Coming full circle

When I first started representing injured people 30 years ago, the rule was that whatever the medical provider billed was legally presumed to be the reasonable amount for the medical services provided. Back then, if you had health insurance coverage, your medical bills would be paid by your health insurance.  You did not have to pay your health insurer back if you recovered the cost of your medical bills back in an injury claim.  After all, you paid for or worked to obtain the health coverage. That is not the case now. The law now allows the health insurer to get their money back from you, if you collect it from the responsible party for your injury. With the pay to play politics in Ohio the insurance companies bought their way to changes in the law that dramatically favor them at the expense of the injured person and their treating physicians.

Insurance companies ratchet down the reimbursement rate to health care providers. Insurance companies control these reimbursement rates. Changes in the law sought by the insurance industry allow these same insurers to argue that the discounted amount that they decide and then pay to medical providers is the reasonable value of the medical services as opposed to the amount that was originally billed by the medical provider. Not satisfied with control of what they pay out by setting reimbursement rates to medical providers; the insurance industry demands that they be reimbursed for all amounts they have paid toward medical bills for an injured person. Even if that leaves no funds for the injured person. There are a couple of problems with that process. First, insurance companies will not do any of the work to go collect money from the responsible party for injuring someone. They want the injured party to do all the work. Second, if the injured party’s medical bills exceed the amount of insurance coverage available, the health insurer wants all the money and the injured party ends up getting nothing. As best as we can see, Ohio is in a unique position in all the states.  We are the only state where an insurance company can unilaterally reduce the “reasonable value” of medical care by controlling what they pay medical providers and in the end demand they be paid back all money they paid toward medical care, regardless if the injured  person ends up with any money to compensate them for their injuries and damages. We are aware of no other state in the union that allows insurance companies such an advantage on both offense and defense, so to speak. It is a double standard and stacks the deck in favor of the insurance industry. 

I am not a fan of Governor Kasich because some of this has come about on his watch. But I must give him credit for signing into law a bill recently that addresses this problem. This new statute says in essence that when there is not enough money to pay back the insurance companies and to pay the injured party a “fair” amount for their injuries, then there must be some equitable division of the funds between the injured party and the insurance company. This statute is a shift, albeit a small one, in the path to do away with the right of injured parties.

My Doctor will treat me for a common cold but not for injuries from a crash

Some doctors are refusing to see their patients when the patient has been involved in a motor vehicle collision.  A recent telephone discussion about a teenage boy we represent will illustrate the point.  The boy’s mother called their long time family physician to make an appointment for follow up care for injuries the boy sustained in a collision.  He had been admitted to the hospital and kept overnight for observation and told to follow up with his primary care physician.  When the primary care physician office learned that the reason for the follow up was because of a motor vehicle collision they refused to make the appointment.  They informed the client that the doctor would not see him.  The mother was flabbergasted.  She and her entire extended family had been patients of this doctor for decades.  All of her children saw this doctor.  Her brother, sister and their families saw this doctor yet he refused to see her son merely because he had been involved in a motor vehicle collision. The boy and his family had good health insurance coverage that would pay for the visit, just like any other visit to the doctor.  The excuse was that somehow the doctor’s office would not be paid.

We read insurance policies all the time.  In thirty years of practice, I have never seen a health insurance policy that somehow excluded coverage for motor vehicle collisions. Health insurance policies simply don’t do that.  What most health insurance policies do is they have provisions in them for the health insurance companies to get their money back. (Read the article “Coming full circle”) The worst we have seen is a provision that the health insurance policy will pay for treatment related to a collision as a backstop to other available coverage.  But they do not exclude coverage for such treatment.

So why do some doctors not want to see injured patients?  I can only guess, but I think the real reason is most doctors do not want to be involved in the claim process.  They don’t want to have to fill out a form or provide records outlining the injuries that happen in the collision. I can understand if the doctor wanted to charge some extra amount for their time in having to do the paper work involved in an injury case, and many do.  But to tell patients that they won’t see them because they have been involved in a collision is morally wrong and speaks volumes about the character of a doctor that would turn his back on a patient in need.


