Day in the Life video helps Panish, Shea & Boyle win $39.5 Million Settlement

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Personal Injury Settlement Believed to be the Largest Involving Cal State University System

Marissa Freeman suffered catastrophic injuries from heat stroke during an outdoor jogging class at Cal-State San Bernardino. Our Day in the Life video captured her dramatic struggle to recover.  

           Marissa Freeman

At age 20, Marissa Freeman was working towards degrees in psychology and nutrition. She needed a Phys-Ed course to graduate. But her life was irreversibly altered when a Cal-State athletic teacher made Marissa’s class jog down a long, concrete course. It was a sweltering, 95 degree day in the California desert.

Marissa collapsed near the end of the 5K run. Incredibly, university personnel failed to use any of the rapid cooling measures they had on hand, including coolers of ice and ice water. Nor did they move Marissa to an air conditioned building just feet away. 

Marissa collapsed feet from Coussoulis Arena

As a result of the heat stroke, Marissa  suffered severe brain injury and cardiac arrest. Within days, her kidneys and liver failed. Her muscle tissue began dying.

                      Marissa in ER

She spent more than a week in a coma and months in the hospital. Marissa then went through more than a year of intense, in-house rehabilitation at Casa Colina in Pomona.

      Marissa’s Rehab

That’s where the Attorneys’ Edge Production team met Marissa and her parents. Panish, Shea & Boyle hired us to capture a day in Marissa’s life. Our video aimed to thoroughly detail Marissa’s daily struggles.

Marissa learns to read again

Our camera was rolling as therapists patiently tried to help Marissa walk, speak and read simple words again. We captured the staff’s efforts to help her regain as much cognitive ability as possible. Our video showed how Marissa needed help with all of her daily activities including showering, dressing and getting to her wheelchair. She even had to re-learn how to eat.

    Marissa learns to walk

“The video had a significant impact,” says Patrick Gunning, an attorney for Marissa. “It dramatically showed what Marissa was going through due to her horrific injuries. Moreover, Attorneys’ Edge captured, not only her struggles, but her determination to get better and the heroic efforts of her care providers.”

As a result of the settlement, Marissa and her family can now move to a larger home. It will better accommodate Marissa’s needs. With more space, Marissa can more easily move her wheelchair from bedroom to bathroom to the breakfast table. Plus, the family can now face what’s expected to be a lifetime of Marissa’s medical bills.

California State University students are big winners too thanks to the negotiating skills of the Panish, Shea & Boyle team. The Cal-State University system has agreed to implement a policy for heat illness prevention and protocols at all of their 23 campuses.

“We insisted on that as part of the settlement to protect student safety,” says Gunning.

The new policies will hopefully prevent another CSU student from suffering the same tragedy as Marissa Freeman.

Attorneys’ Edge Photojournalist Earns Lifetime Achievement Award

David Fernandez Holds
Lifetime Achievement Award

Congratulations to Attorneys’ Edge Photojournalist David Fernandez for his Lifetime Achievement Award from the Press Photographers Association of Greater Los Angeles.

David adds this honor to his multiple Emmy Awards, Golden Mike Awards and his Edward R. Murrow Award. He has won all of these and more during his nearly 30 year career with KNBC-Los Angeles. In fact, you have likely seen David’s work with NBC4’s elite investigative team, Special Assignment.

David has been on the scene for hurricanes, earthquakes and national conventions as well as many other major stories. From the LA Riots to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, David has been there. 

David has been a member of the PPAGLA for more than 35 years. He became a board member in 2007. In addition, he served as the organization’s President in 2012 and 2013. Much of David’s focus has been on helping future generations, high school and college students, become great photojournalists.

David is the visual creative force behind many of our Settlement Documentaries and Day in the Life Videos. 

At Attorneys’ Edge Productions, our TV news veterans, like David, know how to bring your case to life in a compelling video that can help you achieve maximum settlement. 

We are so proud to have David on the Attorneys’ Edge Productions’ team.

Memorial Day – Attorneys Also Served

We picture attorneys battling in court, not dying in combat. But our country’s military graveyards hold the remains of those who served dual roles as both attorneys and soldiers. According to the website abovethelaw.com, members of the Judge Advocate General, or JAG Corps, have died in major US conflicts from WWII through the Iraqi War.

