Episode #4: Litigation is where it is at!By Stewart J. Guss on September 10th, 2020
For this episode of the Breaking Down The Law Podcast we’re joined by Jason Ruen, a personal injury attorney in Houston who specializes in Litigation legal services. He’s joined by Breaking Down The Law Podcast host, Ashley Rodriguez.
During today’s episode we will be discussing the difference between pre-litigation vs litigation in the personal injury law sector.
- My job is as the head of the litigation department, a lot of the times these claims can be taken care of before trial happens before a lawsuit needs to be filed. But there are a lot of times in which we actually have to file suit on these cases. And that’s that’s where my department comes in. We file suit personal injury cases that have no other means, typically, to get the client what they need to get their recovery.
- A lot of times we have to file suit because for various reasons, the defendant might not be taking responsibility. or there might be a dispute on liability. And the only way to really figure it out is to put it in front of 12 people who are gonna judge it and give us the verdict.
- Everybody’s heard of the McDonald’s case, for example, it is a great example of people that actually don’t know what happened, that have made a decision based upon information put out there by corporate interests
- When was your last trial? When was the last time you took a case to verdict? Those are questions. No one is going to settle your case with you for a million dollars if you don’t have a law firm that can get a million dollar plus verdict.
Jason discusses these points and so many more that we couldn’t fit in these show notes, so we hope you’ll join us for this episode!
Stay tuned for the next installment of the Breaking Down The Law Podcast with Stewart J Guss and Ashley Rodriguez!
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Transcript [This transcript was created using an automated transcription service and may contain errors]
Intro : 0:10
Breaking down the Law, Breaking Down the Law a podcast hosted by attorneys and legal specialists discussing everyday law and how it affects regular people, regular people. Let’s break down the law with our host, Stewart Guss and Ashley Rodriguez. They have the inside scoop on everything legal and newsworthy.
Ashley Rodriguez : 0:36
Hey, welcome back to the podcast. Today we’re gonna be talking about litigation. And we have a special guest with us today.
Jason Ruen : 0:43
Good afternoon. How are you doing today?
Ashley Rodriguez : 0:46
I’m doing good. How about you?
Jason Ruen : 0:47
Pretty well, pretty well. What do you do here? Well, my name is Jason Ruen. And I’m the head of the litigation department here at Stewart Guss.
Ashley Rodriguez : 0:54
What does that mean? What kind of law is that?
Jason Ruen : 0:58
So here at Stewart Gusss we practice personal injury law, which means when somebody gets hurt, and it’s the fault of somebody else, they need an attorney to help them navigate those waters, we’re here for them. My job is as the head of the litigation department is, a lot of the times these claims can be taken care of before trial happens before a lawsuit needs to be filed. But there are a lot of times in which we actually have to file suit on these cases. And that’s that’s where my department comes in. We file suit personal injury cases that have no other means, typically, to get the client what they need to get their recovery.
Ashley Rodriguez : 1:39
Yeah, so our previous episode, we talked about the pre litigation department part and then and so your head of the litigation department, right. So the next steps basically?
Jason Ruen : 1:49
That’s correct. That’s correct. And typically, the life of the case will go through. Once they contact us. Somebody has been hurt, they don’t know what to do. Typically when they call us, it’s one of the worst days of their life, they’re confused, they’re hurt. They don’t know which direction to go. And part of our job as personal injury attorneys is to assist them and help them and guide them. A lot of that process takes place in the pre litigation phase of the case, but sometimes we have to immediately take it into litigation. That’s unusual, but it does happen. it’s more likely that after we’ve attempted to get the client taken care of before suit needs to be filed, that the case is settled, and then we can move on. But a lot of times we have to file suit because for various reasons, the defendant might not be taking responsibility. or there might be a dispute on liability. And the only way to really figure it out is to put it in front of 12 people who are gonna judge it and give us the verdict.
Ashley Rodriguez : 2:48
Got it? Why personal injury law for you or did you just fall into it or do you have a passion?