Recently we had a client who was involved in a motor vehicle collision who hired us to represent him. We will call him Joe. Joe was rear ended and went to the emergency room and followed up with one visit to his family physician. His medical bills totaled $1218.75. His health insurer paid a total of $553.71 in medical bills. Ultimately, with Joe’s consent, we agreed to a settlement with the at fault party’s insurance company for $3,000.00. We negotiated an agreement with his health insurer in which he would not need to pay the $553.71; the at fault party’s insurer paid his medical bills.
When the paperwork and settlement check arrived, Joe decided that this was not enough money. He was fixated on what could have happened to him in this collision.  He might have been killed or maimed or permanently injured. He wasn’t; he just couldn’t get over what might have happened. His physician gave him a clean bill of health nine days after the collision. Joe was convinced that a jury would surely award him more money if they heard his story about what might have happened to him.

Joe chose to file a lawsuit and take his case to Court, thereby reneging on his agreement to settle the case. We informed Joe that wewould not be involved in his decision to back out of his agreement to settle with the insurance company. At that juncture, the insurance company could have enforced the settlement leaving Joe in the same place that he started with the addition of the time and emotions involved in a court proceeding.

When a client informs us he wishes to settle a case and then changes his mind we cannot undo what has been negotiated in good faith. We advised Joe that he was certainly free to pursue the case on his own as he was convinced that he could sway a jury with what might have happened to him and subsequently they might award him more money.

Joe decided to file a lawsuit. He spent $400.00 just in the filing fee with the clerk of courts. Initially we negotiated no reimbursement to his health insurance company. But after Joe filed the lawsuit, his health insurer decided that since Joe might be awarded more money, they wanted to claim the money they paid for his medical bills. In addition, the insurance company of the person at fault in the collision retracted the $3,000 that they had offered us prior to suit because now they needed to spend money to defend the case. In a meeting with the judge, the judge informed Joe that he would have to have his doctor come in and testify at a trial. Joe’s doctor wanted a $1,000.00 for his time in testifying at a trial.

Joe ultimately came back to us and wanted to know if we could revive the deal that we had worked out originally with the insurance company prior to his filing suit. The insurance company refused claiming they spent money defending the case. Thanks to some arm twisting by the judge, the insurance company paid Joe the $3,000.00 they agreed to pay beforehand. Joe now had to reimburse the health insurance company ($553.71), incurred $400.00 to file the lawsuit, and he had to pay us.  In the end, Joe lost about half of his original offer when he changed his mind and decided to try to handle the matter himself.

When Pigs Fly: The Unlikely Story of Automakers and Trial Lawyers Standing Shoulder to Shoulder

What could cause Ford, GM, Chrysler, and other manufacturers to unite with trial lawyers like ourselves?  It’s something the insurance industry has fought all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court to avoid telling you.  It’s also one of the many gripes our clients have in the immediate aftermath of a collision:  Cheap, unapproved, aftermarket crash parts.

     Manufacturers spend years, and millions of dollars, designing and testing the safety and crashworthiness of the vehicles they make.  Crucial to those efforts are the parts that make up every car or truck on the road.  Parts that they have tested and approved are considered “original equipment manufacturer,” or OEM for short.  Vehicles are designed so that all parts are working together to achieve the highest possible safety, efficiency, and performance. 

     When your vehicle is in a crash, the manufacturers strongly recommend that any replacement parts should be “OEM,” to ensure your vehicle emerges from the repair process in as best condition as possible.

     On the other side of this equation are “non-OEM” parts.  These parts are not subject to the same standards and testing as OEM parts, and their use, in the expert opinion of the manufacturers, can threaten the safety and integrity of the vehicles in which they are used. Automakers consider this so important that most vehicle lease agreements prohibit the use of non-OEM parts in the event of a crash.

     Lurking behind these inferior parts is the multi-billion dollar insurance industry.  As these companies process thousands of claims a day, even a few dollars of savings per claim can represent a huge boost to their profitability.  This fight, like so many others, boils down to the safety and pocketbooks of our families versus the profits of a large industry.

