Charlie, Congratulations! This is really an incredible victory for your client! Can you describe that case for me?
It was a rear-end, soft tissue, under-insured motorist case. The person who hit my guy only had a minimal policy of $25,000, we were making a claim under his own policy for under-insured benefits. It was a high impact crash, but my client was a 16 year old athlete (21 at the time of the trial) who was very fully active before and after the crash. He basically got out of his vehicle and said “Oh well, I’m a little shook up but there’s no blood and nothing broken, I’m going to go play some basketball.” He went to the ER the next day because his neck was hurting. He never really complained about it much, but at full extension of his neck he got a sharp, momentary pain that went right away. He was not really wanting to treat with the doctors a lot and the insurance company didn’t think much of the case. What was really amazing is the TLC discovery of the story.
Without TLC, this verdict, and justice for my client, would never have happened. This case would have settled — like they all do — and for a lot less money. It was using the skills I learned at TLC to discover the story of this case, learning the different layers that existed and being able to appreciate the goodness in this young man that made the difference. Once I was able to do that, I knew I had a really good case that deserved more than a minimal settlement with the insurance company. When you talk with my client – his name is Coop – at most he’d say “Yeah, when I put my neck back it hurts.” I did some “chair-back” exercises – that’s a technique I learned to discover different emotions and feelings that are buried within my clients. I wanted to peel back the layers of Coop to find out how he was really feeling about things. He had a surface layer which really doesn’t say a whole lot, you know? “I’m fine, I’m okay, I’m going to be alright”. But the more I probed and asked — and listened — I found that behind this superficial emotion was a deep-seated fear, which is something he’s not comfortable talking about. I found that his hero in life was his grandmother, Ninny. She was a nurse and had inspired Coop to go into nursing. When he was a young kid, he remembers her on the floor playing Legos with him even though she was fighting Cancer and as a result her bones would be so brittle that they would break. I mean she was agonizing and she never once complained. Here was a kid who was modeling his life after her and was always very much interested in everybody else’s pain, not his own! He was afraid because he said that right now he’s active and if it hurts now, what’s it going to be like when he gets older and especially going into the nursing field? We didn’t settle, and at trial, I very spontaneously asked him, “Do you consider yourself to be healthy” and he replied, “Oh, I’m healthy.” Here is a young man who I discovered has Crohn’s disease and a bad neck, but yet he says, “oh, I’m healthy”. He said further to the jury, “There’s a lot of people on this jury that suffer a lot worse than I do, for sure, and I’m very uncomfortable talking about my own pain.” I asked him about his grandmother and his memories of her and why he doesn’t focus on his pain. He said everybody gets old and everybody’s got pain and like his grandmother, he didn’t feel it was right to focus on his own suffering. I really just can’t say enough about how this impacted the jury. The insurance company defense lawyer said during cross examination, “I’ve been watching you for three days, and you haven’t once been holding your neck in funny position nor have you been grimacing.” And Coop says “I didn’t know I had to do that!” I just loved this kid!! You should have seen the faces of some jurors– beaming, embracing and loving him.
Were you aware of how powerful Coop’s testimony would be?
TLC discovering the real story was really very powerful. I didnt let my ego get in the way. What I said to myself going in is- “look just stay the hell out of his way, introduce him to the jury and stay out of the way.” you know because I knew once I had the story, it was just a matter of letting him tell it and me facilitating that. In a lot of ways it was a run of the mill case, but I’m convinced that what made it different was discovering the real story. It was something that the jurors really related to and it’s something the defense lawyers absolutely never saw coming. They just didn’t; they were totally floored.
On cross examination they tried to kill him. The defense lawyer was so intoxicated by his own performance, he never looked at the jury – I mean had he looked at the jury, he would have seen people looking at him as – just daggers, and he never looked at them to see that.
How did the Voir Dire go?
I asked Coop to write down the jurors he got a bad feeling about, and he didn’t need any reason. He felt strongly about three jurors and I struck them without any discussion. It dawned on me that he was there, looking at the jurors, and whatever was happening in the unspoken relationship, was real and needed to be honored. For me this was new. Before TLC I was a control freak who thought I knew what was best. Here I ceded control to Coop and just went with his gut. He didn’t like them and that was enough. Another thing that happened during Voir Dire, we had asked for “likely future pain, suffering”. In Voir Dire I focused on the word ” likely” and talked about Deflategate (this is New England Patriot country) and we talked about the NFL finding (however wrong) that Tom Brady likely knew the footballs were deflated. What did it mean? One juror said “That means you need to prove your client will possibly have future problems.”. I thanked her for her response and asked if she minded if I tweaked her answer. Then I said, “If I only prove possibility, I must lose, because I need to prove probable future damages.” After trial some of the jurors came up to me and said I was an honest lawyer– that felt great.
You won a large amount for Coop, correct?
We got a $200,000 verdict. There was $13-14,000 in medical bills, mostly diagnostic – huge gaps in treatments, no permanent impairments. What I decided to do was just wave the bills and we tried the case on general damages. In my voir dire, I said to the jury “Look, his medical bills have been paid, we’re not looking for them and his lost wages weren’t very much so we’re not looking for those. We’re just looking for his future pain and suffering,” we narrowed it to that and we got the $200,000. We were offered $42,000 and he had already been recovered from the tortfeasor around $25,000. So for around this area, the money on the table, cases settle for a lot less than that around here every day of the week but I knew what the real story was and I knew that we had a chance of getting a bigger verdict. Like any other trial, of course I look back and there are things I would do differently but that’s the way it always goes. The bottom line is it was nice to win. New Hampshire only has a million people in the whole state and the bar is pretty small so it got around like wild fire. Had we got a $100,000 verdict it would have been a big deal here so we get two – it was really kick ass, you know? The biggest thing was being heard. Coop being able to tell his story and have it accepted was really, really good.
Practicing law for 33 years, based in New Hampshire, Charles A. Donahue is the founder of Donahue Law. Charlie was born in 1958 and grew up in a mill town, Lowell, Massachusetts, where he graduated high school as a member of the National Honor Society. He received his undergraduate degree, with high honors, from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and, at the age of 24, his law degree from Syracuse University College of Law. Early in his career, he worked as a criminal defense lawyer and police prosecutor to get courtroom experience, and to try cases before jurors. He was the first lawyer in the history of the county to bring a civil law suit, on behalf of a minor, for monetary damages versus the abuser and the first to file a civil law suit for a minor versus a landlord for exposure to lead paint poisoning. Recently, he was inducted into the Litigation Counsel of America. Around town, Charlie coached youth baseball and is a sponsor of many youth sports. He established scholarships at several high schools for college bound students, as well as for students pursuing technical training. He has supported Special Olympics, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the Keene Police and Fire Departments, St. Vincent DePaul Food Pantry and other charitable, civic and religious causes.He has been married to his wife Susan for 31 years, with 4 grown children, and 1 grandson?. They enjoy spending their summers on Lake Spofford and Winters in Sanibel, FL.
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