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Case Studies/


Motorcycle Accident

Charmaine Felguth
(Felguth v. Epstein)
$900,000 Settlement

This motorcycle vs. Jeep crash happened on Sunday, June 27, 2010. Plaintiff Charmaine Felguth, a 47-year-old Lieutenant with the Jacksonville, Florida Fire Department, and her domestic partner, Penni Lewis, a Sheriff in Jacksonville, were visiting San Francisco for the first time to ride motorcycles in the Dykes on Bikes section of the Gay Pride Parade.

The two rented Road King Classic Harley Davidsons. After riding in the parade, they sat in the sun and drank a beer while watching the rest of the parade pass by on Market Street.

They set out to return their motorcycles, and get back to their hotel. They got lost, as many tourists do on San Francisco’s downtown one-way streets. They looped onto Mission Street at about 40 mph—a street that has a posted 25 mph speed limit -- according to their own testimony to the paramedics at the scene. They were running late, since they got lost, and needed to return their motorcycles.

A Jeep made an illegal left turn coming the opposite direction on Mission Street, and cut them off. The driver of the Jeep, a local dentist, was adamant that Plaintiff swerved around a car stopped in her lane to make a turn and, therefore, was approaching him head on. He had to swerve to avoid a collision.

Plaintiff’s pelvis was pulverized on impact. Dr. Saam Morshed performed pelvic surgery at San Francisco General Hospital. Plaintiff’s partner saw my website, wanted a female aggressive trial attorney, and contacted me from the hospital. (When I came into the hospital room, Plaintiff later told me that she saw my Prada bag and stilettos, and said: “That’s my attorney!”)

After this initial surgery, Plaintiff and her partner flew back to Jacksonville. A few months later, even though she had consulted an orthopedic surgeon in Jacksonville in follow-up, she was still in considerable pain. I suggested that she get a CT scan of her pelvis. She did. It revealed a broken screw.

Plaintiff returned to San Francisco to undergo a second pelvic surgery with Dr. Morshed, because we couldn’t find an expert orthopedic surgeon in Jacksonville to deal with this complicated situation. Plaintiff returned again to San Francisco for Dr. Morshed to perform a third surgery to remove the hardware. However, she continued to have pain. I referred her to a pain management doctor/expert in San Francisco, who was able to help figure out the source of her new pain: her lumbar spine, not her pelvis. Plaintiff’s medical specials were $185,000.

Plaintiff continued to enjoy an active lifestyle on her 9-½ acres in Jacksonville: boating, fishing, riding her waverunner and ATV, etc. She also continued to work as a Lieutenant in the fire department, although at a desk job and not on a rescue truck saving lives, which was her passion. She had no wage loss claim.

This was a hard-fought case against an excellent senior trial attorney, who aggressively disputed liability. We took over 15 depositions, including those from six experts. Both attorneys developed animations of how the accident happened, and geared up for trial. I had 200 PowerPoint slides ready for my opening statement and presentation at trial. Because counsel knew that I was serious about trying the case, they offered $100,000 more on the day of trial than they had five days earlier at the mandatory settlement conference.

We went to two full-day mediations before Judge Al Chiantelli of Alternative Dispute Resolution Services, Inc., a mandatory settlement conference, and we exchanged C.C.P. Section 998s – “settlement offers with strings attached.” We settled after our courtroom assignment on the first day of trial for $900,000.

As a footnote, through this long litigation process, I really got to know my client, who is one of my favorites! She went to Giants baseball games with me each time she flew out for a surgery or a post-op visit. We became friends, and I hope to officiate at the wedding of Charmaine and her partner Penni, when gay marriage becomes legalized in the state of Florida.

Partial Finger Amputation

Case: Confidential
Settlement $580,000

My clients, an 8 y.o. boy and his mother, were spending the afternoon at an interactive museum that welcomes children of all ages to come explore.

At some point, the mother was assisting her son’s friend with an exhibit so her son wandered off to explore an exhibit across the floor. Her son pushed the “on” switch and activated the exhibit. There were six cutouts for moving sharp blades of the exhibit. There was one moving part that moved 6 times faster than the other parts. That moving part had a plastic guard over it. Somehow, her son managed to squeeze his hand into the cut out despite there being a plastic guard and the blade cut off the tip of his middle finger on his dominant hand.

His mother heard his scream and rushed over to the exhibit. She had to locate his bloody fingertip and put it on ice until the paramedics arrived.

