In spring 2017, Los Angeles-based insurance defense firm Colman Law Group successfully defended the firm’s oldest active case. The award was held to less than 25% of the demand in binding arbitration.
The five-year-old case was based on a collision that happened on Hollywood Boulevard, for which the defendant acknowledged fault. He made an illegal left turn in front of the well-known TV actress’ car, creating substantial damage as well as injuries to her hand that required surgery.
The trial was first scheduled for 2015, but was frozen until 2017 with no new discovery allowed. Because of that the team was at a disadvantage for the rapidly approaching binding arbitration.
The plaintiff had changed lawyers several times. Believing the case was worth more than her earlier teams had sought, she finally engaged one of the most highly acclaimed personal injury attorneys in California.
A $2.7 million demand
Under the new attorney, the plaintiff alleged she would have an ongoing disability and asked for extensive compensation:
- Past medical specials – $80,000
- Future medical specials – $150,000
- Pain and suffering – $500,000
- Future pain and suffering – $2,000,000
With their client’s admitted fault, the Colman Law Group (CLG) strategy was to limit the economic damages. After the close of evidence at arbitration, the firm submitted a brief to the arbitrator, drafted the night before, citing California law that limits recovered costs to only reasonable charges and what’s medically necessary.
No claim for lost earnings
The CLG team was surprised and pleased that the plaintiff did not request damages for lost earnings, especially considering she was highly paid. But the absence of this claim was to the defense’s further advantage, arguing that her injury was not life changing, since the actress maintained her work schedule and met her requirements at all times.
The plaintiff did claim extensive disabilities, from being unable to chop food, cook, or do dishes to lacking the hand strength and flexibility to throw a ball with her kids, go bowling, type, or text.
To support that claim, the plaintiff’s medical expert prepared a very elaborate and costly life care plan. The defense expert dismissed it as unnecessary, pointing out the plaintiff’s uninterrupted work and ability to function in her daily life.
Smart witnesses for the plaintiff
The plaintiff called two very compelling and effective witnesses – herself and her ex-husband. Her former spouse talked about how the accident and injury affected their and their children’s daily lives. And the plaintiff performed as well as you would expect a good actress to do.
The plaintiff’s team attempted to boost damages by claiming she needed a weekly session with a hand therapist, for life. CLG asserted that the therapist’s self-interest led to the recommendation, and claimed the “need” was no more persuasive than a hernia plaintiff claiming he required weekly Swedish massages. The medical experts for both the plaintiff and the defense ultimately agreed that ongoing physical therapy wasn’t medically necessary.
Social media as evidence
Because discovery was closed, CLG scoured public information and turned up a number of YouTube videos the actress had posted for fans since the accident. At arbitration, the firm showed a two-minute compilation of the plaintiff gesturing and using her hands capably and with great dexterity, including forceful clapping.
Then, one final question for the defense’s expert, a hand surgeon. “Can you tell from the video which hand was injured?” The expert answered, “No.”
CLG’s creative approach led the judge to whittle the award to less than one fourth of the demand, for a total of $638,353. It broke down as:
- Past medical specials – $35,986
- Future medical specials – zero
- Future special damages – $2,367 (adaptive software for typing through voice-recognition)
- Past general damages – $200,000
- Future general damages – $400,000