By Kenneth M. Levine
My paralegal comes in to tell me the parents of Emanuel Garcia are here to talk with me about their son’s brachial plexus injury. Usually, the parents come with the child but we are meeting at 5:30 and they are on their way home from work. Mrs. Garcia is a dental assistant and is wearing her office scrubs. Mr. Garcia is a mechanic and has on his work shirt with the auto dealer patch and his name. As I approach the Garcia’s in the office reception area, I can see Mrs. Garcia trying to smooth her clothing to make a better impression. As she does, Mr. Garcia is rubbing his hands together hoping to hide the dirt and grease under his fingernails.
The Garcia’s both stand as I get near. They are clearly uncomfortable in a lawyer’s office and are not sure what to do. I try to make them feel at ease by smiling and greeting them warmly. I shake Mrs. Garcia’s hand first and then move toward Mr. Garcia. He seems surprised that I want to shake his hand, I assume because it’s still dirty from work but I do it anyway. Mr. Garcia has a Red Sox cap on, and I ask if he’s a baseball fan. He smiles slightly and shakes his head yes.
I motion for them to go into the conference room and sit down. As I do one of my firm’s nurses and my most trusted senior associate come down the hall to join us.
The first meeting with new clients is hard. It’s important to gain their trust while still being honest about their case. Birth injury medical malpractice cases are hard to win, and they need to know that while at the same time they have to believe you can and will win. It’s a dance I have been doing for 43 years so it’s not new to me, but for the clients this is their first time in this situation. To break the ice, I ask about all of their children, not just their injured son. I tell them how sorry I am their child has been injured and that I understand the difficulty the injury causes him. I say I also know how hard it is for them, with the boy’s surgeries and constant physical therapy. I tell them about my family, my wife, children, and grandchildren. I try to engage Mr. Garcia with some sports talk but he stays quiet and reserved.
The Garcia’s are a lovely family. Hard working people, the salt of the earth and backbone of the country. They wake up each day get their kids off to school, go to work, come home tired, make dinner, bath the kids, and get them to bed. They have little time for themselves and hardly make it to watch something on cable before falling asleep on the sofa. Then they wake up and do it again the next day and the next day and the next. The Garcia’s have the added burden of trying to figure out which of them will take off work that day to take their son to physical therapy. Their employers have been cooperative so far, but when they lose time from work, they also lose money that that they desperately need.
As is usually the case, the mom asks all the questions and gives me the information I need. The dad sits quietly watching everything taking it all in. I explain the medicine and why I think their son was the victim of medical malpractice. My firms nurse and I explain that with proper medical care the boy’s severe obstetrical brachial plexus injury would not have happened.
As I talk to the Garcia’s I feel the weight of the responsibility they are giving me. They trusted their doctor and were let down, given poor treatment. Now they are trusting me to make it right. I want to promise them I will win the case, but I can’t. That would be wrong, it could give them false hope. I want them to be confident in me and my firm, I want them to know we will fight hard for them and their son, hire the best experts, leave no stone unturned. I want them to believe they came to the right lawyer to get justice for their son. But I also want them to understand the trial process is hard and not every case wins.
I can see their faith in me growing as our meeting continues. They tell me about their son and show me pictures. Despite their son’s severe limitations their eyes light up when they talk about him. I assure them they are great parents doing everything they can to help their child. I tell them he will have a great life, that he will find a way to overcome his physical limitations. They nod their heads trying to believe me, wanting to believe me but not quite sure they can or should.
The meeting is ending, and I ask if they have any more questions. They say they don’t, and we all get up from the table and head toward to reception area. As I am saying goodbye, I shake Mr. Garcia’s hand. He holds the handshake for a few seconds longer but says nothing. As I turn to Mrs. Garcia and extend my hand, she hesitates moves toward me and gives me a hug. The hug represents so much…trust, hope, belief, faith, confidence, acceptance. The hug means everything to me. Most of all it means the Garcia’s are ready to join with me to fight for their son. They are ready for the hard road ahead. I know now they will stay strong and be resilient through the journey. They are ready to engage in the crusade for justice and so am I.