Jennifer R. Johnson is highly regarded as one of Orange County’s leading plaintiff’s injury lawyers — as well as one of its most knowledgeable and empathic. She has received many accolades during her 25-plus years in practice, including being recently featured in Los Angeles’ Leaders In The Law 2018. Now, having just passed her 25th year in practice, she discusses what propelled her into law, the challenges of California’s legal landscape, and what will keep her going for (at least) another 25 years.
Leaders In The Law: What influenced your decision to move from health care/nursing into legal?
Jennifer Johnson: I always knew that nursing was a stepping stone to something else. Medical school and law school were the front runners. There was an intrigue associated with the law and I correctly concluded that the law would best provide me the platform to assist injured and hurting people just as nursing had.
LITL: What makes California’s injury laws different from other states? What challenges have you experienced while navigating them?
JJ: In California, medical malpractice law greatly swings in favor of the doctor and against the patient. In these cases, we are like David fightling Goliath. There is a cap on pain and suffering damages of $250,000 no matter how devastating the injury, and a cap on attorney fees that potentially disincentives lawyers from taking injury and medical malpractice cases.
I believe to practice medical malpractice law in California, you have to be passionate about justice and you cannot be greedy. This area of practice is all about pursuing justice for injured folks.
While there is a lot of very good medical care in California, every week in my office I see examples of patients who received care that is negligent and sometimes even grossly negligent. These cases cry out for justice and many times, when reviewing a new case, it strikes me that someone needs to do something about what transpired. That’s the start of a great case.
LITL: As recently reported, the recent settlement you helped secure for a plaintiff seemed challenging. There was much at stake — financially, emotionally and pragmatically — with very little time to reach a resolution. How often are you in those scenarios and how do you approach them?
JJ: My co-counsel Dan Hodes and I represented a young wife and mother of 3 children who had a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. When I met her, the cancer was very advanced so the concern was to get her case resolved before she passed away. To that end, I asked for the arbitration to be set and completed within 30 days. The case was set for hearing just over 60 days from filing and that forced the settlement of the case prior to when she died.
In that case and in all my cases, I firmly believe that when I refuse to leave any stone unturned, I will have all the tools to help my clients get a great result, whether by verdict or settlement. In a recent case, a key expert backed out due to unforeseen circumstances, but I had replaced that expert with an even stronger one. The replacement expert presented exactly at the right time and not a minute late.
So, while the recent settlement is a little unusual in terms of the very short life of the case, it does represent my overarching mindset that I will have everything I need at the right time to bring justice to the clients I am privileged to represent.
LITL: What are some advantages of being a sole practitioner in the SoCal area?
JJ: There are so many! I can be selective about who I represent. Another advantage is that the buck stops with me in terms of how each case is handled; I am very hands-on with each case and I am extremely accessible to my clients and their families. The cases are usually intricate and can be quite lengthy, which is why we form strong bonds and often stay in touch long after they’ve resolved. It is extremely gratifying to learn — sometimes years after a verdict or settlement –how our efforts enabled the victims and/or their families to move on and improve their lives.
As a woman who is a sole practitioner, I often fight against very large firms who have layers of attorneys working on the case. I represent clients on a contingency basis, meaning that I don’t get paid until the end of the case and only if there is a recovery. I find it extremely rewarding to represent individuals who would not otherwise have access to justice if they had to pay an hourly rate to hire an attorney. To that end, I have represented a variety of clients, including individuals who are homeless, disabled and others who have been marginalized by our society. If I am moved by that individual’s story, I will seek justice for them. At a large firm, that might not be an option.
LITL: What are some other practice areas that frequently connect with your injury and medical malpractice work?
JJ: It is not uncommon for a client of mine to have a workers’ compensation case along with an injury or medical malpractice case. While I don’t handle workers comp cases, I know excellent attorneys in the field who I can call upon. Another area that frequently comes up is helping clients with severe disabilities to maximize the benefits available to them. I have specialists in that area when appropriate.
For more information, visit The Law Offices of Jennifer R. Johnson.