Friday, July 15, 2016

How We Used Craigslist to Catch a Hit and Run Driver and Get Our Client $1 Million

I have heard just about every lawyer joke in the world (and I love them), but it's cases like this that make me really proud of what I do, and of the difference we can make in people's lives.

Our client was a 56 y/o man riding his motorcycle on the 134 in Burbank, CA.  Two huge scaffolds (12' each) came off the back of a full-size white pickup and wiped him out, causing serious leg injury.  The truck never stopped.

Six surgeries later, our client was able to keep his leg, but with diminished use.  He could no longer work at his job (as a chef), which required him to be on his feet all day.

The police report had little to nothing on the identity of the truck, just calling it a White Ford F350.  The police didn't get a license plate or other identifying information.   In fact, the police report blamed my client for the accident, saying he was "driving too fast for conditions."  Are you kidding me??  Driving too fast to avoid 12 foot long metal scaffoldings that were tumbling down the highway towards him??  Unfortunately, I see this all the time.  Police tend to blame motorcyclists for an accident no matter what the facts are.

As far as the police were concerned, the case was closed, and they weren't going to do any follow up investigation to find the hit and run driver.  It was up to us to track down the people who caused the accident, and we were not optimistic.  We checked the 911 call logs and traffic cam footage, but neither were any use.  The only real lead we had was that the scaffolds had the letters "KON" spray-painted on them.  The scaffolds themselves were long gone by the time we were hired -- all we had were some cell phone shots of one of them.  We didn't even have a good photo of the initials - just a witness statement that those letters were on the scaffolds!

The only evidence we had - a cell phone photo of a scaffold
We started looking for contractors, roofers, etc. in the area with the initials "KON", or with that name.  We came up empty.  We chased down leads for months trying to find the culprit.  All the while, our client was struggling with a crippling injury and was faced with the reality that the hit-and-run driver was never going to be caught.  He could no longer work and his bills were piling up.

Desperate, we threw up a Hail Mary pass - posting a $10,000 reward on Craigslist for information leading to a judgment or settlement against the responsible party.  We were flooded with responses.  Most of them were garbage, and many of them were crazy.  Typical responses were: "Give me $500 cash up front and I'll tell you who did it."  Ahhh, Craigslist.

We got two decent leads from the hundreds of Craigslist responses we reveived.  The best lead was from a local resident who hadn't seen the accident, but who thought the scaffolds might be from a small roofing outfit called "Konrad Roof Company."  Konrad's construction yard was located only a few miles away from the accident scene.  So…the stakeouts began.  We did some surveillance at Konrad's construction yard and were looking for the letters "KON" written on any their equipment.  At the very least, we were looking for a white Ford 350 truck matching the police description.  We found none of the above.  Still, Konrad Roofing was our best lead.

The Defendant Roof Company

Rather than make a pre-litigation demand and tip our hand that we had only marginal circumstantial evidence of liability, we opted to just file suit against Konrad Roof Company and act like we KNEW it was them.  So we filed and served the complaint, then waited for the angry phone call from defense counsel demanding to know why we had sued their client.

The call never came.  Instead, discovery started as usual.  We hit them with written discovery regarding all their job routes on the day of the accident, time cards for employees and subcontractors working that day, etc.  We also sent out Requests for Admission asking them to admit that it was their scaffolds, admit that it was their workers, etc.  Again, we were posturing like we had caught them red-handed, and had irrefutable evidence against them.  In reality, we had almost nothing.

When we got responses to our written discovery I couldn't believe my eyes.  Konrad admitted to dropping the scaffolds!!  Ho.  Lee.  Sh*@.  We got em.  An  impossible, blindfolded, full court buzzer-beater and we drained it.  Four months later, we settled for the full boat - insurance policy limits of one million dollars.  On a hit and run with no witnesses and no proof.*

If you've never seen a rough-and-tumble biker reduced to tears of joy, you really haven't lived.

* Yes, we paid the $10,000 reward!  The tipster was absolutely floored when we called him up and asked him where to deliver the check.

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For more information, you can contact me at RiderzLaw.  We never get tired of talking about this case.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Marcereau & Nazif Force the LAPD to Pay $550,000 for Police Brutality

I don't know whether police excessive force across the country has increased in recent years, or that we are just seeing more examples of it in the news now that there are security cameras and cell phone cameras everywhere. Whatever the case, something has to be done to curb the violence.  Trial Lawyers do their part by holding cities and police agencies accountable for their actions.

Marcereau & Nazif recently forced the LAPD to pay $550,000 for assaulting a woman who was pulled over for a cell phone violation.  The woman, 34 year old nurse Michelle Jordan, was on her way to visit her grandmother in the hospital when she was pulled over by the LAPD.  After being pulled over and told she was going to be given a ticket for talking on her cell phone, Ms. Jordan exited her car to argue with the police officer.  The police officer ordered her to get back in her car.  When Ms. Jordan did not immediately comply, the police officer arrested Ms. Jordan and handcuffed her hands behind her back and put her against the squad car.  Ms. Jordan, upset with how she was being treated, told the police officer he was being a "asshole."  In response, the police officer slammed her to the pavement, face first, while his partner watched.

