Thomas J. Johnston concentrates his practice on the trial of personal injury, including catastrophic personal injury and wrongful death matters. He speaks with Lawyer Monthly about how vital civil jury trials are to his line of work.
What are the main challenges you face when representing clients that are against big corporations?
The civil jury trial is the great equalizer of power in the world. The jury trial places a private citizen on level playing field with the largest and most powerful corporations, or even the government. Once the trial starts, a jury of citizens hears two stories and decides, based on their collective judgement, what is just. And, they get it right almost every time. This is why the people at our Firm do what we do – we believe deeply in this system and are proud of what we do.
How do you use your expertise to overcome such challenges?
I really believe that lawyers and law firms who do what we do need to embrace this equal playing field and trust the juries with their cases. I think many times that lawyers and clients settle cases because they are under the influence of fear. Instead of making decisions based on fear of something bad happening, we look at courtrooms as a place where good things are about to happen, and this helps us get justice for our clients.
What changes do you advocate for in the insurance industry, for the betterment of your clients?
Along these lines, I think too many cases are being settled rather than tried, and generally speaking, the settlement process favours the insurance companies. If a lot of lawyers settle their cases for a certain amount of money, this creates a false value for cases. Now, we do not represent man kind and if our client gets a good settlement offer we will settle a case, but I am finding more and more that the jury trial is the best place to get justice, especially full justice.
How has technological advancements affected the field of personal injury law? What further changes are you expecting in the future, that will impact personal injury, and perhaps the healthcare sector?
Technology is important in that animations and graphics allow a jury to see better what probably happened in a wreck or a surgery or something similar along these lines. However, I think jurors make decisions based on how a lawyer and client has made him/her feel and there is no technological substitute for an honest lawyer who is showing a well discovered story to the jury.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I think that is very important for all of us to realize the great things that jury verdicts have given society. We have seatbelts in all of our cars because of jury verdicts, airplanes are safer because of jury verdicts, insurance companies pay claims more reasonably because of jury verdicts. Sometimes, corporations need a jury verdict to help them do the right thing because their primary duty is to their shareholders and not to the public. Bottom line: if we ever lose the right to trial by jury, the corporations and the government will run the bases at the expense of the public.
THOMAS J. JOHNSTON, ESQ.
350 S. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90071
Partner at Johnston & Hutchinson LLP, Thomas Johnston is a proud member of the American Board of Trial Advocates, an invitation only group of trial lawyers from both sides that practice civility and work to preserve the Constitutional right to a civil jury trial. He is also a graduate and staff instructor of the Trial Lawyers College in Dubois, Wyoming.
Johnston & Hutchinson LLP is a trial firm in downtown Los Angeles specializing in the trial of personal injury and wrongful death cases. Johnston & Hutchinson’s recent successes include a $23,000,000 jury verdict against the City of Los Angeles for a dangerous roadway, a $5,000,000 jury verdict arising out of a dangerous parking structure and State Roadway, and $9,500,000 settlement against a bus company after it struck a pedestrian.