CVN screenshot of defense attorney Leonard Fink delivering his closing argument
Las Vegas, NV - A Nevada state court jury has returned a defense verdict clearing a traffic safety company of liability for a motorcyclist’s collision on I-95 with an orange construction drum that he claimed left his wife with a serious traumatic brain injury.
The Clark County jury returned their verdict shortly after hearing closing arguments on February 23 in a trial that began February 17. Plaintiffs Joseph “JR” Mills and his wife Peggy accused Superior Traffic Services of failing to follow proper safety procedures by allegedly leaving the drum too close to the highway.
Their lawsuit claimed the drum rolled into their path and collided with their Harley-Davidson motorcycle as they drove to an event honoring veterans at Hoover Dam on Memorial Day weekend in 2017. The collision ejected Peggy from the bike, causing a concussion, and also resulting in less serious injuries to JR.
The couple sought more than $7 million dollars in damages, but STS successfully argued that the company complied with all relevant safety guidelines prescribed by the Nevada Department of Transportation, and that the drum in question was not placed too close to the road.
Courtroom View Network webcast and recorded the trial gavel-to-gavel, and the full proceedings are available with a subscription to CVN’s online trial video library, which includes full video of hundreds of personal injury trials from throughout the United States.
Leonard Fink of Springel & Fink LLP, who represented STS, told CVN that after the trial jurors expressed their sympathy to him for the Mills’ injuries, but that wasn’t sufficient to establish the company’s liability.
“They felt very bad for the Mills, like all of us did, but they just didn’t think that the plaintiffs proved their case that a barrel on the northbound side of I95 was put in a place that it shouldn’t have been,” he said, noting that there were no settlement negotiations at all during the trial.
Fink’s opening statement lasted only 10 minutes, compared with the plaintiffs' openings that lasted nearly an hour, and he attributed his brevity to the need to leave room to adapt to unexpected developments as a trial plays out.
“The problem with openings is that if you overpromise on things you never know what’s going to happen during trial that ends up getting shoved down your throat on closings, so you keep it a little more general with a little more flexibility,” he said.
Fink also noted that the jury selection process gives attorneys the opportunity to present their arguments before the opening statements begin.
“If I’ve done my job right I’ve started selling my case during the voir dire process anyway, so you don’t really need to hit them with it,” he said.
Fink expressed admiration for the attorneys representing the Mills from local Las Vegas firm Bighorn Law, characterizing their performance at trial as “excellent.”
“I’d always rather try a case against really good lawyers, because really good lawyers are more predictable, since they’ve done it before, and newer lawyers aren’t,” he said.
Fink stressed that his main advice to younger trial lawyers was to remain flexible as a trial plays out, and that extensive preparation won’t always prevent witnesses from saying something unplanned.
“Even if it’s your witness and you prepped them and you prepped them, they’re going to say something they shouldn’t have said, or that you didn’t know they were going to say,” he explained. “Sometimes you’re dealing with lay witnesses, and they’re nervous.”
He added that in his experience jurors have a more demanding standard for expert witnesses versus lay witnesses, and that since jurors are often more likely to forgive a slip-up or contradictory statement from a lay witness on the stand he will sometimes simply move on rather than trying to catch the witness in the moment.
“A lot of jurors think when attorneys are in depositions with witnesses they’re trying to trick them just like they’re trying to trick them in trial,” he said.
Fink urged attorneys to react and adapt to the evidence as it comes in during the trial and not to stick to a rigid game plan.
“There’s three types of trials,” he said. “There’s the trial that you wanted to try, there’s the trial that you should have tried, and there’s the trial that you did try, and they’re never the same thing.”
Judge Joseph Hardy presided over the proceedings.
The case is captioned Joseph and Peggy Mills v. Superior Traffic Services, case number A-19-794887-C, in Nevada’s Eighth Judicial District Court in Clark County.
E-mail David Siegel at firstname.lastname@example.org