these types of emergencies rather than sliding out like other similar vehicles, the Explorer carrying Smith rolled over two times before landing on the shoulder of the road, right side up. As the vehicle was rolling over, Smith was knocked unconscious and his spine was snapped, leaving him paralyzed and forever changing his life.

Boone believes jurors also intended to send a message to Ford that destroying safety documents in an effort to hide critical and unfavorable evidence will not be tolerated.

“Ford should have spent money redesigning this dangerous SUV model rather than paying huge amounts to defend the cases,” said Allen.  “One expert has been paid over $75 million over the last 16 years to defend Ford in accidents like Mr. Smith’s.”

The 1998 Ford Explorer has been at the center of two historic safety recalls in the U.S. due to its defective design. The model consistently failed the Consumer Union testing because of its propensity to roll over, and company engineers advised Ford it needed to change the design, but Ford refused. Instead, it opted to change the way the product was tested, moving it from a real-world setting to a computer-based simulation called ADAMS. Yet, Ford destroyed the original input and output data obtained through the ADAMS testing, claiming it had no scientific value and was too expensive to maintain.

“We have seen bad conduct before but the egregiousness of Ford’s scheme to mislead the jury was stunning. Ford claimed the ADAMS data that would have proved the safety of this vehicle was destroyed because it had no scientific value and was too expensive to maintain. We provided proof that something as basic as a $100 thumb drive could have easily preserved the data,” Boone said.

At trial, Plaintiffs also explained that in its efforts to resist redesigning the Explorer, Ford altered less expensive components such as air pressure and tire sizes but to no avail. The defective design remains in the stream of commerce decades later and continues to seriously injure and kill consumers.

The case is Travaris D. Smith v. Ford Motor Company, et al, 27-CV-2016-900273.00 in the Circuit Court of Dallas County, Alabama.

 

4 Marketing Strategies Your Law Firm Can’t Win Without

By Harlan Schillinger.
What you don’t know, you don’t know. You’ve probably heard that phrase before. But for lawyers, it’s especially apropos. Because along with big attorney egos come big misses, even at some of the top law firms in the country.

When business is good, lawyers ignore marketing strategy, right?

Lawyers deal with what is only in front of them.

They’re getting leads, booking clients and winning cases. That can lead to three dangerous thoughts:

  • I’ve got everything else figured out.
  • I’ve got so much business coming in that I don’t need to invest in putting anything out there.
  • How can I take on more clients, I am so busy now?

That’s a mistake. And it could come back to bite your whole practice. Inevitably a dry spell will come. You may start attracting the wrong kinds of clients. And cases won’t convert the way they used to.

If you continue to ignore modern legal marketing, you will become a dinosaur. Eventually, your practice may be perceived as extinct. Want to stay alive — and thrive? You must stay current on these key marketing strategies.

1| Competitive analysis

How does your firm stack up against other attorneys in your practice areas? You have to know what other law firms are doing so you can outplay them in the existing market. Can you market differently in 2019? Can you test an advertising avenue that others haven’t?

How to improve: Ask your advertising firm to gather as much competitive media and market data as possible. Constantly monitor other lawyers’ TV commercials. By knowing competitors’ marketing and advertising strategies, you can plan smarter and make your approach proactive rather than reactive. Find out what they are NOT doing.

2| Intake & conversion

Few law firms have formalized front desks, intake systems, and software to adequately track, monitor and follow up on the leads they are generating. Additionally, if your firm is investing in popular PPC campaigns or broadcast advertising to obtain valuable leads, it’s a total waste not to track how those leads actually convert. You must have CRM Tracking software such as LeadDocket.com in place to find out what you don’t know.

How to improve: “Secret shop” your firm or record your incoming new calls. Dial your intake or front desk people to get a sense of tone, process, and follow-up procedures. See what’s effective and what you need to change. Likewise, follow up on “no-shows.” A lot of lawyers use the excuse that if a lead was booked but the person never showed up for an appointment, it wasn’t a case the firm wanted anyway. But is that really true? You paid for that lead. At least learn why they didn’t show. Actually, they probably went somewhere else.

 3| Metrics & measurability

Ever heard of the 2% difference? Lead-generation research shows that a margin as small as 2% can make a big difference in the competitive legal industry. So what are top firms doing slightly better than you? How you can leverage your brand’s advantages or attributes to gain even a small edge?

How to improve: Put a tracking system in place. Leverage free web-based programs or engage your legal marketing agency to read and report on the metrics that tie directly to ROI. Your best option is to install great CRM tracking software. Again, it will tell you what you don’t know. Are there major gaps in your conversion rates? Real ROI insight comes from measuring. Metrics can provide a clear understanding of how your marketing dollars are paying you back.