     These non-OEM parts can negatively impact a variety of vehicle systems.  This has been proven to be true even in 5 mph crash tests.  In one such test, performed by the insurance industry’s own interest group, a Toyota-made bumper on a Camry buckled, as it was designed, while a non-OEM bumper failed to buckle, and as a result crushed the ends of the bumper support structures.  (See Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Status Report, Vol. 45, No. 11 (Nov. 3, 2010)). 

     As the insurance industry’s own expert stated, “Aftermarket bumpers need to perform exactly the same as original bumpers in a crash.  Even small changes in design can skew airbag sensors and alter vehicle damage patterns.”  (Quoting from the same report). 

     Sometimes this means a failure of airbags to deploy, increasing injuries.  (See Honda Collision Information, Can an Auto Body Part Affect Safety?)  The non-OEM parts tested by Honda, and the sub-par crash test results that went along with them, would have actually dropped NHTSA’s crash test ratings from five stars to four. (Quoting from same report).    

     Just as often though it causes airbags to deploy in minor low-speed collisions where they were not intended to trigger.  This might lead to unintended injury, but it definitely leads to massively inflated repair costs.  In one Ford test, non-OEM parts caused the repair bill on a Mustang to balloon from $1,250 to $3,000, due to an improper airbag deployment.  (See Ford Crash Tests Non-OEM Structural Parts, On Target: For Ford and Lincoln Wholesalers and the Collision Repair Industry (Summer 2011)). 

     In older vehicles that the owner has happily paid off, a low-speed collision should allow the vehicle to live to fight another day.  An unnecessary airbag deployment sends these vehicles right over the “totaled” line, forcing owners to take on the financial burden of a replacement vehicle.

     Twenty-five years ago this fall, the Ohio legislature enacted a statute to ensure that vehicle owners are notified when non-OEM parts will be used.  The insurance industry is arguing that this statute simply doesn’t apply to them.  They are making this argument, seemingly with a straight face, before the highest court in Ohio, even though the statute specifically includes them. (The statute is found at Ohio R.C. 1345.81).

     Most of us are busy enough in our lives that we don’t have time to be car part experts.  In the days following a collision, peoples’ lives become even busier, as they are washed into the insurance claims process, have to make arrangements regarding their car, may be missing work, may be incurring bills for medical treatment, and are all too often in one degree or another of pain.  Insurance companies count on this chaos.  They are betting that their nickeling and diming on your car will get lost in this confusion.

     However, consumers who are notified about non-OEM parts are then provided with an opportunity to learn about the various crash tests that have been conducted demonstrating that non-OEM parts are less safe than OEM parts.  They may learn that a vehicle with non-OEM parts is often more expensive to fix in a later crash than if the original repair had used OEM parts.  Consumers who are leasing are then given an opportunity to avoid unknowingly defaulting on their standard lease agreement by using non-OEM parts.

     The law sounds fair, doesn’t it?  At its heart it is designed to make sure you are informed about what is going into your vehicle – the vehicle that you put your loved ones in.  The insurance industry feels so strongly about this that they are fighting to the bitter end not to tell us, all so they can scrape a few bucks out of our vehicles.

     (Todd Willis has been directly involved in this fight, recently submitting a brief to the Ohio Supreme Court on behalf of the Ohio Association for Justice urging the Court to make the insurance companies follow the statute.  The case is Dillon v. Farmers Insurance of Columbus, Case No. 2014-0451.  At the time of this writing the Court has not yet rendered its decision).

Judges in the Headlines

When judges make headlines and their pictures appear in the news, the accompanying story usually revolves around a tragedy. This phenomenon seems to be more prevalent. There are three branches of government: the Executive Branch (President or Governor), Legislative Branch (Senate and House of Representatives), and the Judicial Branch (Federal and State).

The tradition in this country has been that the Judiciary stays above the politics that takes place in the Executive and Legislative Branches. Judges provide an even temperament in contrast to the two other political branches and apply the law even handedly. In recent times however, the Judiciary has been caught up in big money politics. As a result, we have judges who are currently serving who were put in office through political patronage and party politics. Obviously many of the judges who have risen through the political patronage process are not the best choice for their seat. They lack experience in the judicial process. A frequent topic of conversation among the trial lawyers in town occurs when a new judge is seated whom no one knows. The new judge is running a courtroom yet they’ve never been in the courthouse. Several good trial lawyers in town have aspired to becoming a judge and would make an excellent choice. Conversely, they have found that their skills in the law are no match for the big money party politics in the election process.

