Righting a wrong

Attorney serves as strong advocate for injury victims

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Attorney Sarah Stempky Kime has won several million-dollar trials and settlements, including one named by Michigan Lawyers Weekly as second largest in its list of  “2014 Million Dollar Verdicts and Settlements” obtained in a Michigan court. 

An attorney with David Christensen Law in Southfield, a personal injury law firm that specializes in assisting victims of automobile and truck accidents, Stempky Kime enjoys representing clients who need an advocate.

“I can act to help them – by filing lawsuits, and going to trial,” she says. “I can fight and win.”

Stempky Kime and Christensen represented a woman whose car was rear ended by a cement truck and rammed into a utility pole. The woman, who needed three spinal fusion back surgeries, a hip fusion and shoulder surgery, suffered a significant traumatic brain injury and is no longer able to work or live independently.

“Vaylma would need help with the simple activities of daily living – moving around, getting dressed – that all of us take for granted,” Stempky Kime says. “We felt we had to make a better connection between Vaylma and the jury. We needed them to see her as a person who would continue to suffer and continue to need help for the rest of her life. So we had her testify earlier in the trial than we had originally planned. I think the jury was very moved by her testimony because she is genuine, very likeable and credible.  The jury awarded her $17.8 million.”

Stempky Kime finds it easy to empathize with her clients because each has a face, a name, and a story.

“We can all relate to an individual who is suffering, an individual who has been wronged,” she says. “We sometimes have more difficulty relating to a legal entity, such as a corporation, because it’s vast and not as easily understood.

“There are cases that are very difficult, or clients that are difficult to work with – but what I’ve learned is that everyone deserves the same attention. And people who have been hurt are going through the extreme stress of trying to get better, then the added stress of being in a lawsuit. They’ve been wronged, and they need someone to represent their interests.”

Real-life courtrooms are generally far less exciting than those depicted in TV shows or movies, Stempky Kime notes.

“Courtroom appearances follow certain procedures that are not exciting but are necessary from a practical standpoint,” she says. “Real court cases can take two or more years so resolution is much longer than on a 60-minute courtroom TV drama.”

One long running case that took five years to resolve involved a teenage girl in a child abuse case against a school system.

“It had a profound effect on me because I had never been exposed to such an emotionally charged case,” Stempky Kime says. “We lived with the case for a long time because of government immunity issues and appeals.”

Fifteen years old at the time of the abuse, the client was 20 when the case was finally settled, just before the trial.

“She received a good settlement, and was happy to put the experience behind her,” Stempky Kime notes.

Stempky Kime, who joined Christensen Law in 2010, has already earned several kudos, including being named in the “Up and Coming Lawyers” by Michigan Lawyer’s Weekly and as a Super Lawyers “Rising Star.”

She earned her undergrad degree in psychology from Alma College in 2005, where a professor told her she was a good advocate for the ‘patients’ in the practice sessions.

“She thought I could be a good advocate in a more public setting such as law, so I always considered trial work rather than transactional legal work,” she says. “I just thought it seemed like a good fit for me.”

At Michigan State University College of Law, where she earned her J.D. in 2010, Stempky Kime was drawn to the Trial Practice Institute during her first year. She reached the finals in several national mock trial competitions, and captained the arbitration team, which won a regional competition. 

“I enjoyed working with the teams because I got to see what we could do as a group, drawing from the strengths of each individual,” she says. “TPI gave me exposure to the potential experience of litigation – that really opened my eyes to something I now enjoy as a career.”

In mock trials she learned the rules of evidence, how to present evidence, and how to ask questions in the proper way whether on cross or direct examination of a witness. “It really helped me to develop a courtroom presence, to help me determine how I wanted to present myself and my particular case,” she says.
A relatively new member on the Michigan Association of Justice (MAJ) executive board, Stempky Kime finds the work very enlightening.

“For example, we all work hard to make newly elected officials aware of what a plaintiff experiences when he or she sues a corporation for personal injury – we explain how changes in a law play out in a courtroom for a plaintiff, a real person,” she says. “There can be a great difference from the way you see a sterile law and the way you see that law applied in a pleading.”

The board has been fighting to prevent Michigan’s no-fault law from being changed.

“MAJ and other organizations testified and gave examples of how the proposed changes in the law could seriously affect a catastrophically injured person,” she explains.

The Cheboygan native now makes her home in Birmingham with her husband Dan, and practices yoga at a local studio.

“My sister is a yoga instructor, so when our family gets together, I enjoy practicing with my three sisters and my mother.”

She also plays soccer year round, indoor and outdoor, in various coed leagues including the Detroit City Football League that plays on Belle Isle and on fields at Detroit’s historic Fort Wayne. Currently, she also is involved in an annual neighborhood cleanup in Detroit with one of her teams.

Active in various communities that are conveniently connected, she enjoys living and working in the greater Detroit area.

“There’s so much to do,” she says. “Downtown Detroit always has cool little events. It’s easy to get to know your legal colleagues and opposition in a social setting. I think that helps for better working relationships because you can be civil to each other rather than experiencing the adversarial relationship of the courtroom.”

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