Devil is in the Detail: Preparing to Win in Personal Injury Law

Ted Diamantopoulos comes from Greek decent and his family migrated from Greece, all the way to the US in the late 60”s; he was raised in a household that only spoke Greek but learned the English language by watching cartoons.

Learning a second language is always a challenge but it is so important and he stresses learning a second language with his two sons who are currently 9 and 10 years old.   He believes hard work pays off and he had to overcome many obstacles when realizing that being a lawyer was his dream job: “I did not have parents who could teach me the English language, let alone assist me in learning proper writing skills at a young age.  It was definitely a challenge trying to navigate through the educational system here in the US.”

Nonetheless, he managed just fine, as now Ted is a lawyer in the Chicagoland area who has dedicated his expertise to the field of personal injury. We speak with him this month regarding a variety of matters; from his most prominent case, all the way to insurance issues.

First, we delve into a case which gained national coverage in the US which will be aired on HBO December 3, 2018 at 9pm.  Ted along with Cannon Lambert Sr. and Larry Rogers Jr. worked together In this highly emotive case, Ted explains how the actions of him and the legal team impacted more than one life and made history.

Can you share your biggest case with us?

I was involved in the wrongful death case of Sandra Bland, a young woman who was found hanged by a noose in a rural Texas jail. You may remember her case from a few years ago, as it sparked interest around the US and beyond. Sandra used to attend Church with one of the main partners of our firm: Cannon Lambert Sr., so when her case came about, we naturally wanted to help her family gain justice[1][2].

Sandra – to put it rather frankly, a black woman – was driving down a road in Texas, where she was stopped by a white police officer for failure to signal a lane change. The interaction became heated; the officer didn’t like Bland’s tone and tried to throw her out of the car after threatening to Taser her. Bland was screaming and crying, and an eyewitness video shows Bland stating she cannot hear due to the officer slamming her head into the ground.

A big thing which is happening at the moment, is that a lot of police officers are wearing body cams, which is important as we now have documentation of interactions and know exactly how the events unravelled after traffic stops.

To summarise, instead of being charged with a minor traffic citation, Bland was arrested for a Felony, falsely accused of hitting a public servant and thus charged with aggravated battery to a police officer.

So it is not a matter of paying for a traffic ticket, now she’s taken to jail and there has to be a bond hearing; it was a weekend, so she had to sit there until a member of her family who resided in Chicago can come post bond and help her out. Needless to say, three days later they find her hanging from a noose in an isolated jail cell.

There was a federal case that went out in Texas, and I was part of a team that went down to Texas and litigated this case. The case was resolved, not just by the state of Texas, but DPS (The Texas Department of Public Safety) who not only paid compensation to Sandra’s family, but they also implemented a change in escalation training for their police department. They are teaching their officers how to deal with escalated situations and how to deal with people, who may also be suffering mental illness.

We implemented legislation down in Texas and we also saw the jail implementing changes themselves, so that people who may have a mental illness such as depression, or are at a risk of committing suicide, are monitored every half an hour. These changes were a big win for Sandra’s Family.

Another issue is the ego: we have to train and ensure that our officers do not feel entitled and above the law themselves.

The must watch documentary “SAY HER NAME: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SANDRA BLAND” produced by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner will be aired on HBO Go and HBO Now 3 December 2018 at 9pm.

 

Do you think anything else could be done to reduce police misconduct cases? Are cases such as Sandra Bland’s case common?

It seems to be happening a lot, and I think the most important part of dealing with the police department, is creating more of a ‘community based’ policing system. This would mean the officers would not feel they can do whatever they want; proper training is needed for this, so they know how to deal with someone if they, for example, see someone with a gun. Seeing someone carrying a gun is not automatically a crime as we have laws stating citizens can carry weapons in the US, but officers need to know how to deal with such situations. If they don’t have the proper training, then situations escalate and get more heated than they need to be. Another issue is the ego: we have to train and ensure that our officers do not feel entitled and above the law themselves.

A big thing which is happening at the moment, is that a lot of police officers are wearing body cams, which is important as we now have documentation of interactions and know exactly how the events unravelled after traffic stops; we are able to see the interaction, what happened and if a crime committed or not.

We are slowly getting to a place where policing is more effective and slowly the community can regain trust in our officers, as well.

It is also vital for those making a claim to record every little detail, especially in reference to medical treatments.

So, you mainly specialise in personal injury law. What should be a client’s initial steps when presented with a potential case for personal injury?

The initial step is to ensure that the affected person contacts an attorney, so they do not have any contact with the insurance company/companies. Being in contact with insurance can pose a risk: they may take a recorded statement, which may produce a stronger case for them to deny claims, and further try their best to diminish the case at the earliest possible stage.

It is also vital for those making a claim to record every little detail, especially in reference to medical treatments. Clients should document every treatment and medical issue; we often see clients suffering in pain, but not documenting it by visiting the doctor or emergency room. A lack of documentation in this area then makes it look like such a problem did not exist, which may be vital further down the road when litigating.

