By Rex H. Elliott, Partner
So many times, jobs are measured by mundane things; by the hours people invest in their work, by their productivity, by how much they get paid. And in our profession, by the cases we win.
Yet sometimes, something about your job grips your heart and reminds you why you chose your line of work in the first place. It reminds you why, far beyond a good outcome on paper, the best reward is knowing you’ve made a difference in someone’s life, a difference that is lasting and profound.
Something like that recently happened to me, and I’d like to share the experience with you.
A former client becomes my shadow
Most high school students in Ohio spend a day “shadowing” someone on the job. They follow an adult around for a day at work and get an idea for what it might be like to have a career in that particular profession. When our former client, Mark*, called us to see if his son could shadow me and some of the other attorneys at the firm, we were delighted. Mark had been a client more than twelve years ago, and we’d stayed in touch. Over the years, he gave us updates on how he and his son, Sam*, were doing. I came to know a lot about Sam as he grew up, though he knew little of me or the legal details that so greatly impacted his life.
Mark thought the time had come for those details to be revealed to Sam, and we agreed.
A devastating and preventable loss
I won’t go into all the details of the tragedy that brought Mark and our firm together many years ago. But very simply, when Sam was only a year old, his mother was killed by a drunk driver.
The man who took her life was picked up for drunk driving one night, taken into custody, and released by police officers less than 48 hours later. Not surprisingly (he had more than 10 OVI convictions), he went out and immediately became intoxicated again, got into his car and killed Sam’s mother.
Sam, now 14 years old, spent his shadow day visiting the past. He became familiar with the events that caused his mother’s death and the legal steps we helped his father take to secure their future and protect others from a similar fate.
Civil litigation goes full circle
We shared with Sam some of the court documents from the case and explained how his mother’s lawsuit had gone all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court before a just settlement had finally been reached. We took him to the courthouse and walked him through the steps of the lawsuit.
We wanted Sam to understand not only what had happened, but why. His mother had worked at an Alzheimer’s center, and that was her destination the morning she was killed. We knew she would want her baby to be taken care of in the event of her death—to ensure his life would be the best possible. We also knew Mark and his family hoped to make a statement, through the legal system, so that the circumstances surrounding his wife’s death would never be repeated.
Of course, Sam had no memory of these events. But there were tears in his eyes as the story was revealed to him. Not tears of sadness—tears of overwhelming emotion. He was caught by the powerful realization that his mother’s death had not been in vain, that it had led to procedural reforms that put stricter controls on how law enforcement handles drunk drivers, reforms that have undoubtedly saved many lives over the past dozen years.
I believe Sam was glad to finally learn the whole story. It was incredibly humbling to help him achieve an understanding that had been awaiting him almost his entire life. That knowledge came with a mixture of sadness and pride, for he had been part of a bigger story without even knowing it.
He felt that. And I felt it too.
The impact of this wrongful death case
Beyond the procedural impacts, the case allowed Mark to be a full-time father. It would have cost Sam a great deal to have to sacrifice his only parent’s time and attention to the heavy work schedule required to meet surmounting financial costs of raising a child alone.
Mark’s dedication to his son paid off, because Sam is a wonderful kid: He’s smart, personable and polite, an A student in school, and a multi-sport athlete. After college he wants to go into law enforcement, so he can personally protect others and spare them the tragedy and loss he has had to endure.
Why we’re civil litigation attorneys
Sometimes people ask me about the stress of being a wrongful death attorney—about the strain of seeing so much personal tragedy daily, and dealing with all the sadness, conflict, and frustration that are a natural part of the job. It can wear you down, if you let it.
And then someone like Sam shadows you for a day, and you realize again why your job matters. Victims of personal injury and wrongful death incidents need protection and compensation to help them rebuild their lives.
Sam is an incredible example of the good that can survive a tragedy. His caring and future accomplishments will continue to serve as a living monument to the memory of his very special mother.
Connect with us—we’re here to help.
*Names in this article have been changed to respect our clients’ privacy.
The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.