The truth is; What You Don’t Know You Don’t Know. Software is your best option. Anything else, you’re kidding yourself, Sorry.

4| Reputation

Sure, friends’ feedback, regular referrals, and big case wins can prove that you’re pretty good at what you do. But money, greed, egos and other external vices can blind us to reality. Do you truly understand how the public perceives your law firm? Do you know how the community identifies with the messages you are sending?

How to improve: Start investigating whether you have the right reputation—and how you can shift marketing to get the one you want. For example, use positive things people are saying about your firm right now—through referrals from past clients, online reviews, social media chatter—to fuel and shape public perception. Google Reviews is a Must!

To avoid extinction, you have to be proactive in marketing. Having strategic vision requires studying the competition; looking at key performance indicators; drilling down on digital analytics; having the resources at hand to try something different when whatever was working isn’t working anymore; and always, always, executing with under the right intelligence.

Make sure you are working with an agency or advertising guru that tracks, works hard and is willing to try new things. Ask the tough questions about your agency. Loyalty is great. Just make sure you are working with the right people.

You, and only you, are responsible for the marketing you put out—and the cases you take in. You get what you ask for and remember, The Value of the case is everything.

PS: Early to Bed, Early to Rise, Work your Ass off and Advertise!


Harlan Schillinger is a legal marketing expert in Paradise Valley, Arizona.

Harlan has worked with more than 120 law firms in over 98 markets throughout North America. Currently, he is consulting privately only with lawyers who share his vision of increasing business, being accountable and obtaining high-value cases. He takes, perhaps, the most unique and accountable approach to Intake and conversion.

Currently, Harlan is working with and in charge of business development Glen Lerner Injury Attorneys. With offices nationally, Glen has one of the largest and most successful plaintiff’s practices in America. The firm already takes on well over 1,500 cases a month, and Harlan is positioning the firm for even more growth.

Facing retaliation after being sexually harassed

Karen Ward, a former investment banker at Ernst & Young, reported instances of sexual harassment to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in September of last year. It was the second such complaint filed against the firm in 2018. Ward tells HuffPost that her supervisor made sexual comments about her body, and stole credit for her work. Even though the supervisor was fired, Ward was forced to face retaliation for her complaint “from a whole boys’ club in his network.” Ernst & Young also fired Ward, but claims her dismissal had nothing to do with sexual harassment or discrimination. Read more about the retaliation that Ward faced with fighting sexual harassment at HuffPost. 

Will Jeff Bezos sue the pants off the National Enquirer?

Jeff BezosAfter Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos announced that the National Enquirer threatened to extort him over rather personal selfies that he allegedly sent to his mistress, some are wondering whether he’ll sue American Media Inc., the company that owns it, as well as what his chances of success would be if he did. Delaware Law School professor John Culhane argues in a Politico article that Bezos has a good chance of winning a lawsuit over invasion of privacy, having the financial resources available to “bury them in litigation.” Culhane says Bezos “has already done a public service by revealing AMI’s threat.” Read Culhane’s analysis at Politico.

Meanwhile, what effect will Bezos’ fight with AMI have on the freedom of the press? That’s a question that former Obama White House counsel Bob Bauer asks in an article at The Atlantic. Bauer says AMI Chairman David Pecker may be testing the limits of the legal liability protections afforded to the media. Also at The Atlantic, Quinta Jurecic says what Bezos does could prove to be a turning point for victims of “sextortion,” benefiting those who are more vulnerable.

3 Ways Coercive Questioning Brings False Confessions, Wrongful Convictions

Many crime-based movies have been made about the wrongly accused and imprisoned, but the scenario plays out often in real life as well. One contributing factor continuing to draw interest from the legal profession and law enforcement is coercive police interrogation – and how it can influence a false confession by an innocent suspect.

According to The Innocence Project, which focuses on the exoneration of falsely convicted felons, between 1989 and 2016 false confessions occurred in 31 percent of DNA-exonerated cases, and in 63 percent DNA exonerations involving homicides. Concerns about false confessions reached the point where a long-used interrogation technique was discredited by a large police consulting firm due to the risk of it producing false confessions.

“Juries need to have a comprehensive understanding of interrogation,” says Brian Leslie  (http://www.criminalcaseconsultants.com), an author and expert analyst of coercive police interrogation techniques who has been retained in high-profile criminal trials throughout the United States.

