Plaintiff's attorney takes the needs of his clients to heart

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by Tom Kirvan
Legal News

After spending the first 16 years of his career defending clients like insurance companies and a giant automaker, Nick Andrews decided to cross the proverbial line to do “God’s work.”

Those last two words were not uttered by Andrews when he had a change of legal heart 15 years ago. Instead, they came from his now longtime law partner, Arthur Liss, founder of the Bloomfield Hills firm that bears his name.

Liss, who has been a prominent plaintiff’s attorney for most of his 47-year legal career, bumped into Andrews at a 2005 investiture for a 36th District Court judge. The two had crossed paths periodically  and had a serious case of mutual respect despite their plaintiff-defendant differences.

“When I saw Arthur at the investiture, he asked if I ‘ever thought about doing God’s work,’” Andrews said.

Andrews had a ready response. “I replied, ‘I am,’” Andrews said in recalling the remark.

Now, 15 years later, Andrews and Liss can view the anecdotal story in a shared light, in which they see their names on the letterhead at the firm of Liss, Seder & Andrews, P.C. The firm specializes in no-fault litigation involving catastrophic brain or spinal cord injuries, and includes longtime partner Karen Seder, who has been with Liss since he opened the practice over 25 years ago.

Andrews may have inherited his dedication while under the wing of his father, retired Oakland County Circuit Judge Steven Andrews. The former jurist, who retired in 2008 after serving on the bench for more than three decades, had a well-earned “no-nonsense” reputation and was consistently rated as one of the “Most  Respected Judges of Michigan” in polls conducted by Michigan Lawyers Weekly.

“My father was – and is – one of my legal mentors, along with Arthur [Liss], of course,” said Andrews. “He set a very high bar for everyone in the family to follow.”

Andrews has two sisters, Mary and Elisabeth. Mary is an attorney and formerly worked in the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office, while Elisabeth formerly served as a paralegal.

In fact, the legal lines run deep throughout the family. At one point, each of the couple’s children was married to an attorney, which invariably made for some spirited discussion around the dinner table at family get-togethers, according to Andrews.

“Let’s just say there is no shortage of opinions,” Andrews said with a smile.

One more opinion figures to be added to the mix this fall when Andrews’ older son, 23-year-old Steven, enrolls at Michigan State University College of Law, who will get a jump on his legal education this summer when he takes the patent bar exam as a prelude to pursuing a career in patent law.

“He has been busy preparing for the exam, which can be taken by college graduates with degrees in the sciences and engineering,” said Andrews. “He has the smarts to do well.”

The elder Andrews was a philosophy and history major at Miami University of Ohio. “My father was neither encouraging or discouraging about attending law school,” said Andrews, who eventually enrolled in Detroit College of Law.

Following graduation from DCL in 1989, Andrews joined an insurance defense firm in Metro Detroit, spending seven years there before taking his courtroom talents to a firm that handled defense work for General Motors.

“We specialized in handling ‘old vehicle cases,’ representing a GM executive or one of their family members in accident cases,” Andrews explained. “GM never shied away from trying a case. Consequently, as a young lawyer, I tried a lot of cases.”

One in particular stands out for Andrews. It involved a pedestrian/vehicle accident in which the driver of the GM car was accused of negligence in the civil action.

“I appeared in court that day to ask for an adjournment since the lawyer from our firm who was handling the case had a conflict,” Andrews explained.

The Oakland County Circuit Court judge, however, was in no mood for such a motion, telling Andrews, “Get ready, we’re trying the case today.”

Which he did, eventually prevailing in a two-day trial that proved to be an early baptism under fire for the young attorney.

Andrews admits he has “learned by watching other lawyers in action,” a habit he began while his father was on the bench.

“I used to stop by his courtroom as often as I could, to glean as much as I could from how he handled evidentiary questions and how attorneys presented their cases....,” Andrews said. “Those visits offered a great education.”