Before mediation and pre-litigation, we retained a prominent accident reconstruction expert to combat the disputed liability argument. We had an inspection at the museum. Our expert testified at mediation, using photos and video from the exhibit as well as similar ones around the world to explain why the single plastic guard was not safe for an exhibit used by children. We were successful in our fight against comparative fault of her son and negligence by the mother.

The case was very emotional for the mother, who felt enormous guilt for having a mother-son outing end so tragically. Throughout the process—which was only 3 1⁄2 months from the first client meeting to mediation and settlement—we were very sensitive to our clients’ emotions and met with their psychologist to reduce the impact of litigation.

"Debra is an exceptional attorney, a true professional in every respect of the word. Not only is she dedicated to her practice and clients; she will always have time for you with a smile on her face, which when coupled with a positive reassuring voice, is very comforting during stressful and trying times. Debra is the best at what she does, and surrounds herself with an incredible network of top notch professionals. This assembled team works seamlessly to achieve the highest and greatest results for her clients. Her experience, relationships, hard work, dedication and love of what she does puts Debra at the top of our list. We would highly recommend Debra and are so grateful to have had her as our attorney."

Slip, Trip and Fall

John and Dolores Hiskes
(Hiskes v. DoubleTree Hotels)
$225,000 Settlement

John Hiskes, an 85-year-old member of the Rotarians, slipped and fell on slick wet tiles leading to a concrete sidewalk outside the entrance to the DoubleTree Hotel in Livermore, CA. He was very familiar with this walkway as he attended his weekly Rotarian meetings there.

Mr. Hiskes landed hard on his hip, and snapped his right femur bone in four places. He underwent four-and-a-half hours of surgery, during which two rods were inserted in his leg, along with many other screws, bolts and wires. After rehabilitation, he spent over a month in a hospital bed in his living room. About three months post-surgery, he started walking again. He did not need any further medical treatment.

Because of their age and frailty, my clients wanted to settle immediately, and not go to trial.

At deposition, Mr. Hiskes testified that he did not feel any pain after his rehabilitation. His walking, hiking, skiing and other recreational activities had already been curtailed because of bilateral knee replacements before the accident.

Mr. Hiskes’ medical lien was $82,000. Our demand was $425,000.

Defense counsel remembered me from a previous case. Even though liability was questionable because my client had a history of falls and his fall could have been attributed to his knee buckling, he agreed to meet at my client’s retirement home in Mill Valley for a short deposition, and then proceed right to mediation.

Within a couple of months after filing the complaint, we settled at mediation for $225,000.

Understanding my client’s situation and helping him and his wife through this unfamiliar legal territory was crucial to the outcome, and a source of joy for all of us. To make the Hiskes comfortable, I met with them for lunch at their retirement home, The Redwoods in Mill Valley. I included them in the strategy, and explained what would happen and what should be done for the upcoming deposition. Mrs. Hiskes took her husband to get spruced up to look his best for the deposition, and helped him choose a great-looking suit. He even got his first manicure!

I picked them up and drove them to my office in San Francisco for the mediation. We had lunch at Cotogna, a favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant, so they could ask questions and get ready for the rigors of the legal process. Their comfort was a primary concern at that point. During the mediation, I had to overcome my client’s deposition testimony that he did not have any pain after the first couple of months, and his physical limitations due to other health issues before this accident.

After the mediation was over, I drove the couple back to the Redwoods, and called their daughter and son-in-law to join us for a celebratory glass of wine at a nearby restaurant. I described the mediation in detail, and the Hiskes commented on their observations and insights. I wanted the whole family to be informed of the process and the favorable settlement, and to celebrate it together. This was a true family affair.

“Debra guided us through a sticky wicket of obfuscation and confusion thrown out by the hotel where my husband slipped and broke his femur in four places. She was able to clearly demonstrate that the hotel was at fault in this case, and we reached a nice settlement through mediation. We were extremely pleased by her professional abilities and personal attention, and we recommend Debra Bogaards without hesitation! If you can imagine a good experience with a lawyer, Debra is it. She is a blond bulldog!” Delores Hiskes


Employment Defense

Janine Schengel, Business owner

A former employee sued Janine Schengel, the sole owner of Doggie Styles, a professional dog grooming service in Mill Valley, CA, for wrongful termination, failure to pay tips and overtime, and failure to give lunch breaks/10 minute breaks. The case was filed in Marin County Superior Court. Janine retained an employment defense lawyer. However, after six months, the only legal work done was a half-hour meeting between the non-Spanish speaking lawyer and a solely-Spanish speaking employee; answering some written discovery from the plaintiff; and a failed full-day mediation. This lawyer did not meet with Janine beforehand to explain the mediation process, leaving her totally in the dark. She felt like she had no one in her corner, and very vulnerable. Her hard-earned reputation and business were at stake.

