Trial veterans often say that trial lawyers learn more from their losses than their wins. That may be true. But, I think, there are few cases we lose so long as we give our clients our best effort and the opportunity for them to air their grievances to a jury of their peers.
Having said that, there are a handful of cases which have left their mark on me over the past 20 years. To this day I still think of the opportunity that we had representing two young children and their aunts and uncle in a case against the City of Farmington.
The case followed a terrible crash in which a police officer struck a vehicle during a high-speed pursuit of a fleeing felon on the outskirts of Farmington. The officer was the fourth in a series of officers following the felon after reports of a robbery at a hotel. The pursuit took place at the end of the day, through the town’s business district and past the local hospital, a subdivision and a large apartment complex. Testimony of participants established that the speed of the vehicles involved in the pursuit nearly tripled the posted speed limit.
The officer’s patrol car struck a vehicle during the pursuit. The vehicle had pulled to the side of the road to permit other officers to pass; during a lull in the pursuit, the driver pulled back into traffic and, as she did, the patrol car crested a hill, striking her vehicle broad-side. The driver and her grandmother, who she had taken to a doctor’s appointment, were killed. The driver’s two young children, who had been in the backseat, were seriously wounded by the force of the crash.
Farmington is the largest city and county seat of St. Francois County, where Missouri law required us to file suit. Despite the circumstances of the case, the trial judge denied our motion to remove the matter from St. Francois County. Shortly before trial, the trial judge then granted judgment to Farmington and its officers without the opportunity of jury trial. We appealed.
Eventually, the Missouri Supreme Court heard the appeal. The Court reversed the trial judge and sent the case back to St. Francois County for jury trial. Over the course of a week we tried the case to 12 jurors, many of whom lived in Farmington or knew the officers involved in the chase. The jury found in favor of the city.
The verdict devastated our clients. My heart still hurts for those folks. But, in litigating the case, we took their dispute to the highest court in Missouri, successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to define the parameters in which a government and its officials may be liable for negligence, and tried our best case to 12 residents of the county in which the injuries occurred.
Matthew Devoti is a partner with Casey & Devoti, a St. Louis-based personal injury law firm. Together Matt and his law partner, Matthew Casey, have over 40 years of trial experience. They handle a variety of personal injury matters, including: car, truck and train crashes, victims of impaired and distracted driving, medical malpractice and birth injuries, product liability, slips/trips/falls, elder care and sexual abuse, Workers’ Compensation, and wrongful death. Matt and Matt proudly serve clients throughout metropolitan St. Louis, southeastern Missouri and southern Illinois. If you or a loved one have been injured by the negligence of another, call the office today for a free, no-obligation consultation: (314) 421-0763.