Trucking Accidents in Tennessee: What Is Different?
Managing your own law firm is no easy feat. We get in touch with Michael Ponce this month, who speaks to us about personal injury law and trucking accidents. Why is Tennessee different from the rest of the US when it comes to personal injury? Read on to find out.
Michael, you manage your own firm, what is the most challenging part and the best part of managing your own firm?
I think the most difficult part is wearing so many hats as manager. You are constantly dividing your time between working on cases, managerial duties and supervision. But it is very rewarding too. You are able to guide the firm in the direction that you want the firm to go and set the standards for the way you wish to have law practiced.
What makes this job interesting?
Every day is different. Lots of jobs have a regular routine that is not challenging. Litigation by its very nature is going to have different clients, different cases, and different fact patterns. The defenses that are raised are different. It is stimulating because there are such a variety of cases and fact patterns that you have to research areas that you have never considered before.
Parties who are unrepresented miss their statute of limitations and go without receiving compensation often because they are not aware of the short time frame to preserve their cause of action.
How is practicing in Tennessee different from the rest of the country?
We practice primarily in the area of personal injury and I think one of the biggest obstacles are the short statute of limitations. Tennessee has a one year statute of limitations for personal injury cases which is the shortest in the country. This means that we really have to closely monitor the medical treatment of our clients, and stay in close communications with them so that we know as soon as to when they have completed their medical care. It puts a premium on trying to go into settlement negotiations as soon as our clients have completed their medical care. Unfortunately, this means that many other cases that might have settled if there were longer statute of limitations go in to litigation. Clients who have sustained substantial injuries often will still be receiving medical care at the time when we are required to file suite due to the statute of limitations. This also means that there is often unnecessary litigation, it shortens the time that parties will have to negotiate and reach an agreement. Parties who are unrepresented miss their statute of limitations and go without receiving compensation often because they are not aware of the short time frame to preserve their cause of action.
I had also seen some cases of insurance adjusters who dragged out cases for over a year so that the injured person had the statute of limitations run out and then they were told, “Too bad”.
The second major obstacle in Tennessee is that insurance policy limits are still not discoverable. In most other states and in Federal court the amount of an insurance policy is discoverable. We never know how much insurance a defendant has and whether our client might be incurring more in expenses than there is in policy limits. In some instances, this results in cases unnecessarily being filed in court.
So Michael, what motivated you to start a personal injury law practice?
I guess I have always had a passion for representing the underdog. When I first started my practice, I worked in many areas of the law. But I saw people being taken advantage of by big corporations and insurance carriers. I had several calls from people who had been approached by insurance adjusters while they were still in the hospital, who were urged to accept settlements that wouldn’t even cover their hospital stay and were much less than any other treatment. I had also seen some cases of insurance adjusters who dragged out cases for over a year so that the injured person had the statute of limitations run out and then they were told, “Too bad”.
So I gravitated towards representing those who needed someone who knew their rights and who could stand up for them.
What would you consider to be your specialty?
, I feel that there is an obligation among the legal community to do our utmost to provide representation and even the playing field to the extent possible.
What are the challenges in taking on Trucking Accident Cases?
The insurance carriers and businesses have a tremendous advantage when dealing with the individuals. It is nearly impossible for consumers, every day people, to get a fair shake. Even when someone does hire an attorney the insurance company will have a huge head start. It is not uncommon for the trucking company to have flown in experts from around the country to investigate serious trucking accidents often before the law enforcement have completed their investigations. Knowing what a tremendous disadvantage consumers and everyday people are at when dealing with insurance carriers, I feel that there is an obligation among the legal community to do our utmost to provide representation and even the playing field to the extent possible.
What has been your most challenging case?
Trucking cases are the most challenging cases. Typically, clients don’t hire an attorney until weeks after the accident which gives the advantage to the trucking company and their insurance carriers. Typically, their first priority is getting the medical care they need, figuring out what they are going to do about bills and talking to family members; when they are in crisis mode and in the hospital they are not often thinking about who is going to represent them. Whereas the trucking companies have a game plan in place. They have experts on retainer. They have private planes to fly people in. They may have spent hundreds of hours on their defense before we even know their case exists.
The car may cause an accident and the truck driver may be perfectly fine.
Those are difficult cases to pursue. You face the disadvantages that you have. Hopefully the facts are strong enough and you have eye witnesses that still have a clear memory of the accident. Sometimes there is still physical evidence on the road way. The other problem is when you are looking at driver’s logbook, there may be a second one.
In one case, the trucking company was old school and had paper log books; a highway patrolman searched the cabin and found both sets of books. We can’t take credit for that. This case in particular involved driver fatigue. When fatigue sets in for drivers, it affects their perception/ reaction time. They can drift in lanes. In this case, the truck drifted into the car’s lane and the car got sandwiched between the guardrail and the truck. The door was ripped off and one of our clients fell out.
So you have occasionally represented truck drivers as well?
Yes, we have represented a half a dozen truck drivers who have been hit by other trucks We also had some where the car was at fault. I’d say on trucking accidents at least half the time the car is at fault. The problem is when the truck is at fault, the consequences are more severe. The car may cause an accident and the truck driver may be perfectly fine. Typically ,the car driver gets the worst of it because there is a huge weight differential: eighty thousand pounds on a truck versus a car that may weigh three or four thousand pounds.
Do other attorneys with other firms refer cases to you?
Yes, they do. Most of our clients are referrals from other clients or other law firms, in fact we have represented defense counsels. I know of one situation where we had cases against a defense counsel with a law firm simultaneously, while we were representing him in his own case. It was a bit awkward. The attorney who was assigned to represent the defense counsel in that case was not allowed to have access to the information on the other cases. In fact, we have had calls from people who had been jurors in trials we litigated and wanted us to represent them after they were involved in an accident.
What are you most proud of at your firm?
I am most proud of the high morale we see at our office. We do a lot of planned activities to keep our team members motivated. The other thing that I am very proud of is the high satisfaction level of our clients because we insist on frequent communications with our clients. Our clients are informed of what is going on in their cases and hopefully understand the litigation process and know the work that is being done on their case.
Michael D. Ponce
400 Professional Park Drive ‖ Goodlettsville ,TN 37072
615-851-1776 Phone ‖ 615-859-7033 Fax
Michael Ponce, Founder of Ponce Law, has been practicing law in the Nashville/ Middle Tennessee area for more than 25 years and has earned top awards including the prestigious BBB Torch Award for Ethical Commerce, The Gold Award for Client Satisfaction from Martindale Hubble and was voted Best Attorney in the Tennessean Best of Nashville Awards.