Jason Ruen : 2:55
That’s a great question. I actually went to law school to be a criminal attorney. I wanted to be a prosecuting attorney and that’s where my passion had led me. And when I was in law school I kept ultimately when it comes down to it, I hate a bullying. Law School showed me a lot more about the world than I expected. I worked for a lot of different law firms in law school, I got to see a lot of different types of law. And one that did appeal to me was personal injury law. It is the ultimate story of the person that gets hurt and needs help, and that it was called to me. So I’m a personal injury attorney at heart because I like to help people and because I hate a bully.
Intro : 3:32
Excuse me. Do you help me?
Ashley Rodriguez : 3:34
Yeah, I mean, that’s a great reason to be in it. So break down exactly. the litigation process, like after?
Jason Ruen : 3:45
Okay, so, we use the term litigation to mean everything that happens in a case once a lawsuit has been filed. So that means that we have literally filed a lawsuit with a court that means that a petition or complaint has been created that is lays out the reasons for in our situation, our clients injury lays out who’s at fault for it and where they can be found. And then, after a petition has been filed, we will send it out for service and a process server will try to find the defendant and get them served to bring them in the lawsuit. And they have an opportunity to answer the case. Typically, what happens is the individual it’s served will tender his offense to his insurance company who will provide him with an attorney. And that attorney, we’ll take it from there. And then moving forward. There’ll be a discovery phase in which our client has to answer questions and the defendant has to answer questions, depositions, hearings happen on various their various arguments either on discovery motions or on other motions to kind of pair down what the trials actually going to be about, and then the trial happens. And that’s kind of an hopefully at the end of the day, at the end of the trial, there’s a verdict that supports our version of the case and gets to recovery for our client.
Ashley Rodriguez : 5:14
And so we talked about the defendant. And so yes, we are kind of suing that defendant, but we’re really suing the insurance and so that’s why they provide them a lawyer, right?
Jason Ruen : 5:24
Um, so absolutely not.
Ashley Rodriguez : 5:25
Jason Ruen : 5:26
We’re absolutely suing an individual or a company. The issue is, and this is particularly the case in Texas, tech, Texas is not a direct action state, which means if somebody, for example gets hit by a driver, and that driver has Allstate Insurance, and Allstate refuses to make an offer or has made a terribly low offer, because that’s typical for Allstate to do. Then we don’t get to sue Allstate. Allstate is hiding behind the driver so we get to sue the defendant, because it’s really the defendants fault and then Allstate is required by contract law to provide him with an attorney. But ultimately the person that’s going to settle the case is not going to be in that situation. It’s not gonna be the defendant, it’s not going to be his attorney, it’s going to be the Allstate adjuster who holds all the money. So the real client in that situation for that defense attorney is not in again, this is ethically it’s the defendant. But if you look at who pays him, it’s the insurance company and the insurance adjuster tells him what to do. That is not the case in every single situation. But it’s the case often enough that I like to make sure that we have that distinction here. Some people that do not have insurance companies, for example, will pay for an attorney out of their pocket. Some people that are self insured, which means they have a lot of funds will pay for an attorney out of their pocket. Some companies do that. But the vast majority of the time the defense attorney is essentially hired by an insurance company or maybe works for that insurance company. That’s not the case in for example, oh, and it’s very important to point out here, that the jury doesn’t get to know that. They don’t get to know that the attorney on the other side is actually working for Allstate, for example.
Ashley Rodriguez : 7:08
Jason Ruen : 7:10
They only know that he’s an attorney, and he’s representing the defendant. And there’s a lot of rules about whether or not that information can come in or not come in. So in most in what will call distinguish between a third party case, which is what we’ve been talking about, and a first party case in which you can sue an insurance company in Texas, want to be very clear here. It’s a different rule. In Louisiana, for example, Louisiana, you get hit by an Allstate driver, you can sue Allstate along with the driver. Can’t do that in Texas, you can only do that if it’s your insurance company. That’s not giving you a satisfactory settlement.