“They need to know how an interrogation is broken down and how the interrogator determined the ‘presumption of guilt,’ which is a prerequisite for conducting such an interrogation.”

Leslie says there’s an important distinction between an interview – the purpose of which is fact-finding and gathering evidence – and an interrogation. The purpose of an interrogation is to solicit a confession.

“When a presumption of guilt is based on bias, or inaccurate, unvetted information and not on evidence, that may result in a wrong suspect being targeted,” Leslie says. “Thus,  the interrogator is forced to resort to coercive methods, which increases the potential for a false confession.”

Leslie explains three ways suspects can be coerced into giving a false confession:

Minimization. This is when an interrogator minimizes the culpability of the suspect, trying to get the suspect to drop their guard when answering. “An excellent example of this would be if an interviewer tells a suspect that the offense he committed was not a serious one and that the most important thing is to be honest, and ‘man up,’ because ‘everyone makes mistakes,’ “ Leslie says. “The interviewer is appealing to the suspect’s male ego and suggesting that by just admitting to the crime, people would understand and respect his honesty.”

Vulnerability. In this scenario, the interrogator takes advantage of a suspect’s mental defect, personality, age, etc. “Typically, these suspects are alcoholics or drug users, those with mental disabilities, maybe a person who may have deep-seeded religious or political beliefs,” Leslie says. “Certain types are vulnerable to manipulative tactics or coercive questioning by the interviewer. A low IQ may also affect a person’s ability to articulate answers or not fully understand the questions asked. Also vulnerable are teens or persons who speak English as a second language.

Word and narrative integration. “The interviewer changes the word usage of the suspect to support the interviewer’s narrative,” Leslie says. “An example of this would be changing the suspect’s word from ‘hit’ to the word ‘whacked,’ or ‘moved’ to ‘shook.’ That makes the context more dramatic.”

“Coercive questioning by an interviewer does not necessarily mean there was misconduct by the interviewer,” Leslie says. “And although coercive questioning during an interrogation plays a vital role in how false confessions occur, a crucial component to any interrogation is the investigation that preceded it and how it was conducted.”

Podcast: How to get good reviews from your clients

legal toolkitOnline reviews can make or break a law firm’s reputation. What does it take to consistently receive better reviews? In this episode of Legal Toolkit from the Legal Talk Network, host Jared Correia talks to Sarah Smerage about how lawyers can both get and cultivate better reviews. They talk about going beyond providing excellent legal services and focusing on creating and sustaining a better customer experience. Also discussed is how to handle negative reviews.

Judge to allow controversial evidence in Roundup trial

RoundupA federal judge overseeing lawsuits over Roundup weed killer is tentatively allowing evidence that defense attorneys wanted excluded, Reuters reports. US District Judge Vince Chhabria says attorneys may introduce some evidence that Monsanto tried to ghostwrite studies and influence the findings of scientists and regulators, calling it “super relevant.” Plaintiff’s attorneys say corporate misconduct is inextricably linked to their claims that glyphosate, a chemical in what Reuters calls “the world’s most widely used herbicide,” can cause cancer. According to Reuters:

Under Chhabria’s order, that evidence would be allowed only if glyphosate was found to have caused plaintiff Edwin Hardeman’s cancer and the trial proceeded to a second phase to determine Bayer’s liability.

 

The order applies to Hardeman’s case, which is scheduled to go to trial on Feb. 25, and two other upcoming cases. There are some 620 Roundup cases before Chhabria, out of more than 9,300 nationwide.

Lawsuit: apparent mistake leads to a stranger’s death

Hospital treatment causing more harm than healing? Preventable hospital errors cause more than 400,000 deaths per year.A Brooklyn woman says she was misinformed by hospital staff that a man by the same name as her brother was brain dead and she authorized removing him from life support — but her real brother was in jail, and she sent a stranger to his death, according to the New York Post. 48-year-old Shirell Powell has filed a lawsuit in Bronx Supreme Court over the fatal mistake. The incident began July 15 at St. Barnabas Hospital, when Powell was notified that Freddy Clarence Williams had been admitted because of an apparent drug overdose. Her brother had been a patient at St. Barnabas before, according to the Washington Post, and the hospital still had Powell listed as an emergency contact. It was only after Williams’ autopsy that Powell learned the truth: the man who died after being removed from life support was a different Fred Williams. You can read the complaint here. 

Podcast: The struggle of small law firms

Lawyers at small law firms may see themselves as the underdogs of the legal profession, and perhaps they’re right. In this Lawyerist podcast from the Legal Talk Network, Stephanie Everett talks about some of the tough questions small firm lawyers should ask of themselves. She says if you’re struggling with some of the issues that small firm lawyers face, it’s helpful to take a step back and ask yourself some hard questions to get back on track.

