When I was a “baby lawyer”, cutting my teeth on brand spanking new Texas tort reform (texaswatch.org) in the mid-nineties, I ended up mostly with the cases and clients no self-respecting lawyer would stoop to represent. I didn’t mind. One of my proudest achievements as a trial lawyer was a $1,600.00 dollar jury verdict taken with a client nobody cared about. My client thought it was a pretty good verdict too.
Those were hungry years and when a fellow trial lawyer called me one day about some work I was all ears. But he didn’t want my baby trial lawyer skills, which were meager at best. He asked if I could write an outline for him on the questions to ask a doctor in deposition. Well I was flattered but quick to point out that I had taken maybe only 10 or so doctor depositions at that point in my illustrious young career. Heck, he knew more than I did about deposing doctors.
Not just any doctor and not just a simple outline, he said. I have a huge case and my client is permanently paralyzed from the waist down and I want to depose his Physiatrist (aapmr.org). I want an outline that is so detailed and complete that it delves into even the smallest nuances of life with a spinal cord injury. I want to know things and ask questions that only a person with a spinal cord injury would know to ask, he said. I want to ask questions that make the corporate defense attorneys cringe when they hear the answers.
I asked him about his client’s injury. He is a T-4, he said. That is not an injury from the waist down, I reminded him, the 4th thoracic vertebrae is mid chest. First you need to know the basic science of a spinal cord injury (www.spinalcord.org). A cervical injury affects arm and hand function and causes quadriplegia. An injury below the cervical level, T-1 down through the lumbar and sacral levels causes paraplegia. If your client is injured from the “waist down”, their lesion likely occurred at the very lowest thoracic level or at the lumbar or sacral level. Although both are paraplegics, for example, there are significant differences in the level of function between a T-2 and T-12.
It was my first and only work as a consulting expert witness. The “outline” was 18 pages in length and contained the most grim and dark aspects of caring for a spinal cord injury. The trial lawyer called me after the deposition. He said his client’s Physiatrist was very impressed with his knowledge of SCI and really warmed to the task of answering even the toughest questions. The defense attorney pulled him aside afterward and asked how the heck he knew all that stuff about SCI!
He settled the case not soon after the treating physiatrist deposition. A few years later I was privileged to represent my first client with a spinal cord injury. I discovered that I had misplaced the “outline” while preparing for the Physiatrist deposition. I never could find that thing. But it didn’t matter. I know it all by heart.