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DEFENSE ATTORNEYS - How well do you know your client?


A few months ago, Mike Panish was contacted by a defense attorney who retained his services as door expert witness to review a claim made against his client. A woman had sustained catastrophic injuries when a large commercial overhead door dropped unexpectedly on her head. The defendant was a door service provider and the door installer for the property where the injury occurred. Mike spoke with the defense attorney in detail about what his client (defendant) had told him about the claim. Mike suggested that a site visit be made so he could evaluate the general conditions of the property, and have a face to face interview with the defendant. The attorney arranged for the site inspection, and arranged for Mike to meet with his client after my site visit.

When Mike arrived to inspect the subject doorway he found that it was significantly different than what was suggested by the defendant. Major components of the door mechanism had been cobbled together, safety devices had never been installed, and the installation and weight of the door made safe usage of this doorway almost impossible. The door had recently been furnished and installed by the defendant for this specific location. The door appeared to have been improperly manufactured, incorrectly assembled, and was the wrong size for the opening.

As is typical during a site inspection, the opposing attorney was also on site during the inspection. Even to his untrained eye, it was obvious that there were problems with the product and installation. The plaintiff's attorney had coincidentally retained Mike on a couple of past cases. He knew in an instant that his client's case was legitimate and also knew that Mike was unbiased and honest about his expert opinions. He asked the attorney that had retained Mike if they could work out a special arrangement where Mike would provide the information to both sides of the case. The defense attorney, having had a long term relationship with this man said he would have to think about it, and he would get back to him in a few days.

As soon as the defense attorney and Mike got into his car, Mike explained in detail every defect of this installed door product. Mike hoped the defendant had not actually done the work in the existing condition that he saw. Mike asked him if it was in some way possible that someone at the property had done some rework to the doorway, or some untrained workers had altered the original installation. The defense attorney said, "I sure hope so, because this is just about the worst workmanship that I have ever seen, and I have seen some real messes!" Mike was glad that we had arranged a meeting with his client after this site inspection. Mike suggested that they not inform his client about his observations as he just wanted to know what his client knew about this installation.

The attorney agreed, and suggested that Mike conduct the interview with his client. Mike met the owner of the company, and began to ask questions that would probably be asked by the opposition in an upcoming deposition. The responses that he got were genuine, honest, and completely unguarded. After a few questions, it was apparent to Mike that the owner of this company (the defendant) was basically incompetent in his job. He told him how his workman were trained, how he had learned his trade, and the number of years he had been working in this field. His answers to the questions basically proved his liability. Everything that he told Mike made him more and more responsible for the plaintiff's injury. He had no idea that what he had done was incorrect or that his installers did not have any skills in their work. He did not even understand the installation manuals that came with the door, nor did he have a copy of any other installation materials in his office. This defendant was responsible, grossly negligent in his duties, and was lucky that he had not been involved in other lawsuits prior to this one. Mike left the office, had a quick meeting with the attorney that hired him and suggested that he consult with his insurance adjuster to make a reasonable settlement before any further issues were uncovered. The case was settled less than a week later.


Every good defense attorney wants to have all of the facts about his or her case. He or she needs to know the good and bad points, and what strengths and weaknesses the case contains. When a defense attorney is working directly through an insurance company as in-house counsel, it has been our experience that arranged settlements are generally faster and more forthcoming. The insurance company does not wish to prolong a bad defense, nor do they benefit from stretching out the claim. When an independent defense attorney takes a bad case, this can be different. In many cases where Mike has been retained as the Plaintiff's expert, we have noticed that some defense attorneys create ridiculous costs for both the plaintiff and the insurance carrier, when they know that their client is responsible.

Working for both plaintiff and defense evenly, as a truly unbiased expert, it is always Mike Panish's hope that both parties to a claim will understand and recognize the information that he provides is not weighted in one direction or the other. Mike Panish has been retained on many cases in the Canadian court system where when you provide expert services for the court one of the basic requirements is that you provide unbiased information that assists the court. Even though you may be retained by either the plaintiff or defense, you must behave in a professional, unbiased, and uncolored manner. Every attorney should appreciate that a true expert opinion is applicable to both sides, whether you like the expert's opinion, or not.

Retaining a truly qualified expert should be done early on in every case. The invaluable assistance that a good expert provides can shed light on the murkiest issues. Once you find the right expert to help you analyze your case, you (the defense attorney) will know if the client that you are representing is responsible for the claim or in need of a vigorous opposition to that claim.

Mike Panish is one of the most frequently retained experts in his field. He works evenly for both plaintiff and defense. He is unbiased and provides a service to his clients that get positive results. Mike Panish is an expert witness for most construction trades with licenses in General Construction, Electrical, Cabinetry & Millwork, Doors & Door Hardware, Paint & Finish. Click here to link to his expertise.