Stephon Clark’s family files wrongful death lawsuit

police sirenAttorneys for the family of Stephon Clark have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Sacramento Police Officers Terrance Mercadal and Jared Robinet as well as the City of Sacramento alleging the officers racially profiled and used excessive force in fatally shooting the unarmed, African-American father of two. The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court Eastern District of California on behalf of Stephon’s two sons, his parents and his grandparents, seeks to hold the officers and the city accountable for violating various civil rights under federal law as well as the California Bane Act that resulted in the execution of decedent, Stephon Clark.

Plaintiffs are represented by Brian Panish of Panish Shea & Boyle LLP, Dale K. Galipo of The Law Offices of Dale K. Galipo, and Ben Crump of Ben Crump Law, PLLC.

As alleged in the complaint, Officers Mercadal and Robinet shot and killed 22-year-old Stephon in the backyard of his family’s home on May 18, 2018 as his grandparents watched in horror. The officers failed to identify themselves as police or issue any verbal warning that deadly force would be used before discharging their firearms approximately 20 times – at least eight (8) bullets struck Stephon, including multiple shots to his back as he made his way to the ground as well as when he was on the ground. Unresponsive and bleeding profusely from his wounds, the officers deprived Stephon of life-saving medical care, causing him extreme mental and physical pain and suffering as his body succumbed to his injuries. At the time of the shooting, Stephon was unarmed, holding only a cell phone, and had not committed a crime or posed a threat to the officers before he was shot and killed.

The actions of Mercadal and Robinet deprived Stephon of his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures as guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and applied to state actors by the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs assert that the officers use of deadly force was excessive and unreasonable under the circumstances because Stephon was not armed and “this was not an immediate defense of life situation, the involved officers did not give a verbal warning
that deadly force would be used despite it being feasible to do so, there were no commands given and there were other reasonable options available other than shooting and killing the decedent.

“This family deserves answers and full transparency from the officers, the city and the Sacramento Police Department on the unjustified use of excessive and lethal force that killed Stephon Clark and robbed his children of a future with their father. When the facts are fully disclosed, we are confident that a jury will deliver justice that reflects how grossly the police and city officials failed Stephon, his family and the people of Sacramento,” said Brian Panish, attorney for the children of Stephon Clark.

“The Sacramento police executed Stephon Clark in his grandparents’ backyard, mistaking his cell phone for a gun, assuming he was a criminal threat simply because he was a black man. Then they ignored him for six minutes, failing to render any help to save his life. Stephon’s life had value. In America, a life – even a black life — can’t be arbitrarily extinguished without holding those responsible accountable. To dismiss their behavior is horrendously disrespectful. We are filing a civil action today because nothing will change in America until the wrongful death of a black man is met with requisite justice, because justice equals respect — not only for Stephon, but for all black people, ” said Ben Crump, attorney for the family of Stephon Clark.

As a result of the officers’ actions, Stephon’s children, parents and grandparents have been deprived of his life-long love, companionship, comfort, support, society, care, and sustenance for the remainder of their lives. Plaintiffs further assert that the conduct of the officers was “willful, wanton, malicious, and done with reckless disregard for the rights and safety of decedent and therefore warrants the imposition of exemplary and punitive damages as to Defendants Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet.”

“Since district attorneys throughout the state and the country are reluctant to press criminal charges against police officers involved in unjustified shootings, families of the victims of these unjustified shootings are left only with civil remedies in a Civil Rights action. Hopefully, the City of Sacramento will recognize how unjustified the killing of Stephon Clark was and offer an apology and substantial compensation to his family without delay. This is the first step to have the family start the healing process. One of the goals of this lawsuit is to not only get justice for Stephon’s family but to help prevent this type of incident from happening again” said Dale K. Galipo, attorney for the family of Stephon Clark.

The family is seeking treble damages under Civil Code Section 52.1 and compensatory damages – including survival and wrongful death damages in excess of $20,000,000, funeral and burial expenses, loss of financial support, and attorney fees as well as punitive damages against the individual defendants in an amount to be proven at trial.
A criminal investigation into the fatal shooting was concluded by the Sacramento Police Department in October 2018 and sent to the Sacramento County District Attorney to determine if criminal charges should be filed against Mercadal and/or Robinet. To date, City officials have yet to issue their findings as to whether the officers were found to be within policy for their use of deadly force or if they will be disciplined and/or charged for Stephon Clark’s execution.

You can read the full complaint here.