Higher calling Plaintiff's attorney takes needs of clients to heart

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By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

After spending the first 16 years of his career defending the likes of insurance companies and a giant automaker, attorney 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 the change of legal heart some 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 the bulk of his 47-year legal career, bumped into Andrews at a 2005 investiture for a 36th District Court judge in Detroit.

The two had crossed paths periodically over the years 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, seldom at a loss for words either inside or outside a courtroom, had a ready response.

“I replied, ‘I am,’” Andrews said in recalling the remark, which undoubtedly provoked some joint laughter.

Now, 15 years later, Andrews and Liss can view the anecdotal story in a shared light, one in which they see their names on the legal 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, a Wayne State Law School grad who has been with Liss since he opened the practice more than 25 years ago.

In an interview last year with The Legal News, Liss credited a “team approach” for his firm’s success, heaping praise on his partners, Andrews and Seder.

“They each bring incredible skillsets to the firm,” said Liss. “They are each extremely talented, and are dedicated to the cause of the client. You probably couldn’t find three more different personalities in one firm, but we are united in our legal approach and our desire to serve our clients, however much we have to invest in a case and how long it takes.”

Andrews may have inherited such 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.”

One of three children, Andrews has two sisters, Mary and Elisabeth. Mary is an attorney and formerly worked in the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office, while Elisabeth, named after her mother, 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.

The Kalamazoo College grad, who earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry, 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.”

As does Andrews’ other son, 21-year-old Thomas, who is enrolled in the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

“It’s one of the top business schools in the west and a degree from there should be a great building block for whatever career he wants to pursue,” said Andrews of his younger son.

During his collegiate days, Andrews was a philosophy and history major at Miami University, graduating in 1986 from the Mid-American Conference school in Oxford, Ohio.

“My father was neither encouraging or discouraging about attending law school,” said Andrews, who eventually enrolled in Detroit College of Law, which formerly was stationed where Comerica Park sits today.

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 while at the firm.”

One case in particular stands out, Andrews acknowledged. 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 to “Get ready, we’re trying the case today.”

“When I tried to explain that I was only appearing in court to seek an adjournment and that I didn’t have any knowledge about the facts of the case, she said something to the effect that ‘you better start learning it,’” Andrews recalled, giving him 15 minutes to “get up to speed on the case.”

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

Later, when he crossed paths with the judge outside the confines of the courtroom, Andrews received an unusual greeting.

“She said, ‘You never thanked me for that case,’” Andrews related. “I wanted to say something in response like, ‘What, for throwing me under the bus?’ but I decided not to say much of anything instead.”

It proved to be a wise move, since the judge still is a member of the bench, according to Andrews, and is “one of the best judges around.”

Andrews admits that 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 before him,” Andrews said. “Those visits offered a great education.”

So did the transition from defense to plaintiff work 15 years ago, said Andrews.

“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 presided over the case, and he is as close to my dad as you’re going to get for running a tight ship in court.”

As it turned out, 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.”

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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 across 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 in Michigan.

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

The case stemmed from a May 2017 accident in which the 21-year-old Harper was a passenger on a motorcycle. The crash, which investigators said was caused by the intoxicated driver of the motorcycle, left Harper with a traumatic brain injury and an inability to perform basic functions.

“Avory was profoundly injured in the accident with the car, leaving her in the 1 percentile range for memory and virtually no inhibitions when it comes to behavior,” said Andrews. “In effect, she is a child in an adult’s body.

“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,” Andrews indicated.

The plaintiff was prescribed 24-hour attendant care in the home setting, according to Andrews, 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, ending up in a motel that, shall we say, was less than desirable. 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 with the plaintiff’s doctor and mother serving as key witnesses, Andrews indicated.

“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, nearly three times 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 February 19, 2018.

And while the legal triumph was sweet for the plaintiff, the afterglow was dampened in late May when the 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 that 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.”

This provision of the bill will take effect July 1, 2021 and will “leave thousands of patients like Avory” in the lurch as they seek adequate attendant care, according to Andrews.

“This is another case of the state legislature doing something in haste that will have unintended consequences for many of our most vulnerable citizens,” Andrews proclaimed. “Whatever minimal cost savings there will be for consumers on their auto insurance policies, the cost will be enormous for those accident victims needing long term medical care. At this point, there is no way to put a price on the suffering they will experience from this bill.”
 

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