When a judge appears in the paper (and it’s typically not a good thing), remember the voters control who maintains judicial seats. At election time we send out a newsletter with our recommendations of who is the best candidate for a judicial position. Some of the candidates are frankly terrible. Some of them have been put in office either through the political patronage process or by the electorate. I urge you to get to know your judicial candidates. There are judges that are now serving on the federal bench (appointed for life) because they were plucked out of the ranks of the state court where they had been installed by appointment by the governor in a political patronage move. Those judges now serve for life as they have been moved up the ladder to make room for new appointments at thelower end of the ladder.

Mark Willis Staying Busy in Columbus

Amicus Curiae is Latin and means friend of the court. Mark was chosen to be an Amicus Curiae brief writer on a case pending in the Ohio Supreme Court. The case is Griffith v. Aultman Hospital, 2014-Ohio-1218. The Griffith case started in the Stark County Court of Common Pleas and went to appeal in the Fifth District Court of Appeals. From there the lawyers prosecuting the case appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court. It was at that juncture that Mark was asked to be an Amicus Curiae representative at the jurisdictional level in the Ohio Supreme Court.

In most instances the Ohio Supreme Court can pick or choose the cases they wish to accept. The criteria for them accepting a case is whether they believe a case is of great public interest or is an unsettled area of the law that needs to be resolved. Statistically the Ohio Supreme Court only accepts about 2% of the cases that are presented to it. The Griffith case was accepted by the Ohio Supreme Court. Now the Supreme Court will address the case on its merits. Mark will act in his capacity as Amicus Curiae on this case presenting the arguments as to why a hospital should be required to turn over all medical records of a patient upon that patient’s request for those records.                 

In the Griffith case when Mr. Griffith requested all the medical records from Aultman Hospital, not all of the records were provided. It came to light that Aultman housed some sensitive records outside of their medical records department. In this particular case critical records had been directed to the risk management office essentially keeping them away from the patient. Aultman’s attorneys argue that the hospital should only have to turn over records that are kept in the medical records department. The fallacy in that argument is that the hospital is the one who decides which records to put in the medical records department and which records to direct to and keep in other departments. Essentially that allows the hospital to hide patient records. The case is currently pending before the Ohio Supreme Court. Oral arguments have not yet taken place for the case.

Mark was also requested by his peers to present a continuing education lecture on introducing insurance and subrogation law to new lawyers. This will take place at the state- wide continuing education seminar in Columbus in May. It is gratifying to have the respect of your peers and the request for help in their cases. It’s also nice to receive recognition of expertise in your area of practice by being selected to help teach that field to new lawyers. Unlike most lawyers who practice in a broad range of areas, our firm is dedicated to the representation of injured people which by its very nature brings us into conflict with insurance companies on a regular basis. To fully represent injured people attorneys must understand insurance law and be able to deal with the complexities presented by insurance law and the facts of a particular claim. As Mark often tells clients if “I settled their case for a million dollars they might initially be happy but if  I later told them that they had to pay back to their health insurance company a million and one dollars, that would leave them a dollar in the hole”. The Ohio Legislature (99 representatives and 33 senators ) whose campaign war chests are full with insurance company dollars have changed laws such that it not only matters how much you collect for a client in present time, but you must be able to retain it so that it is not taken back by the competing interests of a client’s insurer.

Traumatic Brain Injuries – Direct Hit to the Head Not Required

From the NFL all the way down to Little League, sports authorities have recently taken steps to better protect players from traumatic brain injuries (TBI’s). While most of us are not suiting up for physical sports, we are all routinely riding around in vehicles. In essence, all of our brains are regularly cruising around at 30, or 45, or 70, miles an hour.

