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Ask the Expert

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The Practice of Law: Owen, Patterson & Owen

Q&A with Rick Patterson, Founding Partner

Posted: July 29, 2014 6:00 p.m.
Updated: July 29, 2014 6:00 p.m.

From left, Richard Patterson, Susan Owen and Gregory Owen of Owen, Patterson and Owen Personal Injury Law in Valencia.

 

Owen, Patterson & Owen

Specialty: Personal Injury

Q&A with Rick Patterson, Founding Partner


1. What differentiates the practice of personal injury in California compared to other states?

We see a wide variation of options for plaintiffs as well as defendants because we represent clients in nearly every state in the Union.

When our firm handles a Mass Tort Claims, it oftens involves hundreds or thousands of claimants who have been seriously injured or died as a result of the negligence or intentional acts of major corporations whose practices have injured many people in several states.

In the state of California, up until a few years ago, a person had only one year to file a lawsuit for personal injury. That has now increased, with some exceptions, to two years. This provides people who are seriously injured enough time to more effectively evaluate the magnitude of their injuries and damages. Some states allow even more time. Utah, for example, has a four-year statute of limitation for personal injury.

There are even more restrictions in the medical malpractice arena. In California the statute of limitation is only one year. Other states have varying statutes of limitation. To add to the complexity, if a law suit must be filed in federal court a separate system of statutes of limitation apply. In California, if the defendant is a government entity the plaintiff is required to first prepare and file a claim against the government entity within six months of the date the injury or damage occurred. This claim must be submitted before a lawsuit can be filed with the court. The theory is that the government entity is given the opportunity to consider the reasonableness of the claim and resolve it before litigation, if possible. In reality the claims are routinely rejected. These regulations also vary from state to state.

Other issues that come forward are the limitations on damages for civil claims and some of those are very onerous. For example, the total damages in a wrongful death case in Alaska are $400,000.

One of the benefits of California is that we have such a diverse population of citizens who are available to serve as jurors. As a result of this broad and diverse jury pool, we find that there is usually a good balance of individuals who come together to carefully and sincerely find the truth. They consistently put aside any biases they might have and work to confirm the facts they eventually determine to be correct and then apply the intent of the laws.

2. What would you change about the business of practicing law in the state?

Two issues come quickly to mind.

In the State of California it has now become obvious that, based on the Legislative Branch's failure to adequately fund the operations of the Judicial Branch, the Judicial Branch struggles to effectively, timely and fairly exercise its duties. Our experience has been that the vast majority of judges, clerks and court staff are conscientious, dedicated and experienced. However, with insufficient court rooms, insufficient funds to hire adequate staffs and judges, matters that should take six months to a year to resolve may be delayed for two to three years. This adds considerable costs to all participants’ efforts. As the old saying goes, "Justice delayed is Justice denied."

The budget constraints hamper the court system's mission to function timely. The balance of powers are thus affected and placed at risk.

The second issue is that over 30 thirty years ago California voters put in place a $250,000 arbitrary cap on the maximum amount of pain and suffering compensation a person could recover as a result of injuries caused by the negligence of a health care provider. That amount is the same for everyone from age 1 to 100, with no regard to their training, productivity, number of children, or their degree of permanent disability. It does not change regardless of whether the injury is a serious and disabling brain injury, paralysis, blindness or death.

There was no provision in the law for factoring in an increase to adjust for inflation. There is now, finally, a broad based effort moving forward to improve the fairness of this law. On the November ballot, we can vote on a three-part act that will reduce medical errors, and prevent unnecessary patient deaths.

The three leading causes of death in the U.S. are: 1) heart disease, 2) cancer, and 3) preventable medical errors. Each year over 400,000 Americans die as a result of such errors. The initiative will also require specific safeguards to be put in place that will reduce serious errors.

3. In your practice, what are the common or repetitive issues you encounter when representing clients?

Many clients have never had to directly pursue the benefits and protections available to them through the fair and balanced application of the laws. They are also often surprised that as personal injury attorneys we do not require our clients to pay or advance any costs out of their pockets for the full prosecution of their claims. They are not required to advance any fees for their consultation with us to analyze and evaluate their claims. We advance all of the costs of investigation, medical record review, reconstruction of accidents, engineering, filing fees, medical and other experts and all costs of litigation. Once, when we are successful in recovering funds for them, we are reimbursed from the funds we recover for them.

4. In your opinion, what pitfalls or mistakes might people avoid?

One disadvantage the client can create for themselves may occur when they delay seeking legal advice as soon as possible after their accident or injury.

The longer the delay, before we can evaluate the evidence, the greater the probability critical evidence may disappear or be compromised. Additionally, the memories of eye witnesses and their accuracy can fade quickly. It is easy to understand the difference between obtaining a security camera video tape of our client being assaulted or of the collision at an intersection, compared to losing it because the camera system recycles itself every two weeks and erases the full content.

We realize that when there are serious injuries involved, it is often awkward and feels less of a priority to seek legal advice so quickly after an accident, but the irony is that once one connects with us clients can be fully relieved of the burden of worrying about what their legal rights may be or how to protect and pursue them. Once we are engaged, the victims are enabled to concentrate more fully on their recovery or on their loved ones.

5. In addition to your specialty, what services does your firm offer?

For 37 years we’ve concentrated on serving our neighbors and we are happy to answer any questions. Our focus is on all accidents, including: Brain and spine injuries, automobile, bicycle and motorcycle accidents, sexual abuse and molestations, dangerous pharmaceuticals, train and bus accidents, wrongful deaths, mass tort litigation including unfair business practices, carbon monoxide poisoning and more.

6. How many offices do you have?

Three. We have offices in Valencia, Sherman Oaks and Studio City.

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