Brain Injury Law Group Still Fighting for Justice after 25 Years

Formed in April of 1996, the Brain Injury Law Group has focused on representing the survivors of Traumatic Brain Injury and carbon monoxide poisoning for 25 years.

By Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.

In early April of 1996, I was a partner in a two lawyer general practice firm in Berlin, Wisconsin, Gonyo and Johnson. I had been with Bob Gonyo for eight years handling divorces, real estate, probate and other wide ranging litigation needs of a community of 5,400 people in Central Wisconsin. But by that time, it was clear that I had to make a choice between a diversified client base and focusing my practice solely on brain injury. By 1996, I had already established myself as a brain injury attorney, having served on the board of the Brain Injury Association of Wisconsin, as well as on the board of the Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group of a national trials lawyers organization. I had hosted the first TBI Legal conference for the BIAW. I was also the editor of the newsletter for the BIAW. Brain injury was becoming an increasingly large part of my practice, but the demands of the other cases continued.

The Internet Created Opportunity for Brain Injury Law Group

Brain Injury Law Group Celebrates its 25th anniversary

waiting.com shifted the focus of the Brain Injury Law Groups advocacy to the caregivers of brain injury survivors.

Then the internet changed the dynamic. Sometime in late winter of 1996 I got my first PowerMac.

At the time, it was just AOL but suddenly instead of getting cases from my local area, plaintiffs from around the country were reaching out to me for representation. But the internet didn’t just offer me the chance to represent more people. What it offered me was a bigger soapbox from which to preach my advocacy for brain injury. As a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, my first vocation was as a writer. The internet gave me the chance to combine by passion for writing with my passion for brain injury advocacy. It was just the right spot for me. I sat at my PowerMac and started expressing my ideas, my concerns and what I had learned about the science and the people of brain injury

I read textbooks, peer reviewed literature and most important, I listened to the voices of brain injury, both the survivors and the caregivers.

Choosing to be a Brain Injury Lawyer

In 1996, I had to make a choice–a choice between our law firms steady mix of diversified clients and relying entirely upon the vagaries of unpredictable contingent fees. I chose brain injury and 25 years later, it is clear for me, it was the right choice. The result, I moved my boxes of files across town and started the Brain Injury Law Group. By November, in combination with a talented artist, Rebecca Martin, who took on the challenge of learning web-designer, we had published our first web page: http://tbilaw.com

Tbilaw.com was something completely different for the internet in 1996. If someone had navigated from confined environment of AOL or some other equivalent service, the World Wide Web was a wonder. No other lawyer that I knew had a web page and no lawyers on the internet other than one in Baltimore and one in Toronto had authored  any content about brain injury. The better of those two sites contained 2,636 words about brain injury at the time. All of that information was taken from other sources.

https://youtu.be/2x98n2nwCm0

In contrast, I had a thousand things to say about the topic. I started writing, Rebecca started designing and our connection to the internet became real. We uploaded our first website, http://tbilaw.com in November of 1996 and then our most important webpage, http://waiting.com in early 1997. Waiting.com became the first time a web page was directed towards helping the family member of someone in a coma, deal with the issue of a life changed by brain injury, while the survivor was still in a coma. Both websites are still online, waiting.com in much the same format it went up in 1997. All of the artwork on that site was painted by Rebecca.

Advocacy and Litigation for Brain Injured

Over the years, the Brain Injury Law Group has tried to serve our twin missions of advocacy and legal representation of those with permanent brain damage. During that span, we have recovered more than a quarter of a billion dollars for our clients. We still are a one lawyer firm but have partnered with dozens of firms around the country to leverage our understanding of brain injury to help the survivors of brain injury. Over those years I have continued to write, to speak and to advocate for brain damage.

In 2001, Jayne Zabrowski, our treasured paralegal joined our firm and it is her voice that countless brain injury survivors have heard first when they reach out to us.