The brain is a free floating mass inside the skull. While brain matter is soft, the skull is hard. An injury occurs when the brain hits one side of the skull and bounces backwards to the other side of the skull. Think of putting an egg inside a glass Mason jar and filling it with water. Do you think you could shake the jar hard enough to crack the egg? Not surprisingly, TBI’s frequently occur in motor vehicle crashes. Side impacts snap a person’s head sideways impacting the door pillar or window. TBI’s can also occur in a rear end collision or in a front impact collision or when the head does not impact anything. If the skull is thrown in one direction and snapped back in the other direction, an injury is likely. Simply put: all that is required is the rapid acceleration and deceleration of the head. The inside of the skull is not smooth, but has rough and jagged edges. These abrasive edges can cut and sheer on brain tissue as it is forcefully thrown backwards and forwards in the skull. 

Symptoms of injury can range from mild to profound. If the skull is not broken, the injury is classified as a closed head injury. Closed head injuries often do not show up in CT scans or MRIs. 

A concussion is classified as a mild TBI and by its very diagnosis cannot be seen in any CT scan or MRI. For too long, the effects of TBIs or concussions have been downplayed. Even the very existence of a concussion is often dismissed in particular patients.

If there is visible damage in a CT scan or MRI it is not a mild TBI, but a moderate or greater TBI. “Mild TBI” however should not be confused with minor. Symptoms from a TBI can manifest in many forms: headaches; dizziness/vertigo; nausea/vomiting; double vision; inability to pay attention; loss of concentration; forgetfulness; sensitivity to light; seizures; difficulty with reasoning, problem solving  or judgment; irritability; or depression. Symptoms can be short-lived or indefinite.

Research is now showing that a second concussion while still recovering from a first concussion can cause exponentially more damage than two single events spaced far enough apart the brain has had an opportunity to recover from the initial TBI. Once you have a concussion, you are at a far greater risk for significant brain damage if you suffer a second concussion while recovering from the first concussion. This finding has led to the implementation of concussion protocols in the sporting world.

The head and the neck are extremely vulnerable in a motor vehicle collision.  Advances in automotive safety have reduced those risks, but they are far from eliminated. Airbags may keep you from being launched through a windshield, but they hit with such force that they can cause a concussion. If you are traveling at 35 mph and hit another object the car will stop suddenly; your head however continues to travel forward- and more importantly your brain inside your head continues to travel forward- at 35 mph.  An airbag is deployed at 200 mph to meet your head before it crashes into the windshield. The airbag stops your head from the 35 mph forward momentum and takes it backwards at 200 mph. As the skull is stopped and shoved backwards the brain inside impacts the front of the skull as it comes to a stop and then is propelled backwards only to hit the back of the skull when the head abruptly comes to a rest against the headrest.

In any type of a collision the head is going to be thrown in one direction or another only to come to an abrupt stop and to be snapped back in another direction either through reaching the end of the limitations of the physical body or with the aid of some structure in a vehicle (airbag, window, pillar, headrest).  For a long time traumatic brain injuries were ignored and the symptoms chalked up to symptoms associated with the neck injuries (whiplash) that occur in these collisions.  Because medical imaging was negative it was assumed no damage to the brain had occurred.  

Research however now shows that the brain does truly suffer significant damage at a microscopic level undetectable in modern imagery and it is those injuries that account for the symptoms that once were so often dismissed. 

If you or someone close to you is in a collision and are exhibiting symptoms of a traumatic brain injury it is important that you note those symptoms to EMS and/or emergency room personnel so that adequate testing can be ordered to determine if it is a mild closed head injury or if there is something more profound going on that needs more attention. 

Since the skull is an enclosed space, when the brain is injured to the point that swelling occurs, the force of the swelling can actually cause more damage as the pressure builds inside the skull. Sometimes in these situations holes are drilled through the skull by neurosurgeons which allow the pressure in the brain to dissipate. While that treatment is certainly not a pleasant one it is far more desirable than allowing increased pressure to cause damage to brain tissue resulting in permanent brain damage.

At Willis and Willis Co., L.P.A., we have handled hundreds of cases involving some form of a TBI. These cases pose unique challenges not just to you and your medical providers, but to your attorneys as well. Experience matters, and building these cases correctly from the ground up is the only way to obtain a full recovery for these injuries.