Ashley Rodriguez : 7:44
Jason Ruen : 7:45
And in that situation, you could sue that insurance company, but it’s what we refer to as a first party case. And it’s a little bit different, but it’s the same basic idea. That case State Farm or Allstate would show up and defend the lawsuit with their attorney.
Ashley Rodriguez : 8:01
So what do you think are the benefits of actually going to trial? If you can’t agree on a settlement in pre litigation.
Jason Ruen : 8:09
One of the main reasons that you go to trial is because the insurance adjuster or the defendant has not valued the case correctly, or is offering way too little money to the client to get them taken care of. So that’s an that’s a primary reason that people would end up filing a lawsuit because there’s no other way to do it. I can’t make an adjuster look at a case and go, Oh, yeah, that’s actually valued inappropriately, we have to offer you more money. Even though it’s obvious from the evidence, that’s the case, what has to happen is that you have to take it out of their hands and you have to put in the hands of 12 people pulled it random from the community and have them decide what the case is valued at what have them decide what the injury is worth, and have them decide what the pain and suffering for my client is worth in a monetary way. And that’s a very difficult thing and it’s a very important thing that we have a jury that can do that. Most of the time, the juries do a great job of this, they will look at a case and they will apply a common sense. And they’ll come up with pretty much what we think is the correct result. Sometimes they don’t. And that’s part of the risk inherent in litigation.
Ashley Rodriguez : 9:20
Yeah, we talked about that a little bit with Brantley and prelit. That, you know, you try to have the settlement because it can then be out of your hands at that point when you go to trial, and then you’re just kind of hoping that the jury gets it right.
Jason Ruen : 9:36
And that’s, that’s where that word comes from settling. It’s a settlement because you’re both settling for that number. A lot of the times that even once we file a case, we will end up getting a settlement before it goes to trial. The vast majority of the time actually is will settle a case before it goes to trial because after enough discovery has been done. enough information has been revealed enough evidence has been put out there and the the universe of what the trial with the juries is going to look at, it’s really narrowed. They don’t get to take consideration everything. They only get to take into consideration the things that our process allows them to look at. For example, I mentioned that they don’t get to know that there’s an insurance company out there that’s actually going to pay the judgment. They get to think it’s that, for example, little a lady who ran a red light and hit my client who’s a strapping young guy, and made him have surgery. Well, the jury is gonna look at that and they only get to last. Yeah, they’re gonna look and I had this case not that long ago, where I really had this wonderful little lady who probably need to get her eyes checked again, ran a red light and smashed into my client and essentially put him into about it was about eight months of therapy and treatments and surgery, they had to cut him out of his car with the jaws of life. But this is a wonderful, wonderfully presentable, little lady that I’m going to have to get in front of a jury and beg have them for money.
Ashley Rodriguez : 11:01
And they think it’s from her,
Jason Ruen : 11:03
and they think it’s from her.
Ashley Rodriguez : 11:04
But she’s been paying for her insurance for a reason.
Jason Ruen : 11:06
They don’t know that she’s got a million dollar insurance policy, because this isn’t her first wreck. They don’t get to know that. And a lot of times if they knew that they’d come to a different decision, but that’s part of the processes, that our system is designed to limit information that may or may not have an effect on the case, because what they want the jury to consider is only the facts of the case,
Intro : 11:31
Excuse me, Is that legal?
Jason Ruen : 11:34
And keep out any extraneous biases that might affect it. And the fact that she had a million dollar policy would absolutely have affected in the minds of some of those jurors. But that’s part of the process. So that case did not go to trial, because the insurance company came up with enough of an offer that my client was willing willing to settle for it again, because of the danger of going to trial with the little lady. Exactly.
Ashley Rodriguez : 11:59
I think that’s just thing is as personal injury lawyers we get, you know, the whole ambulance chasing thing because we’re chasing the little old ladies for money. But you know,
Jason Ruen : 12:09
Yeah, that’s that’s part of the process. A lot of people go into a jury with a bias against plaintiff’s attorneys because they’ve seen the commercials they’ve seen the the really negative ads that are out there. Everybody’s heard of McDonald’s case, for example, that’d be a great thing to take a look at in depth on a later show is that McDonald’s case is a great example people that actually don’t know what happened, that have made a decision based upon information put out there by corporate interests by insurance companies to really color a lady.
