Recently, Lisa Ondich settled a personal injury case in a remarkable 22 months – about half the time such cases usually take to be resolved – and obtained $350,000 for her client. She sat with us to answer questions about the process and how “front end loading” the claim resulted in such a speedy and favorable result.
Question: Thanks for taking time with us. Briefly tell us the situation in this case.
Lisa Ondich: Sure, I am happy to. A woman was in a supermarket when she fell on a puddle of water that had gathered in front of the frozen food case. She broke her leg and needed several operations and a prolonged recovery involving extensive physical therapy and rehab. Fortunately for her, despite being in what must have been excruciating pain, while waiting for paramedics to arrive she had the presence of mind to snap a photo of the puddle. Also helping her case was the fact that the store manager admitted that the puddle was likely caused by clerks who were re-stocking the case and had not cleaned up any water that developed afterwards.
Q: You usually handle insurance defense cases for clients. What was it about the “slip and fall” at the grocery store that made you decide that you should represent the plaintiff?
Lisa: The case was unusual in a number of respects. When we conducted out initial assessment, the liability of the grocery store appeared to be very strong. Also, we were able to clearly identify the condition which caused our client to fall, as well as establishing how the condition likely occurred.
Q: Despite being in pain, your client had the presence of mind to take a photo of the water on the floor before she was rushed to hospital. Is this something that you recommend anyone who has been injured in an accident of some sort should do if they can?
Lisa: Yes, if it’s at all possible. If you can’t take a picture after being injured in some way ask somebody who’s with you to snap it. The ability to identify by way of a photograph the condition that was involved at the grocery store was very important. It’s difficult for a defendant or their attorney to argue with a photo snapped at the time of the accident that caused the injury.
Q: Something that helped your client’s case was that the store manager admitted liability to her as she was lying on the floor waiting for an ambulance. Should companies do a better job of training their employees what to say – and not say – if someone is injured in a store or the workplace?
Lisa: It is absolutely necessary for a business to educate its employees. From a companies’ standpoint, when an incident like this occurs, a manager or supervisor or someone should document what occurred right away after seeing if they need medical attention. Be sure to identify the employees who were involved and conduct an investigation of what occurred. But, by all means, employees need to know that they should avoid saying anything that might be considered admissions of negligence. In addition, they have to understand that it’s not their job to offer an opinion about what happened or what may have caused an injury.
Q: You say you “front end loaded” your client’s case. Exactly what does this mean?
Lisa: Beginning with initial intake questions, where we collect information about our client and the situation, we knew there were issues of liability as well as damages. We did not take a “wait and see what happens” approach. Rather, we developed both our liability position with factual support, as well as our damages with documentation at the beginning of our handling of her case. As our client underwent additional treatment, we supplemented the damage claim. As a result, we were able to present a complete case at the time of the first settlement conference. This enabled us to resolve all of the issues in the case before we ever filed for a trial date. So, we were able to avoid protracted litigation.
Q: You usually work on behalf of the insurer. Did this give you an edge in this case because you knew what the defense strategy likely would be and how the insurance company would respond when you presented a claim?
Lisa: Absolutely. Since we generally work on behalf of the insurance carrier, we know what a carrier needs and looks for in evaluating a case on liability and damages. So we were able to provide the information I knew it was going to need in a way that allowed the insurer involved to have what they needed to evaluate and resolve the case.
Q: You’re known as an insurance defense lawyer so what criteria do you use in deciding to take on a plaintiff’s case?
Lisa: Two things, really. I look for a strong case of liability on behalf of the defendant and the extent of the legitimate damages we can claim for the plaintiff.
Q: Thanks very much, Lisa. This has been really informative and interesting.
Lisa: You’re welcome. It’s been my pleasure.