“Jurors Are the Ones Who Hold the Power”

Voices: Pao jurors are the ones who hold the power

 Elizabeth Weise, USATODAY 4:16 p.m. EDT March 23, 2015


(Photo: Vicki Behringer)

SAN FRANCISCO – For the past three weeks, I’ve been spending every weekday sitting in the Ellen Pao trial. While I don’t know what the outcome will be, it has reminded me of a very profound truth.

Trial by jury is a remarkable and inspiring part of our legal system. I’m in awe each day I sit and watch this play out before me.

Pao is a former junior partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers who is suing the storied venture capital firm for $16 million plus punitive damage, alleging sexual discrimination and retaliation.


Ellen Pao could get $160 million

Every morning at 9, about 30 or so people stream into room 604 of San Francisco Superior Court. Some are lawyers, some reporters, some bigwigs at Bay area tech firms here to get a feel for a high profile case that’s raising uncomfortable issues for the community.

But the most important are the jurors. There are 15 of them, 12 on the jury proper and three alternates in case one of the jurors falls ill or has an emergency.

They are a range of ages, races and ethnicities. I cannot imagine any of them earn anywhere near what the venture capitalists and experts (some of whom make $750 an hour) taking the stand do.

And yet it is their opinion, and no other, that matters.

It is they who will decide whether a partnership that has more than $7 billion under management is or is not guilty of discriminating against Pao due to her gender.

Unlike in too many places in the world, it won’t be decided in some backroom deal. It won’t be decided by a paid-off government bureaucrat. It won’t be decided by a politician who stands to win votes one way or the other.

It will be up to these six women and six men.

They take their task very seriously. Each day they sit in the jury box, listening intently and writing voluminous notes on court-provided notepads.

There’s a point in the proceedings after the lawyers have finished with each witness that I just want to preserve in glass. It comes when the jury and its questions take center stage. This stands out to me as a great example of what’s right about our system of law.

The judge in this case, Harold Kahn, clearly loves the law, loves jurisprudence and loves to get people engaged in it.

We can tell that by his banter with the jury during breaks, when he calls out, “Got any civics questions for me?” and then joyfully answers them.

He also invites classes of middle-schoolers into court to watch the action every Wednesday. When they file in, Kahn stops the proceedings, introduces whoever is on the stand and explains what’s happening. Then he takes, and answers, the students’ questions.

He also does something else that’s relatively rare, though not unheard of. When the lawyers for Pao and Kleiner are done questioning each witness, Kahn gives the jury the chance to ask its own questions.

This is my favorite part. The jurors aren’t trying to catch anyone in errors; they’re not trying to elicit some fact they can later use to prove a point. Instead, they ask the kind of broad questions many of us in the courtroom would ask if we could.

There is a moment of quiet ceremony when those handwritten question are handed to the clerk, who hands them to the judge, who reads them from the bench.

These 12 jurors are putting some of the most powerful and wealthy people in the state to the test. They ask, and the person on the stand must answer, under oath.

It’s a heady thing, seeing the power of the law take precedence over power or wealth. After all, the word privilege comes from “private law.” Here, there is only public law.

Take two weeks ago, when Kleiner partner general John Doerr was on the stand. He’s worth $3.5 billion. Yes, billion with a B.

Doerr is someone who has several people on staff (Pao was one of them) whose sole job it is to “leverage” his time. That means they work 50 or more hours a week simply to make it as frictionless as possible for him to do the things he does that make all that money.

And yet on the stand, Doerr spent almost an hour patiently answering juror questions.

I would venture that he is not someone who generally spends much time being grilled by people whose total net worth is likely a rounding error in his tax filing.

Their questions are overwhelmingly intelligent, probing and thoughtful.

To Doerr, they included: What’s the venture capital community in Silicon Valley like? Can anyone do venture capital? Why is female participation in venture capital so pathetic?

It’s a small thing, but it gives me a quiet thrill each time it happens. Everyone is equal before the law. In Judge Kahn’s courtroom, we see it in action.