Ashley Rodriguez : 12:39
That coffee was hot.
Jason Ruen : 12:40
It was hot enough to give her third degree burns on her genitals. That’s how hot that coffee was. And there was a number of other aspects to that case that are fascinating, but, but that kind of goes back to where I come from. As a personal injury attorney. My job is to punch bullies in the teeth and there are no bigger bullies out there than the insurance companies. They you are not in good hands. They are not out to protect you. They are out there to provide money for their shore shareholders. And that’s that’s pretty much where we come in and we make sure that at some point they don’t get to make the decision anymore. A jury does.
Ashley Rodriguez : 13:14
Yeah, there’s a buffer in between. Um, so do all personal injury law firms have a litigation department? And why do you think it’s important for us to have one
Jason Ruen : 13:24
and you mean other lawfirms
Ashley Rodriguez : 13:26
Actually, yeah, they go, Well, they get a trial or do they just settle?
Jason Ruen : 13:30
It’s a great question. That’s another great question. So I’ve been doing this for about 10 years. I’ve worked for a number of different law firms. And I’ve been very much in the minority in which the firm’s I’ve worked for are all litigation firms. So that the that I would say that most personal injury firms do not have a litigation arm. A lot do and a lot of solo practitioners do, but a lot a lot. It’s it’s hard for me to put into numbers but it’s a very important component, in my opinion of a personal injury firm that you have a litigation. That you can take it all the way.
Ashley Rodriguez : 14:11
So that’d be a good question for you to ask when you’re hiring a lawyer or a personal injury lawyer is do you have a litigation department? Are you willing to take it all the way to trial? If I decide that.
Jason Ruen : 14:20
When was your last trial? When was the last time you took a case to verdict? Those are questions we took a case of verdict this week, for example, those are the cases those are the firm’s that actually can add a lot of benefit to your case, simply because the insurance companies are in the business of tracking information. They are that’s what they do. And they track the attorneys that go to that go to trial and those that do not. They track the attorneys that settle before trial and those that do not. They track the attorneys that have ordered call in Texas towers vertix and those that do not. So you have to have, in my opinion, as a 10 year practicing attorney they don’t Those personal entries in Texas you have to have a litigation arm to really get the best benefit for your clients in pre litigation, not just in litigation, but in pre litigation to no one is going to settle your case with you for a million dollars if you don’t have a law firm that can get a million dollar plus verdict.
Ashley Rodriguez : 15:23
That’s a very good point. So, um, is there a difference between like going to trial with like a car accident versus a slip and fall like there’s a different amount of time that things take?
Jason Ruen : 15:35
Well, yeah, it’s yes and no, a trial can lasts. And we’re talking about specific trials. A correct case. That’s very simple with one defendant, one plaintiff, very clear liability. No, not a lot of doctors involved in it might be an afternoon. It might take me five hours to put that up there and get it to the jury and the jury to rule on it or might take two weeks,depending on the difficulty of how many experts do are needed, how difficult was liability was it wasn’t an 18 Wheeler that ran into this person. And not only is the 18 Wheeler driver at fault, but his company’s at fault for making him drive for 20 hours straight and the broker who’d got him the contract to deliver might be at fault might might have bear some responsibility and maybe the load was Miss load, maybe there was a problem with the load itself, and maybe we need to bring those people and there might be tons of different defendants in a personal injury case, in either not just a motor vehicle case, but a premises liability case, which is the slip and fall case that you just mentioned, premises liability is kind of a default for non motor vehicle cases. It might be a dog bite case, for example. Those are pretty straightforward and simple. But it might be very complicated if you, for example, tripped on a piece of material that was sticking out of a parking lot. Well, why was the material sticking out? Was it the fault of the owners of the parking lot? Was it the fault of the management company, the parking lot wasn’t the fault of the construction crew that came out there did some work and didn’t clean up after themselves, who was at fault for that? And I might have to do a lot of discovery to figure that out. And it might take four or five days or weeks to get to that in front of a jury, because the important part is does the jury understand what’s going on? Can they sift through the facts and all the smoke that’s being put up by the defense to come up to the real answer? Hmm. And that’s really the question, how long is that going to take? And how long is the judge can give us to get get that jury to that point?