I think that insurance companies should require higher coverage for individuals; too often the insurance coverage is not adequate for the number of injuries sustained.

What are the common challenges clients face when dealing with insurance companies? How do you help them through the complications that arise?

In my opinion, insurance companies will try limit the value of what your injury is worth, especially when they see that you are not represented by an attorney; they often try to reimburse your medical bills to cover liability, but there is a lot more to be compensated for when someone is injured in an accident. Insurance companies are also accountable for the pain and suffering, loss of wages, etc., and many other aspects that you should be compensated for, but often will not be, when you do not have an attorney. Even in some cases where a specialist or resources are unavailable in your area, [insurance] companies can help you get the proper treatment and send you in the right direction to help you on the path to recovery. So, it is very important that you get the maximum value for your injury.

Do you think there should be any changes for the betterment of your clients?

I think that insurance companies should require higher coverage for individuals; too often the insurance coverage is not adequate for the number of injuries sustained.

So, as an example, here in Illinois, people can opt for underinsured coverage whereby they get the bare minimum coverage (a $25,000 policy). Let us now pretend I am driving down the road and get in an accident where someone collides with me, thus making them liable for the accidental damages. If Regardless to whether I break my leg or injure my spine, the maximum amount I will receive from the insurance is the $25,000.

This causes an issue; drivers should obtain sufficient (underinsured/uninsured) coverage to cover themselves, especially if the other driver does not have sufficient insurance. A lot of people think, ‘well it isn’t my fault, so the other party will pay for the damages’, which is not the case.

Majority of the problems we may face relate back to the value of the claim and value of the injury, therefore it is great to get the feedback from the judge.

In your opinion, when should parties opt for dispute resolution (mediation or arbitration), as opposed to litigation?

Parties should opt for dispute resolution as often as possible, so they may reach an amicable resolution to their dispute, this way they can avoid costly litigation, aggravation and a lengthy court process.

What is the best way to prepare yourself for dispute resolution?

It is very important to read all the files and read all the pleadings; you have to make sure you understand the facts of the case, as well as the law. When you know the facts and the respective law inside and out, you are thoroughly prepared to go in to resolve the dispute. The advantage of preparing so well that if nothing is resolved, you are already somewhat prepared for arbitration, a hearing or potential trial.

Are there any complications that you have come across during dispute resolution and how do you work around that?

Sometimes during negotiating an offer may come in very low, which can potentially leave the parties aggravated and possibly more eager to proceed to trial. So, I would say that it is important to have a judge intervene here thru a pre-trial conference so he may make a recommendation to help both sides determine the value of a case.

Majority of the problems we may face relate back to the value of the claim and value of the injury, therefore it is great to get the feedback from the judge, after the facts from both sides have been presented. It is also better to come to a reasonable settlement of the case, rather than wasting time going to trial.

Are there any advantages of using litigation as opposed to ADR?

Advantages to litigation are having a more involved discovery process, as well as a selection of your peers as jurors, instead of a panel of attorneys deciding your claim. However, a tough aspect of litigation is the cost and the time involved.  I would advise my clients to settle when possible and to be reasonable along the way. Sometimes, you have got to know when to “fold ‘em” as opposed to going “all in”.

I know that you have experience in the armed forces, how does this help you today?

In many instances, I would say it makes me more compassionate to other members of the armed forces, and allows me to relate to their struggles. When I can relate with my clients, I can give them proper attention and create a stronger bond, so they feel comfortable coming to me for other issues down the road. Even if I personally can’t help them, I will try my best to find someone else that can.

I also guess the discipline we learn in the armed forces also helps as well. It helps you to remain level headed in what can be highly emotional situations in litigating cases. It has helped me maintain composure to help get the resolution that I, and my clients, need.

Is there anything else you think you and your team do quite differently to others that specialise in personal injury?

We focus on treating all our clients with respect and maintaining contact with the clients; one of the main complaints I often hear, is that clients rarely get a call back when they want an update on their case. A lot of the times, a client – an injured party -, does not understand the system, so they need the guidance and need someone to keep them updated. Too often, people will come to us from other lawyers because we give specialised attention to our clients’; we give monthly updates and call them to let them know where things are going.

 

Ted Diamantopoulos
Lawyer
(312) 977-1300
www.getthecannon.com

 

Ted Diamantopoulos is a lawyer serving individuals throughout metropolitan Chicago with all aspects of dispute resolutions. He devotes the majority of his practice to personal injury litigation.

He obtained his law degree from Thomas Cooley Law School.

He is also an active member of the Hellenic Bar Association, Illinois State Bar Association, and Illinois Trial Lawyers Association.

 

[1] https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Bland-family-Hold-FBI-in-contempt-for-not-6762792.php

[2] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/sandra-bland-familys-lawyer-details-dashcam-footage-her-arrest-n395126

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