JUDICIAL ELECTIONS – November 4, 2014

It has been said that a person has to have the right temperament to be a good judge. I believe it takes a little more than the right temperament. In approaching 30 years in the litigation business, I have seen my share of judges; some outstanding, some poor and many in between. The 2014 election cycle is unique in that it has the most local judicial races ever. During my years in practice, I have seen the Summit County Court add four judges for a total of fourteen. Ten of the fourteen seats are up for election this year and each race is contested. This creates quite the opportunity for voters to shape the Summit County Court of Common Pleas. Before we delve into the judicial races in front of us this election cycle let’s do a little background on what it takes to be a judge. Qualifications to become a Judge: RC §1907.13  Must be a qualified elector;  Must be a resident of the county for which they are running;  Admitted into the practice of law in Ohio;  Practiced law in Ohio for at least 6 years preceding appointment;  Must have a petition to run for Judge;  Must have 50 valid signatures from registered voters for that county  (if running under a major political party) before filing petition; and  Maximum age of 70. There are many ways to practice law in society today. Only a few involve court room experience. Many attorney’s practices never take them to the courthouse. As such an attorney can become a judge without any real courtroom experience. There are two ways to become a judge; one is to outright run for the seat in the political process and be elected by the voters, the second is to be appointed by the governor to fill a vacancy. If appointed, you must then run to keep the seat in the next general election cycle. Many of the judges serving in our area were originally appointed to their seat by the governor. There is a perceived advantage to becoming a judge through the appointment process in that you then get to run as the incumbent judge requesting the voters to keep you instead of outright electing you. In about 80 of Ohio’s 88 counties there is a time honored tradition and unwritten rule that no one opposes an incumbent judge. Once that judge leaves the seat (retirement, death), there will be a contested race for the judicial seat. In the more populated counties of Ohio that tradition has long gone by the wayside. There will almost always be opponents in every judicial race. That is the case this year in Summit County. Most candidates prefer the appointment process wherein the governor appoints a candidate to a judgeship. Be aware when a governor makes an appointment, that appointment is based upon the recommendations of the political party in power. Presently, we have a Republican governor so all of the judges appointed under him are Republican and their names have been passed on to him by the local Republican Party. Neither the governor nor the local political party are as concerned about whether the appointee has what it takes to be a good judge as they are about political patronage and whether the appointee will be able to fund their own election expenses. Local political parties are intensely interested in candidates who will not require campaign funding from the party in the next election cycle in order to fund their re-election campaign. Less desirable candidates request campaign funding from their party in the next general election cycle to keep their appointed judgeship. The point being the ability to finance an election campaign is of greater value than the ability to do the job. In addition, campaigning for judicial seats is very time consuming; therefore, you need a judicial candidate who has the time to commit to running for the seat. This excludes most lawyers who have an active trial practice. It favors candidates who either work in a government position or a large practice where they can take time off while others handle their workload. We file many law suits each year in Summit and surrounding counties and have a good feel for how judges handle their case load. When a lawsuit is filed, cases are randomly assigned to a judge. Let me give you some examples of what we have seen our elected judges do and I ask you if you would like to be the client involved in these cases. For example, we appeared for a jury trial ordered by the judge with our client and witnesses all in tow and ready to begin at 9:00 in the morning only to have the judge not show up until 1:00 that afternoon. The jury, the parties, the lawyers, and witnesses had all been sitting in a courtroom since approximately 8:30. The judge stated he was late because he had some things he needed to do and took some time off. He did not apologize for keeping about 50 people waiting half a day. He went on to state that he only had a very limited time in which to conclude this case so we needed to move quickly. He was an appointed judge. Our client was appalled by the judge’s attitude. After waiting many years to get to a trial, a date and time which the judge scheduled, a trial to try to obtain some justice from the situation in which he had been wronged, that was not the way he expected to be treated. In another case at the final pre-trial (parties and lawyers meet to discuss an attempt to resolve the case and potentially how the trial will be run), we appeared at 8:30 as ordered by the Court. The other party and lawyer were also present. The Court room door was locked. Finally at 9:00 some of the judicial staff appeared. When queried about when the final pre-trial would begin, we were informed that the judge had taken the day off since our pretrial was the only thing on her calendar for that day. She was an appointed judge. Evidently, this case was of no importance to the Court although it was of grave importance to the client. I could tell you many stories along this line, I could also tell many stories of judges who spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get cases resolved, make the right decisions and do right by the judicial process. For this reason, I believe that we have a very good grasp on what it takes to be a good judge and who is in fact a good judicial candidate. It is true it takes a good temperament to be a good judge, but it also takes humility as opposed to some sense of self-importance and/or entitlement. It takes a strong work ethic. It takes a person willing to think outside of the box and devote themselves to the task be-fore them with the ability to change gears as different and diverse matters are brought before them each day. Judges see humanity at its worst and occasionally at its best. So they must be able to retain the right spirit within and continue the search for good in people.   We would like to share our opinion about who would make the best judges from the current candidates. This is based upon our own experience with the people/candidates involved as opposed to some political affiliation or some newspaper editor who hasnever represented a client in front of a Court. Attached you will find a list of the judicial races with the choice listed we believe to be the better candidate in bold print. It is printed out three times so that you can share this list with friends and family. You have the ability to make a difference on November 4, 2014. 