Our Client, Michelle Jordan After Being Assaulted by the LAPD

In their report, the cops claimed that Ms. Jordan had been resisting arrest, and tried to bite them. Unbeknownst to the cops, however, the entire incident was captured on video by a security camera on a nearby building.

In any case, the most important thing a lawyer must do after being hired is gather evidence IMMEDIATELY.   Witnesses disappear, memories fade, accident scenes are altered, and potentially crucial proof for your case evaporates.  Ms. Jordan hired us the day after the incident.  That same day, we went out to the Del Taco parking lot in Tujunga where the events took place.  We spoke to the manager of the Del Taco and (with a little luck and charm) got him to show us the security footage from the day before.  Sure enough, we found security video that showed the whole thing.  There was no evidence that Ms. Jordan ever made an aggressive move toward the officers.  We obtained a copy of the security video.  Without this video, it would have been almost impossible to prove our case.  The video created a media firestorm, and my partner, Sy Nazif, appeared on several news outlets to talk about the police brutality.  A copy of the video footage is below:

We filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging assault and battery, excessive force, and civil rights violations, among other things.  Predictably, the Los Angeles City attorney removed the case to Federal Court, which is traditionally more favorable to defendants in these types of cases.  (Because we alleged civil rights violations under Federal law, the City had the option to move our case to Federal court.)  There are several differences between State and Federal court, but one of most significant is that in Fed Court you don't win unless you have a unanimous jury.  In state court, you only need a jury vote of 9-3 or better.

A central issue in our case was whether the police officers involved in the assault had any prior excessive force incidents or other red flags of inappropriate behavior.  The City refused to produce the employee files of the police officers, and also refused to produce its internal affairs documents regarding the incident.  We filed a motion to compel the City to produce the documents, and our judge ordered the City to produce its files.  The City's documents contained numerous admissions regarding the incident, and also showed that one of the police officers had a prior disciplinary action.

We also obtained numerous documents from the City showing that LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck had been apprised of the excessive force incident and had weighed in on the internal affairs investigation.  Accordingly, we noticed Chief Beck's deposition.  The City refused to produce Chief Beck, claiming that, as a high ranking government official, he did not have to appear.  We went into Court and once again, the judge ruled in our favor.  The Court ordered Chief Beck to appear for deposition.  The City attorney was shocked that we had won our motion and suddenly began asking about settlement.  I guess we pushed the right buttons.  Our client agreed to accept $550,000 to settle the case.

From a personal standpoint, I would have really liked to try the case.  The City's offer of $550,000 was reasonable, however, and our client didn't want to through the stress and uncertainty of a trial.  Further, the police officer who had assaulted her was fired from the LAPD. Our client was satisfied and wanted to move on with her life.  I completely understood and respected her decision.

The story made numerous headlines. Links to some of the articles are below:

KPCC: Marcereau and Nazif force the LAPD to Pay $550,000 for Police Excessive Force.

LA Daily News: Rob Marcereau Obtains $550,000 For Victim of Police Brutality.

MyNews LA: Attorney Rob Marcereau Forces the LAPD to Pay $550,000 To Excessive Force Victim.

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For more information, please contact us at Marcereau & Nazif.

Marcereau & Nazif Gets $500,000 for Injured Motorcycle Client

Here is a copy of the Marcereau & Nazif press release regarding a recent motorcycle accident settlement.

Marcereau & Nazif Obtains $500,000 Settlement for Motorcycle Accident Victim

ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. - Last month, Marcereau & Nazif obtained a settlement in the case of Korte v. Lebard & Underwood, which was pending in Orange County Superior Court.  Marcereau & Nazif obtained $500,000 on behalf of their client, who was involved in a solo motorcycle accident. The plaintiff was riding his motorcycle in the Anaheim area when his front tire suddenly blew out, causing him to crash his motorcycle through a chain link fence at over 50 miles per hour.  The plaintiff suffered serious injuries, including multiple broken bones.  The tire blow-out occurred approximately one month after the plaintiff had his front wheel replaced.  Marcereau & Nazif sued the defendant repair shop, alleging that they failed to properly inspect the tire.  Marcereau & Nazif alleged that the tire had small, internal defects that caused the inner tube to explode.  After a year-long battle, the defendant ultimately paid $500,000 to settle the case.  Attorney Rob Marcereau stated:  "We're very pleased with the result we obtained for our client.  He and his family have gone through a lot because of this accident, and this money will go a ilong way toward helping them recover.  Negligent maintenance is always a very difficult case to prove, but we investigated this case for over a year and turned over every rock.  Ultimately, the defendant knew we had a strong case and they didn't want this to go before a jury."

For more information, contact Marcereau & Nazif