Brain Injury Law Group – Pop Warner Litigation

Looking back at the 25 years of the Brain Injury Law Group, one of our most important cases was the litigation against Pop Warner youth football, relative to the CTE suicide death of Joseph Chernach. See http://footballandbraindamage.comSee NY Times article on the lawsuit: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/06/sports/family-of-player-with-cte-who-killed-himself-sues-pop-warner.html?ref=sports Sports Illustrated called this lawsuit the first step in a long line of events that ultimately changed the shape of football. https://www.si.com/nfl/2016/08/31/future-of-football-nfl-safety-concussions  Filing that lawsuit was entirely about advocacy and brain injury prevention. If Sports Illustrated is believed, we succeeded in that goal.

Brain Injury Law Group Expanded into Carbon Monoxide Cases

Around 2010, it became clear that representing brain damaged individuals was a broader mandate than just those injured in falls and motor vehicle wrecks. Carbon monoxide poisoning leaves 40% of its survivors with permanent brain damage and the skills and lessons we learned representing brain injured individuals for a generation, made this a natural step for us to take. But in representing carbon monoxide cases, we not only had to understand the injury side of that equation, we also had to learn the mechanical engineering aspects of how carbon monoxide is created and how it escapes into the breathable air where people live and sleep. Fortunately, I found the natural skills for science I inherited from my mother the organic chemist and my father the electrical engineer, served me well in this new endeavor as well.

Portable Electric Generator Advocacy

One of the ironies of this work is that I ran head long into the industry that my father, Gordon S. Johnson, Sr., worked his entire career: the electrical generating industry. My father worked for Kohler Company as their chief electrical engineer for more than 40 years and then after retiring from Kohler, he was the executive director of a national trade association in power generation industry until he was in his 80’s.

While my father had retired well before I handled my first carbon monoxide poisoning case, he would likely have been proud of the work I did to try to make sure that generators were safe. He was always an engineer who believed in safety first, and his company, Kohler, was one of the first to stop making the portable electric generators which are responsible for the bulk of the carbon monoxide poisoning cases that come from generators.

One of my proudest moments was being asked to testify to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety commission about its proposed guidelines relative to carbon monoxide poisoning in 2017.

See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovcuinfbvgY&t=12s

One of the primary focuses of my testimony was to impress upon the Commission that any amount of brain damage is too much.

Today, the overwhelming share of our cases are carbon monoxide cases. We have successfully litigated these cases since our first multi-million dollar settlement stemming from a carbon monoxide poisoning at a Days Inn in 2009. We have now represented more than 15 people who have recovered more than $1 million as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. We currently have more than 60 carbon monoxide surviving clients. Click here for more on our track record in CO cases.

Brain Injury Law Group Goal to Make World Safer

As we look to our next generation of brain damage advocacy and representation, the Brain Injury Law Group  continues to try to make the world safer. We continue to use our internet pulpit to advocate for change, and to accept any opportunity to lecture or testify on carbon monoxide and brain damage topics. We anticipate testifying in the next few weeks relative to important additions to the Fire Code with respect to carbon monoxide detectors.

As I write this, my two biggest areas of focus are eliminating carbon monoxide poisoning events in hotels and apartments. Over and over, we see institutional neglect in both places. We have written thousands of words on these issues in the last 12 months, but the reality, often the only way to make change happen is to file actions against wrongdoers. All of my words of advocacy have not done as much to make the world safer as the lawsuits I have filed. Fear of million dollar recoveries does more to make corporate America change than new regulations, federal regulations and industry guidelines. But for the litigation against Best Western in the Boone, North Carolina wrongful death cases, CO detectors might still not be required in any hotels. Despite the movement towards hotel brands requiring detectors in certain places, the majority of hotel rooms still do not have detectors.

I want to leave you readers with nearly the same words I said in 1997 on waiting.com We are here to help. We are here to make a difference. If you have suffered brain damage as a result of the negligence of others, particularly the corporate owners of hotels and large apartment complexes, we are here to listen. And ultimately, we are here to obtain justice for those who face a lifetime of brain damage disability as a result of the greed and carelessness of others.

And as I write this, justice comes to America in a different way, Derek Chauvin is convicted of Murder in the George Floyd murder.

Black Lives Matter

 

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