2016 Robert L. Habush
Trial Lawyer of the Year Award
Randall L. Rozek
Friday, December 2nd 2016
I am extremely humbled to be the recipient of this year’s Trial Lawyer of the Year award. Let me start by acknowledging how honored I am to receive an award bearing the name of the great trial lawyer Robert L. Habush. Mr. Habush you are looked up to by countless trial lawyers in Wisconsin and around the country. I do a lot of lecturing and attending of conferences around the country and your reputation as a great trial lawyer is known throughout the United States. You are a national treasure and we are fortunate to have you in Wisconsin. Thank you for all you have done to the profession. Allow me to also acknowledge how honored I am to belong to the esteemed group of past recipients of the Trial Lawyer of the Year award. What an elite group of outstanding lawyers.
I would like to briefly share some of the details from the jury verdict that resulted in me receiving the award. In May of this year, I went to trial for my 21-year-old client, Sean Schneider. He received a severe left-sided brachial plexus injury when he was involved in a bicycle vs. pickup truck accident at age 9. Sean did not come to me until he was 18. We obtained the police report and filed suit against the driver and her insurer State Farm. While the collision occurred in rural Waukesha County, we filed suit in Milwaukee County and were fortunate enough to draw Judge John DiMotto. As many of you know that have had the pleasure of trying a case in front of Judge DiMotto, you can be assured of two things: 1) both sides will get a fair trial; and 2) there will likely be no appealable issues. There is a reason Judge DiMotto ranked as the number one judge in Wisconsin in a recent judicial evaluation survey completed by lawyers across the state.
The collision occurred near an intersection. The pickup truck driver claimed that Sean had run a stop sign, made a wide right hand turn, crossing into her lane of travel and causing the collision. Sean admitted to not stopping at the stop sign, but very specifically remembers seeing the yellow center line to his left as he completed his turn and was then struck by the truck. Sean’s father and sister were following Sean in a van, but they were unable to see which lane of travel the collision occurred in because their view was obstructed. An independent witness supported the pickup truck driver’s version of the collision. The investigating officer adopted the pickup truck driver’s version of the collision in his report, but the officer did nothing to independently verify this through an investigation, inspection of the evidence or accident reconstruction.
Sean had undergone 8 major surgeries over the ensuing 12 years, but still had very little use of his left arm. At trial, his mother, our first witness, testified that today Sean’s arm looks like that of a 9-year-old but it’s on the body of a 21-year-old. She testified about how, in the years following the collision, Sean would come home from school and lock himself in his room because of different incidents that would occur at school. For example, once a substitute typing instructor smacked Sean in the back of the head because Sean was not using his left hand to type. Sean tried to explain that he didn’t have use of his left arm or hand, but the teacher wouldn’t listen and Sean was sent to the Principal’s office. Sean was forced to stay inside at recess because the school looked at him as a liability on the playground because of his arm. Sean’s mother came across as gentle and caring on the stand and the defense cross-examination of her was brief and ineffective.
Our next witness was the defendant pickup truck driver. She came across as cold, emotionless and her trial testimony was inconsistent with her deposition testimony on several key points. We played the video deposition of Sean’s surgeon’\, who walked the jury through the 8 major surgeries and explained how he was able to convince Sean to keep his arm as opposed to just cutting it off. Sean’s sister and father also testified. Finally, it was Sean’s turn to testify and the jury obviously believed his version of the collision. They found the defendant pickup truck driver the majority at fault in causing the collision. Interestingly, they found Sean only 10% at fault even though he admitted he ran the stop sign. We had stipulated to past medicals of $258,000, the amount of which the jury did not hear. I had asked for $2 million in past and $3 million in future pain, suffering, disfigurement and disability. The jury spoke with an award of $2 million in past and $5 million in future.
I want to thank my friends and family for their backing. The life of a trial lawyer can be very stressful and our cases sometimes seem to overwhelm our lives, such that our personal lives take a back seat. Thank you for your patience and support during these times.