Ashley Rodriguez : 17:44
Yeah. So you really just depends on the case. And it could take a while, just depending on the evidence.
Jason Ruen : 17:49
Yeah, it’s I think, one of the longest cases I’ve heard of is, I think you’re looking at like extremely difficult cases in the mass torts arena, or the like the Viox cases, cases against in products liability or the upcoming cases with the pharmaceutical companies, the tobacco companies, their month long trials, they’re months and months and months of trials before you get to the verdict at the end of the day.
Ashley Rodriguez : 18:18
A lot more plaintiffs and defendants.
Jason Ruen : 18:20
Yeah, it could it could be that it could be the fact that the issues are so complex, that you’re going to have to educate the jury on scientific components that the 12 random people that are in the community have no idea. So they have to learn that you have to teach them that they have to understand it in such a way that they can apply those facts to the situation that’s in front of them and come to the appropriate response. And that’s it’s not a simple thing. It’s not an easy thing. And again, it’s we
Ashley Rodriguez : 18:52
Have to be able to have an educated decision.
Jason Ruen : 18:54
Absolutely. If you’re not educating your jury, then your jury is gonna come to the wrong decision. Ideally, you’re getting given the right information in it, it come to the right decision.
Ashley Rodriguez : 19:06
So do you think there’s anything else we should know about personal injury litigation?
Jason Ruen : 19:14
Yeah, there’s a universe of information out there about what goes into it. It isn’t the simplest thing to talk about. But anybody that’s really either considering that as, Oh, I was just in Iraq, I need to sue this to sue the guy. Well, remember, when you enter into litigation, you’re opening yourself up. You are putting your life into the conversation with the judge, the defense attorney. A lot of my clients think, for example, that they shouldn’t get to know things that happened to me in the past, like, maybe 10 years ago, you did something stupid, he went to jail. Well, and you’re not that person anymore. Well in a personal injury lawsuit or civil lawsuit a lot of times that information will be found out. And so long as you don’t lie about it, it might not ever get in front of the jury. Especially if it’s not relevant. That’s the rule one. It’s you don’t bring in facts that are not relevant. But not being truthful about that fact absolutely comes in every single time.
Ashley Rodriguez : 20:19
Because then they’re beginning a pattern of not being truth.
Jason Ruen : 20:22
Well, it makes you as a witness be unbelievable. And if you are not believable as a witness, then the jury gets to know that and they will punish that every single time. So the most important thing I can tell anybody that might have a personal injury claim or personal injury lawsuit, is you’ve got to be 100% honest with your attorney. Because if you are not, it’s going to come back to bite you. And the defense attorney is going to figure it out. That is what they get paid for. They get paid to figure out the secrets that you’re hiding. That’s going to happen so you’ve got to let your personal injury attorney know. Otherwise, you’re going to get blindsided in the room at the worst possible time.
Ashley Rodriguez : 21:01
Well and that’s important to hire someone that you trust. So that way you can be honest with them, and then go forward and trust that they can do what they can do to keep that out.
Jason Ruen : 21:10
Hundred percent 100%. You’ve got to have a relationship with your attorney that you trust that they are looking out for your best interest and you’re going to trust them a lot of information, just your medical information, but your history and your desires and how the incident has affected your life in again, I’m in this role, talking with people that are going through and a lot of cases the worst thing that has ever happened to them in their life. And I take that a as an all of us here at Stewart Guss take that as a very, very critical responsibility. That is our job is to take care of these people. Because, you know, that’s why we’re in the business.
Ashley Rodriguez : 21:50
Alright, well, thank you, Jason, for being on our show today.
Jason Ruen : 21:54
My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Ashley Rodriguez : 21:55
All right. We’ll see you all next time.