High Stakes Revisited | Letters | Chicago Reader

High Stakes Revisited 

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To the editors:

I enjoyed reading the lengthy profile of Philip Corboy in your most recent issue [March 3]. Your readers may recall that a significant portion of the article dealt with the case of Randy Block, the law professor who suffered locked-in syndrome as a result of a truck driver blowing a stop sign. I have a clear recollection of the case, because it was the first trial I worked on as a young lawyer. As your article mentioned, I assisted Corboy on the case. I now work at another law firm.

While the Block segment was generally accurate, it unfortunately perpetuates a longstanding myth which was previously restricted to the legal community. At page 18, Jenkins writes, "Johnson (the defense attorney) and his client certainly didn't want this case to go to trial. So, before trial, Johnson offered Corboy $9 million to settle the case." That statement is blatantly untrue.

The significance of the untruth is apparent when one realizes that the verdict was just over $9 million. In truth, the offer at the start of the trial was $6 million. The final offer was made at the close of all evidence in the case, just before closing argument. By that time, the trial had lasted twenty-three days. Plaintiff put on 38 witnesses and introduced 300 exhibits. In short, Corboy's exhaustive preparation and trial skills resulted in a dramatic increase in the defense offer.

People familiar with the trial of this case recognize that the defendants offered that huge sum of money (then the largest offer ever made in an Illinois personal injury case) because they knew they were going to be on the receiving end of a huge jury verdict.

To his credit, Bill Johnson guessed correctly on the amount. His perspicacity, however, takes nothing away from the work and skills that earned the offer and the verdict.

Although people always want to define a winner and a loser in the trial of lawsuits, I won't comment on the Corboy v. Johnson battle, because my bias is clear. Randy Block's "success" in the Circuit Court of Cook County has provided the fund necessary to finance his enormous medical bills which continue to mount, despite the defense prediction that Randy couldn't survive this long.

As in most personal injury cases, it is a victory he wishes he never had.

Terrence J. Lavin

Chicago

John A. Jenkins replies:

Terry Lavin's lengthy paean to Phil Corboy takes issue with only one point in an extensively detailed chapter in my book, The Litigators (excerpted in the Reader), and on that one point, contrary to what Lavin writes, a clear difference of opinion persists.

Bill Johnson, who made the settlement offer to Corboy at the start of the Block trial, contends that his offer was for $8 million, not $6 million, as Lavin claims. (I reported it as $9 million, but that was Johnson's final offer.)

Bill Johnson also made a troubling statement to me only yesterday (March 23) about Johnson's settlement negotiations with Corboy. Johnson claims his client was actually willing to settle with the Blocks for as much as $12 million, but that such an offer never was put on the table because Corboy absolutely refused to negotiate--at any price. If that is true, Randy Block was ill served.

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