Janine asked her clients to recommend a more aggressive employment defense lawyer. I was the recommendation. I met with Janine using a Mill Valley law office so she wouldn’t have to close her business while we talked. Using my iPhone speakerphone so she could hear, I called her former lawyers, to learn what they had done; plaintiff’s counsel to discuss what needed to be done and to get an extension to respond to a motion to compel further responses to discovery; and the mediator, to learn what had gone wrong. From these calls, my new client learned more than she had been told in the previous six months.

The following day, I met with all five Doggie Styles employees with a court-certified Spanish interpreter at the law office in Mill Valley, and obtained declarations that their co-worker (plaintiff) quit, rather than was fired. I also learned about their experience of being employed at Doggie Styles, e.g., they were given their breaks, double-paid for lunch time, ate their lunch offsite at various restaurants, and had a very generous employer.

I next met with Janine and her bookkeeper at a nearby restaurant to get a handle on how she kept track of the tips, the number of dogs groomed per day, etc. I called the accountant, Chinese deli owner, and prior employer of the plaintiff. I launched into a plan to educate myself about Janine’s business, so that I could build her defense. While time-intensive, it got me prepared for plaintiff’s deposition and a second mediation.

I met with a defense counsel on another, unrelated, employment lawsuit filed by the same plaintiff’s counsel, to learn more about my adversaries. That meeting led to my success in getting plaintiff to drop his future wage loss claim, as he was in the U.S. illegally. I took plaintiff’s deposition by videotape, so that I could use excerpts at mediation. (A deposition transcript only gives the questions and answers, without showing the deponent’s long pauses, looking up at the ceiling for help, and “tells” that let me know when plaintiff was lying. Video allows me to show a judge what I see in plaintiff’s squirming and demeanor.) The deposition took two days. I had some private investigation done in between the sessions, which helped significantly. This plaintiff tended to conveniently forget names of former employers, current employers, lawsuits, etc. I used the private investigator to help me get this information and, in turn, to persuade plaintiff to give me more accurate answers to my questions.

To ease Janine’s anxiety with the process—she was being sued as a small “Ma and Pa” business and her business and livelihood were threatened -- I called her after work, dropped by Doggie Styles, and texted her to keep in communication. I also picked her up at her shop, drove her to my law office in San Francisco, and took her to lunch during the depositions. I did the same during the mediation.

I gave Janine a budget for each step of the way, and advised her what was necessary and what she could opt to do or not do. My goal was to let the client be in control and, with my guidance, to make her own decisions. I discussed with her my opinion that we had enough evidence to reduce the plaintiff’s settlement demand and to go to an early mediation. At mediation with me, Janine felt very secure, and in a better position to negotiate. She understood that she had technical violations that would result in a small jury award, but penalties and payment of plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees could be high. She decided to settle, for a nominal sum. After the settlement, I took her out to dinner to debrief and to get closure.

This was a very vulnerable client, against a very savvy plaintiff and counsel. With her initial attorney, she didn’t feel like she had brought the best gun to the gun fight. She didn’t feel protected. When I came on board, I involved her every step of the way, and took great care to explain the legal process to her, whether it involved a deposition, written discovery or mediation. I formed a discovery plan and budget, and was aggressive on her behalf when necessary. She saw the pushback from me to plaintiff’s counsel. She encouraged and appreciated the detailed investigation into the plaintiff’s background and case, so we were equipped to question plaintiff at deposition. Most of all, personal touches including driving her to my office, getting her lunch at a good restaurant so she could relax and process during deposition and mediation, talking to her on weekends by cellphone, stopping by her business to discuss important matters, and taking the time to understand her business made all the difference to a successful outcome and a confident, satisfied client.

“The legal process is overwhelming. It is so hard to go through. You need someone in your corner. I didn’t have that with my original counsel. I had a golden retriever and I needed a pitbull. I got one. A gracious, generous professional, who knew her business, and learned mine. It is hard to backtrack over someone else’s bad job. Debra went above and beyond to make sure I was protected. I was so vulnerable. She treated me as more than a client - I had some of my best meals ever with her! I can’t thank her enough.” Janine Schengel