Congratulations to T.J. Olson on his Recent Trial Success!
By: Kopka Pinkus Dolin
Chicago, Illinois – Senior Attorney T.J. Olson recently tried a case just 90 days after receiving the assignment, which arrived with a $1,250,000 policy demand, threats of bad faith and punitive damages. The case arose from a motor vehicle accident wherein Plaintiff alleged that the defendant “zipped” across four highway lanes, plowed through traffic bollards, and struck Plaintiff vehicle. The collision caused back injuries requiring subsequent treatment, including surgery, that she claimed unsuccessful, resulting in permanent back and radiating leg pain. The case was originally filed in 2014, voluntarily dismissed to allow for Plaintiff’s surgery, and re-filed in 2018. Less than a year later, Plaintiff succeeded on a motion to set a premature trial date and thereafter sought leave of Court to request punitive damages. The motion, which was deferred to the trial judge, created a conflict with staff counsel, necessitating the defense of T.J. so close to the trial date.
T.J. obtained an unlikely trial continuance with the intention to investigate Plaintiff’s unquestionably related pre-existing conditions. However, discovery had already closed prior to the file assignment and the Court barred every attempt they made to take doctor depositions. T.J. and trial paralegal Paul Rutherford conducted a social media investigation which uncovered crucial evidence that ultimately formed the base of a strong defense. On the first day of trial, they learned that Plaintiff was only seeking damages for (past and future) pain and suffering and loss of a normal life, making the social media evidence invaluable. The cards began to stack against them early at trial as Plaintiff’s motion to add a count for punitive damages was granted notwithstanding a heated argument that included a motion to reconsider, a motion to bifurcate, and a request to certify the question of punitive damages for immediate, interlocutory appeal, all of which were denied. T.J. then made the strategic decision to admit negligence, in the face of multiple independent fact witnesses who would testify that the collision was Defendant’s fault, with the intention of barring evidence of fault altogether. The admission was allowed, but Plaintiff was still allowed to present evidence of fault. To make matters more difficult, evidence of pre-existing conditions was barred as well. Plaintiff was afforded every opportunity to present evidence to warrant punitive damages, including utilizing the trial itself as a means to elicit evidence to prove her case deserved punitive damages —a showing that must be made, per Illinois law, by evidence procured before trial. The request for punitive damages was finally denied after the close of all evidence.
The defense spent the duration of trial expecting Plaintiff to ask the jury for $7,000,000, a promise that was made by Plaintiff’s counsel shortly after the case was assigned to T.J. As the evidence unfolded, the differences in the details of every witness’ story were exposed, and the missing pieces began to surface through skillful direct and cross examinations. Plaintiff’s credibility evaporated on cross examination, and her treating physicians, acting as patient advocates, were confronted with their own medical records which contradicted their trial testimony. During closing arguments, Plaintiff generously reduced the $7,000,000 ask to $4,000,000. T.J. then delivered Defendant’s closing argument to a captive audience, making it impossible to look away from the faults and missing pieces in Plaintiff’s case. The jury deliberated for three hours and returned a verdict of $270,000.