2014 Judicial Elections:

Ohio Supreme Court:  

Tom Letson  v.  Sharon Kennedy  

John P. O’Donnell  v.  Judi French  

9th Dist. Court of Appeals:   Eve Belfance  v.  Julie A. Schafer 

Summit County Court of Common Pleas:

General Division:

1. Ron Cable  v.  Tammy O’Brien (No endorsement in the Cable v. O’Brien race)

2. Tavia Baxter Galonski  v.  Lynne S. Callahan

3. Lisa Dean  v.  Alison McCarty

4. Mary Margaret Rowlands  v.  Beth Whitmore

5. John Clark  v.  Christine Croce

6. Rob McCarty  v.  Tom Parker

7. Jon Oldham  v.  Todd McKenney

Juvenile Division:   Linda Tucci Teodosio  v.  Jill Flagg Lanzinger

Domestic Relations:   John P. Quinn  v.  Katarina Cook

Probate Division:   Elinore Marsh Stormer  v.  Kandi S. O’Connor

*Suggested candidate in bold.

Some good news; after over 40 years, insurance companies finally forced to increase insurance limits in Ohio

Effective December 22, 2013 state financial responsibility minimums were raised from $12,500 per person to $25,000 per person. Trial lawyers and other consumer groups had lobbied the legislature for years to increase this limit which had become woefully inadequate to cover even basic medical bills in all but the smallest auto collisions. This limit was one of the lowest in the 50 states and was an embarrassment for our great state.

While $25,000 is an obvious improvement, it still trails behind simple inflation and the cost of living. Additionally, medical bills have increased drastically since these limits were last addressed in 1973. (This was an era when movie tickets cost less than $2.00, gas was about 40 cents a gallon, and a stamp was 8 cents.)

All those prices have gone up 500% to 1,000%.  So this recent increase in insurance limits still falls far below where it should be even when looking at simple inflation, let alone the increased costs of medical treatment over the last 40+ years. 

On straight inflation terms, even this new increase is equal to about $5,000.00 in 1973 dollars.  (It takes about $5.25 to buy what a dollar could in 1973.)  Just to keep pace with inflation, the state minimum limits would need to be about $65,000.00.

Meanwhile, it’s a safe bet that your auto insurance premium is 500% to 1,000% more than in the early ‘70’s.  As insurance consumers, we are constantly hit with increased rates most of which have nothing to do with our own claim history.  So the insurance companies get the benefit of increased premium dollars every year and yet this state minimum has not increased a penny in four decades. 

Insurance companies have raised premiums of their policyholders while the slow and steady process of inflation reduces the insurance companies’ risk every year.

Drivers with state minimum limits tend to be younger, higher risk drivers.  Higher risk drivers are those drivers that are the most likely to cause an accident injuring you or your loved ones.  This is one of the main reasons you need to make sure you and your loved ones are protected by maintaining uninsured/underinsured motorists coverage, with limits as high as you can afford.  Liability coverage just protects your assets.  Uninsured/underinsured coverage protects you and your family if you are injured, miss work, and incur medical expenses.  Talk to your agent; you’d be surprised how affordable it can be to maintain this vital coverage.