 In the 2000s, the deceased included 6 JAG officers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Officers Sharon Swartworth and Cornell Gilmore died when enemy fire shot down the Black Hawk helicopter they were riding in. Military attorney, Michael Martinez, was killed when his helicopter crashed. Paralegals Sascha Struble, Michael Merila and Coty Phelps died in separate incidents. Stuble was killed in a helicopter crash. Both Merila and Phelps died when roadside bombs blew up their vehicles.

In this age of high-tech battles, cultural sensitivities and complex laws, JAG officers and their legal staff are increasingly deployed to war zones to advise commanders on combat decisions. The job requires a nuanced understanding of military law. For example, say a drone spies 3 men digging holes by the road. Are they just innocent Iraqis digging irrigation ditches or are they insurgents planting IEDs? Is it lawful to attack these men under the Rules of Engagement? It’s a hypothetical posed in a military law publication to show the legal complexity facing Army lawyers charged with giving on-scene guidance. In the end, the lawyer’s advice can depend on variables including location, time of day and the presence of civilians. The soldier-attorney may have just moments to reach a conclusion.

Each military branch has a JAG Corps where attorneys, skilled at using words as weapons, have also trained for combat. It’s apparent they are driven by both devotion to country and love of the law. As Army Reserve JAG, Bruce Ellis Fein, told the Washington Post, “Our motto is ‘Soldiers first, lawyers always.’

The JAG Corps is, as the Army’s website notes, “America’s Oldest and Largest Law Firm.” It was born at the start of our country’s first war. George Washington founded the Corps when he took command of the Continental Army in 1775.

On Memorial Day, we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Let’s not forget the uniformed lawyers who also gave their lives.

The Value of Video in Premises Liability Cases

By Christina Penza
Attorneys’ Edge Productions

(This is a reprint of an article Christina Penza wrote for Advocate Magazine)

An elderly, disabled woman heads out to lunch with her family. As they leave the restaurant, her wheelchair hits a defect in the walkway. Suddenly, she’s thrown to the pavement. After rounds of treatment fail, doctors must amputate her legs. The facts of the case are clearly compelling.

But words, read or spoken, can’t convey the horror of watching the woman’s daughter hoist her mom in a hoyer-lift as the stumps of her mom’s legs come into view. They can’t show mom, in happier times, laughing on birthdays and holidays, enjoying life from her wheelchair. They can’t capture the look in mom’s eyes as she tearfully tells the camera that she now just wants ‘to die.’

That’s the power of video.

While a legal brief can present compelling facts, video hits the emotional chords that you need to win the argument. It forces the viewer to acknowledge on a visceral level, ‘This person is suffering. I can feel her pain. That could be my mother… that could be me.’

At the very least, it can make a jaded defense attorney or veteran insurance adjuster quietly think, “I wouldn’t want a jury to see this.”

Attorney Spencer Lucas of Panish, Shea and Boyle knows the value of video. He has used video documentaries to achieve his desired settlement. As Spencer puts it, “A journalist-caliber settlement video explaining the evidence is sometimes the only way to get a stubborn adjuster to see the light of day.”

With premises liability, a well-constructed video can take viewers in the mediation room – or the courtroom- directly to the scene in an intimate way. They can see and hear that one-ton, condo gate rolling slowly down its track. They can sense its heaviness as it came crashing down on your client. They can see construction rigs bouncing down the same shoddy road that left one worker paralyzed. They can peer down the elevator shaft where a worker fell several stories after a poorly trained technician failed to place an out-of-order sign.

As Attorney Lalit Kundani of Kundani & Chang LLP notes, “In a premises liability case especially, it’s often the plaintiff versus a house, a parking lot, a restaurant, or some other inanimate, impersonal setting. Video allows for that amorphous defendant to be visualized in an effective way at trial, while telling a very compelling story that remains in the jury rooms during deliberations.”

You can use video for either court or mediation – or both. It depends on the format. A Settlement Documentary, produced by experienced TV journalists, will show the strength of your case in a 10-20 minute Dateline-style video with narration. It can contain damages, liability or both. This format is a skillful blend of key interviews that can include the victim, family members, friends, co-workers, witnesses and experts – along with photos, home videos, medical records, animation, police reports and a site inspection. It will also include expertly shot, day-in-the life video that shows the current struggle that your client faces due to the defendant’s negligence. This expansive format often includes narration. It is used for mediation.

