Written by Maren Chaloupka about Staffer Lonnie Stanga’s victory
The Grad II 2010 train is still charging forward. This week, Lonnie Stanga won a trial that featured every lousy fact available to defense lawyers, all rolled into one case.
You like preexisting conditions and causation questions? Three days before the wreck at issue in the case, the client had called the doctor to report pain in her back that radiated down her leg.
You like defenses based on malingering allegations? A year after the wreck, the client applied for a job and wrote on the application that she’d had a wreck a year back, but was fine now. (This is a very special fact, as it gave the defense its choice of ammunition: bullet #1 is “you aren’t really hurt”; bullet #2 is “either you lied on your job application or you’re lying now – – either way you lie to get money.”)
You like inconsistent stories in a disputed-liability case and assumption of the risk? The client told the ER doctors that she wasn’t wearing her seat belt; she changed her story later to say she was wearing her seat belt.
She has a tested IQ of 83 and no natural defenses against a sophisticated defense lawyer. She’s had prior claims. None of them have worked out real well, so she’s suspicious that her own attorney may really be working for the defense instead of working for her (and she’ll say so). She’s poor. She thinks that the Lord will heal her pain someday, but she still wants her lawsuit.
You hate jury trials? Welcome: judge asks all questions unless a juror raises his/her hand, in which case there will be a private bench conference to follow up with the juror outside the hearing of the rest of the panel. No building a team for the plaintiff’s lawyer.
Oh, and by the way, you like racism? She’s African-American, and your jury pool is white white white. REALLY white.
The pretrial offer was zero point zero. Lonnie knew he needed to build his client’s trust: she was a stranger and an outsider to every other person who would be in the courtroom. If she couldn’t truly trust that Lonnie would be her hero, she would be an easy target for a grumpy federal judge, an arrogant ass defense lawyer and a nearly all-white jury. Lonnie rose to this challenge, spending time with his client and her #1 supporter, that being her mother. Lonnie used psychodrama to reenact the scene of the wreck, a scene at the hospital, even how the client’s mother learned of the wreck. Lonnie sought Kathie St. Clair’s input as well. His own keen instincts and experience with TLC methods cemented the bond that was absolutely necessary for this trial to work as it should.
In the opening, defense counsel smugly told the jury, “there are two types of plaintiffs in this world. One type is a person who is honestly hurt through no fault of her own, seriously injured, hardworking, truthful, blah blah; the second type is a person who will say anything for a quick buck. The plaintiff in this case is the second type.” He then spent the next several days calling Lonnie’s client a liar – – not dancing around it with fancy words like “secondary gain,” but flat out calling her a liar in front of the jury.
But the jury saw more than just the hatefulness of the defense lawyer. It saw Lonnie honoring his client, respecting her, standing up for her. It saw Lonnie sharing a chuckle with the client’s mother on the witness stand as she described their loving yet sometimes emotional relationship. It saw Lonnie protecting his client as she testified. It saw the fruits of Lonnie’s hard work and his kind heart.
And at the end of the day, it returned a huge verdict. Lonnie says this is without question the hardest case he has ever tried, presenting all of the challenges that vex civil lawyers in one single case. Yet he is smiling in relief to know that his client felt vindicated – – that after years of being called a liar, a fraud and a malingerer, thanks to a caring lawyer, this woman has her honor back.
Lonnie was part of the wonderful Grad II group, whose results keep coming in as a great advertisement for the program. Great job, Lonnie, a great lawyer and a great friend.