So did the transition from defense to plaintiff work.

“My first trial as a plaintiff’s attorney involved a third party case in which a young woman suffered a severe back injury in an auto accident,” Andrews recalled. “Judge [Robert] Colombo pre-
sided over the case, and he is as close to my dad as you’re going to get for running a tight ship in court.”

The case proved to be a harbinger for Andrews in his role as a plaintiff’s advocate. “We received a great verdict, one that exceeded the policy limits,” Andrews related. “But I was not happy because I had asked for more. It was then that Arthur knew that I was cut out for this kind of work, that I was a true believer in what we do for our clients.”

 

Accident victims could face ‘unintended consequences’ under No-Fault reform bill
 

by Tom Kirvan
Legal News

The case seemingly had the potential to change the lives of severely injured accident victims in Michigan in a precedent-setting way.

Now, little more than a month later, the impact of Idziak/Harper v. USAA may be far less than first thought due to the recent passage of the automobile no-fault insurance reform bill.

That’s the view of attorney Nick Andrews, who represented accident victim Avoryonna Harper and her mother, Marian Idziak, in the case against the insurance company and the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association (MCCA).

The case stemmed from a May 2017 accident which left Harper, a passenger on a motorcycle, with a traumatic brain injury, unable to perform basic functions.

“Avory was profoundly injured in the accident... In effect, she is a child in an adult’s body,” said Andrews.  “She spent several months in a rehabilitation facility, then a step-down facility, before she ended up in the care of her mother at home.”

The plaintiff was prescribed 24-hour attendant care in the home setting, but USAA failed to pay any benefits before the claim was assigned to an adjuster.

“This went on for several months before our firm got involved, causing great financial hardship for the family,” Andrews said. “They had to move out of their apartment because they couldn’t pay the rent... It was an absolute nightmare for them.”

After a default ruling was issued against USAA for failure to respond to the complaint in a timely fashion, the insurance company finally filed an affidavit that it would mount a defense, according to Andrews.

“But the delays continued through the discovery process, causing even more financial hardship on our client,” said Andrews.

As the case proceeded to trial, Andrews cross-examined one of the defense’s expert witnesses, who after five hours of testimony decided to withdraw from the case after it became clear to her that the level of care that the plaintiff needed would cost far more than what USAA was offering.

“When your own expert witness decides to bow out of the case, that’s a pretty strong indication that you’re headed down the wrong road,” Andrews said of the defendant’s legal strategy.

In April, the case was tried before Oakland County Circuit Judge Cheryl Matthews.

“Avory’s doctor was a terrific witness, speaking in plain and understandable terms about her condition and how much attendant care she will need for the rest of her life,” Andrews related. “Her mom, who was very nervous about testifying, was even more compelling on the witness stand, describing in detail the challenges she and other care-givers face 24 hours a day with Avory. There wasn’t a dry eye in the courtroom at times as she described the sacrifices she has made to provide care for her daughter.”

After a three-day trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, setting a $33 hourly rate for attendant care as opposed to the $12 per hour rate the insurer initially paid, indicated Andrews, who said the case could have been settled for less had the MCCA not forced the case to trial. The rate was ordered paid retroactive to Feb. 2018.

While the legal triumph was sweet for the plaintiff, the afterglow was dampened in May when the State Legislature passed a no-fault reform bill, said Andrews.

“This new law does not fully protect victims involved in catastrophic loss cases,” Andrews contended. “The legislation completely missed the mark in situations where attendant care is provided by a loved one.”

Andrews said the new law fails to take into account that “long term patients always do better in the home environment, where their quality of life is enhanced” by receiving care from a family member.

“Under the new law, Avory won’t be able to have her mother provide care for more than 56 hours a week,” Andrews explained. “The remaining time, 112 hours, will have to be covered by someone from the outside, someone who undoubtedly will not be as attentive and compassionate as Avory’s mom.”

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