As Attorney Matt Biren of Biren Law Group video sees it, “There is simply no more powerful way to present your case at mediation than through a video brochure or day in the life film, where creativity can be unlimited, because there are no rules of evidence in mediation.”

In a premises liability case, a settlement documentary holds another unique advantage. Your case likely includes technical experts who can explain exactly why the defendant is liable, perhaps a specialist to relate the scientific reasons that the propane tank exploded or an engineering consultant who can detail the mechanics that caused that 500 pound oven to fall off the forklift and paralyze your client. Veteran journalists spend decades quickly grasping the often complex jargon of experts from every conceivable field, then making it easily digestible to viewers – and that’s what they’ll do in your video.

One more video format to consider, the stand-alone, Day-in-the-Life video, is both persuasive and versatile. It can be used for settlement but may also be admissible – if it’s done by a team that is expert in the rules of shooting reality. Just like breaking TV news, the video must be shot as it unfolds. The story is meant to capture key moments in your client’s day. The production team cannot re-shoot a scene to get a better angle. The edited video uses simple cuts, dissolves and only natural sound.

No matter what format you choose, a compelling video should take your viewers directly to the scene. They should see where the client was injured and understand why. They should feel what your client felt. When you want a mediator, opposing counsel or a jury to walk in your client’s shoes, don’t leave your case on paper. Let it come to life. A powerful video can give you the edge.
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Christina Penza is an Emmy Award winner and 6 time Emmy nominee, in addition to receiving numerous other journalism awards. She spent nearly 30 years as an investigative TV reporter and producer working mainly in NYC and LA. Christina now owns and operates Attorneys’ Edge Productions where a team of top-notch veteran journalists turn attorneys’ cases into compelling documentaries. She can be reached at Christina@attorneysedge.video

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LOSING HOPE

by Christina Penza

The recovery workers sorting through the rubble at Ground Zero could not have anticipated finding signs of life. Not now. Not weeks after the life-altering attack had shaken the soul of America and left us clinging to our collective strength. The rescue operation had long since become a recovery mission, a daily determination to uncover what could be salvaged to comfort those who had lost the most treasured people in their lives.

But there, floors below the spot where stunning towers had once punctuated the New York skyline, a small creature was breathing, barely. A mother cat had somehow crawled into a box of napkins in what had once been a restaurant. She had chosen the location wisely. At some point, amid the shattered concrete, mangled wires and deadly dust, she had given birth to three kittens.

Accounts differ on who named the foursome. Either rescuers or the vets who later cared for the cats, called the kittens Freedom, Amber and Flag. The momma cat was christened “Hope.”

Many New Yorkers offered to care for the kittens. My mother wanted the mother cat. But it would be months before Hope could become a member of the household. She had pneumonia. Her eyes were swollen shut, Her hair badly burned. Her survival uncertain. The vets helped Hope to battle repeated infections. Her life was a daily question mark. But this barely four-pound kitty had managed to protect her kittens on the spot where the worst of mankind had delivered death sentences. This kitty was going to live.

A few weeks into December 2001, Hope came home. She would become, by far, my family’s most precious Christmas gift. My Mom, an avid animal lover, had prepared the house to welcome her new, brown tabby.

Hope continued her recovery. She seemed like a normal, happy cat with the sweetest disposition. Yet her few quirks were unusual – even for a cat, unless, of course, you knew her past. For the first several weeks, she would enter each room of the house, stop, sit and study the ceiling before proceeding on. The sound of the doorbell or house alarm would send her racing for the cellar. There, she would jump onto a table, then up to the heating pipes, cowering in the space between the pipes and the ceiling.

It was eerie.

But overall, Hope had a very calm and comforting cat life. She would spend long, lazy days in one of her several cat beds and sometimes play with her hanging toys.  On occasion, she would make the trip across the kitchen to swipe at “J.D.,” our small, maltese dog. It was, after all, Hope’s home. Though she had several cozy spots to choose from, at night, she and her cat buddy, “Miss Muffet”  would climb onto a blanket on a wooden table and sleep side by side.

