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During Trial She Called Me a Shark. At First I Was Offended. Then, I Took it As a Compliment.

This was a boating accident case.

My client was on a friend's pleasure boat.

It was a nice weekend.

A beautiful day.

In the summer.

Here on Long Island.

It was a motor boat.

Not a speedboat.

Not a racing boat.

A boat that could hold six people.

Her friend invited her out for a day on the water.

Along with a few other friends.

There was food.

There was alcohol.

Her friend owned this boat for a few years.

Nobody was wearing a life vest.

That's a topic for another day.

This incident didn't involve life vests.

It involved how he drove his boat.

In this case, we argued he drove it wrecklessly.

We argued he didn't know how to drive it when another boat was approaching.

We claimed he didn't know how to 'cut the wake'.

What that means is that when a motorboat drives, it leaves a flow of water behind it.

It's typically a 'V' shape.

The faster the boat is going, the larger the waves that are generated behind the boat.

What does that mean for a boat passing another?

If it's a smaller boat that's coming upon a larger and faster boat, the trailing waves will cause your boat to rock side to side.

That can be a violent side to side motion depending on the angle you approach it and your speed.

In this case, the boat she was on was traveling at speed.

There was another boat approaching it, as if it were a two lane roadway.

Their boat was going one way.

The other boat was going toward them, but in the opposite direction.

The other boat was also going at speed.

The boat she was on was smaller than the other boat.

She wasn't paying attention to the other boat.

She was a passenger.

She was enjoying the sun and the smell of the ocean air.

She was standing, talking to someone as the boats approached each other.

She was near the stairwell leading to the deck below.

When the boats passed each other, the waves from the other boat violently hit her boat.

That knocked her off balance and down the stairs.

She fractured her ankle and needed emergency medical treatment.

To say her day was ruined would be an understatement.

Her hosts promised to pay her medical bills.

Except they didn't.

Her hosts promised to take care of her expenses related to her injuries.

Except they didn't.

They felt bad for what happened.

But she was out of work.

She was unable to care for her family for many weeks.

She'd need surgery to fix her broken bones.

She had lots of out of pocket medical bills.

Her friends told her to file a claim with their boat insurance company.

The boat insurance company refused to pay.

They said they weren't liable for her injury.

They said the owner of the boat wasn't liable either.

She told her friends that their insurance company refused to pay.

They told her she may have to sue them.

And that's what she did.

Not because she was ungrateful.

Not because she didn't value their friendship.

But this was the only way she could obtain compensation for her injuries.

Injuries that she did not cause.

Injuries that happened solely through no fault of her own.

So, she sued her friends.

That explains why, years later at trial, her friend called me a SHARK.

Not because this accident happened on the ocean.

Not because they were fishing and caught a shark.

But because I took the case.

Because I sued a friend.

I was tempted to tell her why.

I was tempted to tell her why we had no choice but to sue.

She knew why.

She knew my client had serious injuries.

She knew her insurance company refused to pay.

And at the same time, she said that she and her husband did nothing wrong.

Really?

How exactly did my client fracture her ankle?

We hired a marine expert.

A Coast Guard expert.

He was a boating expert.

Turns out that when two boats are approaching, you need to cut the trailing waves at the appropriate angle.

That's called 'cutting the wake'.

It should be done at a 90 degree angle.

This way you cut across the waves and don't allow the waves to roll the boat from side to side.

The owner of the boat she was on failed to do this.

He failed to change course.

He failed to recognize the risk of traveling at speed and not cutting the wake.

I called the owner of the boat to the witness stand.

Trial took place in Nassau County Supreme Court.

In Mineola.

The defense refused to pay.

They refused to negotiate.

We had no choice but to go to trial and take a verdict.

A jury would decide.

They'd decide whether we were more likely right than wrong.

My marine expert testified.

He was very clear.

He was very experienced.

The jury liked him.

The owner of the boat testified.

He was likeable.

So was his wife.

That wasn't good for our case.

As his wife got off the witness stand, she passed me by.

As she did, she leaned over to me and whispered "YOU'RE A SHARK!"

I was taken aback.

Nobody had ever called me a shark before.

Not in an accident case.

Not in a medical malpractice case.

Not in a wrongful death case.

Coming from the person we sued, I figured this comment was derogatory and not a compliment.

She was upset.

She was upset we sued her.

She was upset we were in court and she risked getting hit for a verdict against her.

It didn't matter what she thought.

I had a job to do.

I had a client with a valid case.

I had a well-qualified marine expert tell me we had a valid case.

Now the defense refused to negotiate.

It would soon be up to the jury.

When we took a break that day, I told my client what the boat owner's wife had said to me.

My client was furious.

She was angry.

These people were supposed to be her friends.

Some friends they turned out to be.

They denied almost everything.

They denied responsibility.

Now, they were disparaging me.

The more I thought about it, the more I came to view this derogatory comment as a compliment.

It meant I was doing my job.

It meant I was vigorously representing my client.

It meant I did what I had to do regardless of how inflammatory her comments were.

So what if she was angry.

Her anger wasn't going to compensate my client for her disability.

Her anger and frustration weren't going to pay for my client's medical bills not covered by health insurance.

Her anger wasn't going to pay for her lost wages and time lost spent caring for her family.

Rather than sulk about being called a shark, I actually came to revel in it.

"Can you believe this woman called me a shark? That's amazing!" I told a friend.

"It means I've arrived! It means I'm doing exactly what I should be doing," I reasoned.

After a few days, I realized there are many worse things to be called.

A shark...

That's not really a bad thing for a personal injury trial lawyer here in New York.

I've heard lawyers being called much worse.

"Ambulance chaser."

"Shyster."

"Liar."

"Thief."

"Cheat."

You get the idea.

But shark?

I'll take it!

Want to know how this case ended?

Badly for my client.

She lost.

The jury didn't believe that the owner of the boat was careless.

The jury didn't think my client was responsible either.

Where did that leave my client?

With a permanent disability.

With bills up the wazoo.

With wasted time she'll never get back.

It left her with a painful lesson.

These friends weren't really friends at all.

To learn about the best cross examination I ever had in another boat case, I invite you to watch the quick video below...


Gerry Oginski
NY Medical Malpractice & Personal Injury Trial Lawyer