Angela in the News

Mild brain injury brings major verdict
Wisconsin Opinions August 5, 1998 Page 5
By Jane Pribek, Wisconsin Opinions Editor

To the jurys first glance, your client looks fine.  Shes suffered a closed head, mild traumatic brain injury that resulted in modest special damages.

This scenario still has the possibility to yield a wide open award from the jury.

That was the report of Milwaukee attorney M. Angela Dentice.  She spoke of one of her recent victories to those in attendance at the Wisconsin Academy of Trial Layers (WATL), summer conference last month.

I believe in her injuries, she said about her 60-year old, unmarried client, whod been earning a comfortable living as an artist prior to an injury she sustained during a walk one day.  The partner with Milwaukees Hausmann-McNally, S.C. said that her client received just a bump on her head.  There was no bleeding, nor did she lose consciousness.  The neurological tests initially came back normal, and there wasnt a single orthopedic problem. 

But over time, Dentices client noticed that she wasnt quite herself anymore.  She no longer felt up for the challenge of creating on large empty canvasses, opting for smaller, simpler projects instead.  She suddenly and inexplicably found it much more difficult to mix her colors properly.  Her vision began to blur occasionally, and she couldnt concentrate.  She also began to experience frequent headaches and depression, among other symptoms.  

Subsequent testing and evaluation revealed that she had suffered permanent brain injuries.  Counseling, medication and cognitive retraining, which teaches compensatory skills, ended up totaling the client about $14,000 in special damages.  And it didnt help the legal case that the client was somewhat hesitant in seeking this treatment, due to her embarrassment about her condition.

So the insurance company initially offered Dentice and her client $15,000 to settle the case.  By the eve of the trial this figure had escalated to $25,000.

They said no, and their gamble paid off.  The jury awarded them $159,000.

Dentices empathy for her client, and her understanding of what she was experiencing, came from an earlier career.  Dentice taught special education for 15 years, prior to enrolling in law school, she explained.  She figured out that shed have to wear this teacher hat again at the trial, by educating the jury on the terminology and cognitive processes related to her clients condition. 

Dentice shared the various strategies for trying cases involving mild traumatic brain injuries, which proved successful to her.  These included:

         Her client consulted a neuropsychologist, who provided sound, thorough expert testimony.

         She spent a lot of time before the trial studying the learned treatises, which she planed to use to ensure that she fully understood what had happened to her client.

         At trial, during her examination of the experts, she asked them to explain their final diagnoses before getting into the particulars of their diagnostic methods or treatments.

         She used a wide variety of visual aids to simplify the complexities for the jurors, including a model of the human brain and overheads of the key information from treatises, diagrams and pictures describing how the brain works.

         She offered medical analogies that were understandable to the jury, e.g. she explained that many children with Downs Syndrome do not have observable brain damage on neurodiagnostic tests.

         She recognized that some prejudice exists within the medical field about these types of brain injuries, and she hit that prejudice straight on with the experts.

         She called a number of lay witnesses to document the observable changes in her client.

         She showed the jurors examples of her clients art work, before and after the accident, and let them see for themselves the difference between a highly detailed set of draft plans for a building, versus a simple draft of human forms.

The jurors mentioned to me afterwards that even though I used examples, they would have liked to have seen more, Dentice noted.

Milwaukee County Judge John DiMotto, who served on a panel of commentators at the WATL conference, praised Dentice for her extensive preparation and attention to her presentation which he said she tends to bring to all of her trials.

DiMotto agreed that defining key medical and psychological terms is critical, but, Dont use psychobabble.  He stated that repetition of the explanations of the tougher concepts is a smart idea, and, as for the use of learned treatises, DiMotto recommended selecting only the blockbusters.  Quality is better than quantity.

 

 

 

 

 

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