After a few initial stories, the public heard nothing about Hope. It was not for lack of trying. In a family of journalists, publicists and poets; Mom refused to let anyone write about Hope publicly. As the anniversary of 9/11 approached each year, I would broach the subject with the usual journalistic vigor, “It would be nice to let people know what happened to her,” I’d say.  “What a feel-good story it would be.” My Dad, a longtime television journalist, looked at me with a mixture of pride and amusement. He was glad that I had the guts to ask, but could not believe that I was trying it again. Mom remained firm. Hope had been through enough. No one was going to update her story.

That is until today.

We lost Hope at 6:30 this morning.

In September, the vet diagnosed her with pancreatic cancer. It is a rare condition in cats. One can’t help but wonder whether she was one more victim of that day’s life-threatening legacy.

Yet somehow, the words “Hope” and “victim” do not fit comfortably into the same sentence. Through her resilience, Hope embodied the very spirit of survival. Those who rescued her, cared for her and loved her, showed us that men, whose hearts are twisted with evil, can never trump the best within us.  And though she is gone, she is a daily reminder that we must never lose Hope.

(Christina Penza is a veteran TV journalist and C.E.O. of Attorneys‘ Edge Productions, a settlement documentary firm for attorneys. She divides her time between New York and Los Angeles where she lives with her own rescued tabby cat named Bugsy. She is the daughter of the late New York television journalist, Ralph Penza.)

The Attorneys’ Edge in the New Age by Christina Penza

Greetings attorneys, friends and fellow legal hounds. While you were busy trying cases, the multi-platform world has quietly invaded our economic lives. In the future, attorneys will measure their success in megabytes. Yes, I am being a bit poetic, but the reality is that the more online mentions you can get about your firm, the greater the public’s awareness that you exist and have the expertise to win their case and/or get them maximum compensation. So, how do you attract more clients on the web?

One way to stay in the public eye is to improve your Google ranking by maintaining an ongoing blog on your own website. This is according to all those SEO (Search Engine Optimization) geeks who keep track of the latest trends in online marketing. They are today’s “Mad Men.”

The problem, of course, is that few attorneys have time to maintain a blog. You can relegate it to an assistant if you have that luxury – or hire an outside firm that employs journalists with strong writing skills and legal knowledge to write your blog at a reasonable price. Either way, I recommend one blog update a week to start. You can pick the topic – i.e. auto accidents, product liability, personal injury, copyright infringement. Your blog can include information on a previous case. You can write about how to choose the best lawyer for a product liability case. There are many ways to go.

First, make sure that your webmaster puts a Blog or WP (WordPress) key on your website. Make sure that the blog actually exists on your site and not on an outside entity so that Google will give you the credit for having the blog. Then, the key is to let a staff member, someone familiar with your chosen topic, spend a few minutes on the phone with your blog writer. A good writer will get enough information in that time to craft a solid 600 to 800 word blog. Make sure to proof read your blog before it is posted and – voila – you have your weekly post. Linking your website to your Facebook page, Twitter account and RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed will further spread your identity. Make sure that the Twitter world knows that there is a new blog on your site which may interest them. This is a whole new world of marketing, but with a little knowledge, you can get the Attorneys’ Edge.

Get The Attorneys’ Edge with a Settlement Documentary

The video settlement documentary can be a powerful tool in getting maximum compensation for your clients at mediation.

This long form documentary typically runs between 20 and 40 minutes. It can include either damages or liability or both. TV News veterans are you best choice for this documentary production. If you choose the right team they will be expert journalists who will automatically know how to present your case in a clear, concise and compelling format.

You documentary should include in depth interviews with your client and all of those victimized by the defendant’s negligence. These delicate interviews are best done by TV veterans with the skill to elicit emotion without causing more harm. You may also want to include expert interviews. These may be done by either your documentary producer or an attorney. But keep in mind, in a documentary you do not want to elicit “yes” and “no” answers. Ask questions in way that will encourage the interviewee to add detail.

The good documentarian will also include home videos, photos, possibly  animation and news reports as well as video of what your client’s life is like today.

The documentary may be done with narration or in the victims’ own words. It will show what your victim’s life was like, recount the tragic incident and give your viewers (the defense) an unassailable view of your victim’s suffering today.

The successful settlement documentary will bring your case to life and show the strength of that case in a way that the written word can never do. When done creatively and correctly, a powerful settlement documentary will truly give you the Attorneys’ Edge.