• Fighting for the underdog: Homeless man wins compensation after being run over by a truck Wednesday, June 16, 2010

    Los Angeles Times reporter Robert Faturechi tells the story of a homeless man whose legs were run over by an 18-wheeler while he was sleeping next to a Dumpster in an alley behind an Encino grocery store.  Steven Schulman‘s legs were badly damaged, but he saw the name of the trucking company on the vehicle as it rolled past him and, once he got out of the hospital, went to the company’s office.  As Faturechi tells the story:

    He faced the company owner.

    “One of your truck drivers ran me over,” he said.

    Schulman expected an apology — and compensation.  The man stared in apparent disbelief. Then he burst out laughing.

    Schulman recalls the sting of what he heard next: “The only way you’re going to get anything is to sue me.”

    An employee joked that if Schulman’s story was true, he wouldn’t be alive to tell it.  Schulman flushed with embarrassment and then rage.

    He could hear their laughter as he limped away.

    Schulman tried to file suit himself but got nowhere until he met attorney Gary Casselman outside the Van Nuys Superior Courthouse.  Even though Casselman’s wife (who is also his legal partner) was skeptical that he could prevail, Casselman took the case, under the standard contingency agreement for personal injury cases.  Not only would Schulman not have to pay any money up front, he wouldn’t have to pay anything at all if he did not win an award for damages through a settlement or jury verdict.  Casselman would assume all costs involved in prosecuting the case and would be compensated with a percentage of a damage award…or, if Schulman did not win damages, Casselman would walk away with nothing at all.

    Not only did Casselman agree to take the case, he paid for Schulman to get off Skid Row and stay in a motel.  And he saved Schulman’s dog, Pebbles, as Faturechi recounts:

    One day, when Schulman opened his motel-room door to greet Casselman, Pebbles ran out.

    Casselman knew what he had to do. As the dog bolted across busy Lincoln Boulevard, the attorney, clad in a fine suit, gave chase.

    “Pebbles!” he screamed, as cars zipped past. The pursuit went on for blocks. Each time Casselman got close, the dog, with the face of a puppy but the body of a small bull, dashed off jubilantly.

    Casselman finally caught up with the runaway canine. Lacking a leash, he was forced to hunch over and drag the massive dog home by the collar.

    It’s hard to admire Schulman based on Faturechi’s account.  Twice divorced, he had problems with alcohol and violence that led to him being unemployed and living on the street.  But that doesn’t mean he deserved to have his legs crushed by a big rig with a driver who was not paying attention.  And it doesn’t mean he didn’t deserve a day in court to make his case to a jury of  impartial citizens.

    Faturechi tells the story of what happened in the courtroom:

    The two-week trial last fall was an ordeal for Schulman.

    The attorney for American Riggers’ insurance company painted him as a liar. His years of drinking were dredged up before the jury.

    The driver of the big-rig testified that the first he saw of Schulman was when paramedics were tending to him. Schulman must have been injured in some other manner, and his memory of a cherry-red cab with the American Riggers insignia must have been fabricated, the defense said.

    Casselman battled back, exposing inconsistencies in the driver’s story. A Trader Joe’s manager said the American Riggers truck was the only one scheduled to arrive around the time Schulman was run over.

    An emergency room doctor who treated Schulman testified that his injuries were consistent with being crushed by massive wheels….

    The jury voted 9 to 3 in favor of Schulman.

    A clerk announced the monetary damages — $65,000 in economic compensation, $150,000 for pain and suffering, $25,000 for future medical expenses.

    There was one piece of news still to come. When he heard it, Schulman grabbed his lawyer and gave him a joyful kiss.

    For future pain, suffering and loss of earning capacity, $450,000.

    Schulman’s life since the verdict can produce as much head-shaking and finger-pointing as his life before.  He’s bought a Corvette, two large flat-screen TVs, ordered filet mignon and lobster tail at restaurants, and the end of the story sees him on the road to Las Vegas (he says to find his children from his first marriage).

    But this is not to make any excuses for his life, or to hold him up as a role model to emulate.  Steven Schulman’s case shows that no matter how down and out you are, no matter what your means, the civil justice system gives you the chance to have a jury of ordinary citizens decide if you’ve been wronged and compensate you for your injuries if you have.

    –J.G. Preston

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