TLC Grad Eric Penn Receives $89.6m Justice for Client in Trucking Negligence

“I feel grateful for the opportunity to have worked on this case. I love the underdog role. It really motivates me. This was the ultimate underdog story. We represented a working class mom (Jennifer) and her three minor children who were devastated from a crash with a Werner 18-wheeler. We were going up against one of the largest trucking companies in the country, with a crash report that put zero fault on the truck driver and said that there was nothing that the 18-wheeler driver could have done to avoid the crash. You would be hard pressed to come up with more of an underdog set-up than this case. Our clients were the ultimate survivors. They refused to become ‘victims’, instead finding the strength to become ‘victors’ in the wake of overwhelming tragedy. I was proud to be this family’s voice. It was incredibly moving and validating to see the jury become empowered to make Werner hear its’ voice that what they did to Jennifer and her family was not ok.” – Eric Penn (TLC1 ’10 Grad)

Eric Penn represents clients who have suffered catastrophic personal injuries from trucking crashes nationwide. He founded The Penn Law Firm in Jacksonville, Texas six years ago. Eric graduated from TLC’s 3-Week July College in 2010 and has used the TLC methods and significant TLC connections since his graduation. Eric works with classmates, psychodramatists, TLC’s communication experts, and faculty members in his case preparation, including Jennifer’s case. “I worked heavily with my TLC connections. I was at the ranch in June of 2017 and worked on this case with TLC Faculty; some of the best trial lawyers from around the nation. My client worked with a TLC Psychodramatist to get her ready for her deposition. We also worked with TLC’s Communication Experts in this case to prepare for trial. They really helped us develop the story and get the clients ready for trial.” Eric says he can’t take TLC out of him. He draws upon the techniques learned and cultivated from TLC in every aspect of every case, continually using the methods of Psychodrama and many of Gerry Spence’s foundational trial skills.

$89.6M Verdict Against Werner Enterprises Trucking Company

Jennifer was with her three children returning home after running errands in late December, 2014. Unbeknownst to them, they hit black ice that had formed on the interstate, lost control to the left, crossed through the grassy median and into the opposite bound lane of traffic in front of a Werner 18-wheeler traveling at highway speeds. They took a ruinous direct hit. Eric and his team worked on this case for over 3 years culminating in a 7-week trial against Werner and their driver. “This was an extensive workup. We worked with lots of great consultants, did tons of focus group work and of course utilized all of our TLC training at every opportunity.”

The results of this crash were devastating. Jennifer’s youngest child died and her two surviving children suffered traumatic brain injuries. “The youngest was Zack who was 7 years old. Zack was a quiet, contemplative kid with beautiful long blond hair. He died three days after the crash from a massive injury to his brain and a lacerated liver. Brianna was Jennifer’s only daughter. Brianna was 12 at the time of the crash and loved to sing and dance. She lit up every room she ever walked in to. Brianna survived but suffered a catastrophic brain injury that has rendered her quadriplegic, requiring 24-hour care for the rest of her life. Nathan was 14. Nathan loved science and being a big brother. Nathan survived, but he and Jennifer both suffered ‘mild’ traumatic brain injuries and various physical injuries. The consequence to Jennifer and her kids in that truck were overwhelming.”

During trial, Eric remembers using some very specific TLC methods that helped him gain trust with the jury right from the start. “I think that you can do many things during a trial, but the most important thing is being honest with the jury and allowing them to form a tribe. My interpretation of what that is making a sincere connection with the jurors from the start of jury selection, letting them see you, that you’re a real person, and that you’re listening to what they tell you so they feel heard and validated no matter what their opinions are. That helps you earn credibility as a ‘real’ human that then carries over to the trial with the 12 that make it into the box.”

Eric’s opening was developed spending years of fine-tuning while working with several consultants, including TLC Communication Experts. During the trial, there were some very powerful direct examinations, none more so than Brianna’s who is now 16 years old. Brianna endured a catastrophic brain injury so severe that it rendered her a quadriplegic. She is unable to walk, talk, or eat. She needs around the clock care, 24-hours a day. Brianna can however communicate using the sign language alphabet with her right hand. “When Brianna took the stand, she showed us videos of herself pre-injury singing and dancing on stage. Brianna was so proud to show those videos to the jury. She signed, ‘That’s me up there. That’s still me.’ Brianna was telling the jury that even though her body is broken and can’t sing and dance like she used to, her spirit is still there. ‘That’s still me’. It was incredible. Brianna’s spirit is incredible. She reminded all of us that the human spirit is remarkable. There wasn’t a dry eye in the (packed) courtroom.”

“In a case like this where there are serious liability questions and issues, one of the things that happens is inevitably forces the clients to do the hard work to remember, in detail, the events of the day. It’s critical that the client accurately recounts the facts of how the crash happened, and what occurred. Psychodrama is an invaluable tool to help, as the client re-lives the critical events. Of course, Psychodrama also helped Jennifer tap into her feelings and emotions to accurately convey the loss that was taken from her as a result of her family’s injuries. It was helpful, as always, to us as the lawyers to understand our clients’ story in ways that you otherwise can’t.”

Under Texas law, Werner is responsible for the entire verdict. The judgment was for just over $92 million with interest and costs. The jury’s liability apportionment was: 70% Werner, 14% Werner’s driver, and 16% driver of our vehicle (family friend). The jury understood that the case was about this huge trucking company that had a glaring lack of basic safety systems designed to keep the rest of us that share the roads with them, safe. “The jury got it. They expressed their judgment of Werner and their business model by assessing 70% of the responsibility for causing the life-long injuries that Jennifer and her family suffered on them.”

Eric attends TLC programs regularly to keep his skills fresh and to continue learning to better fight for his clients. “The benefits of taking the risk to go to TLC can’t be overstated. If it’s something that makes sense to you like so many others before you, it’s something that will be with you for the rest of your life and certainly the rest of your practice. I couldn’t encourage lawyers more to take this risk.”

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