Former deputy named Top 40 under 40

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By Jo Mathis

Legal News

Chad Engelhardt is a medical malpractice attorney married to a medical malpractice defense attorney.

So guess what topic isn't discussed at the dinner table?

''People say, 'That's like oil and water. How can you two possibly be married?''' said Engelhardt, whose wife, Jennifer, works at a defense firm in Troy. ''But the fact is, with three kids and the activities of normal life, we don't have the time or the inclination to get into legal debates. If there's a debate, it's going to be about who's going to take the kids to soccer or change diapers. She usually wins!"

Jennifer Engelhardt notes that when all is said and done, her husband knows that he can be right, or he can be happy, and these are mutually exclusive.

''As such,'' she quipped, ''given that our practices are the polar opposite of each other, discussions about work are for the most part outlawed in our home, lest he decide that he'd rather spend the night on the couch.''

Engelhardt, a medical malpractice attorney with Moran, Raimi, Goethel & Karnani, P.C. in Ann Arbor, was recently named to the National Trial Lawyers Association's Top 40 Under 40, which honors 40 attorneys in each state who exemplify superior qualifications, trial results, and leadership.

''I just made it,'' said the 6-foot-4 Engelhardt, who is 39.

The two recently won a $2.5 million verdict for a young man who suffered a brain injury while undergoing surgery at an area hospital. After a three-week, heavily defended trial, the jury deliberated a day and a half before returning a verdict in favor of their client. That case will now likely end up in the appeals court for an extended period of time, according to Engelhardt. But if they prevail there, the case award will allow their client to receive the help and therapies he'll need to live the best quality of life under the circumstances, he indicated.

Engelhardt said for as much satisfaction as he gets from seeing justice done on behalf of a patient harmed by malpractice, he dislikes having to turn down a potential client who was seriously injured by medical negligence. They deserve to be compensated, but tort reform legislation in Michigan over the past decade has made that prospect increasingly difficult, Engelhardt claimed.

The public has a misperception about plaintiff lawyers in general, and malpractice attorneys in particular, he said.

''When they hear your job is to sue doctors and hospitals for their negligence, they've been conditioned to think that that impacts their own care,'' he said. ''If anything, medical malpractice suits are a check-and-balance on the system that create a safer system. Malpractice is not a simple case of a medical professional making a mistake. Medical malpractice occurs when physicians choose to violate patient safety rules," he explained.

After high school, Engelhardt became an Oakland County deputy sheriff, a career path he would follow for 12 years, as he went on to college and then law school.

In fact, his motive for attending law school was to further his law enforcement career and to eventually teach criminal justice and political science courses at the collegiate level.

But then as a student at Cooley Law School, he met Professor Joan Vestrand (now associate dean of the Ann Arbor campus), who inspired him.

''The reason I was a police officer was because I wanted to do good and make a difference in society,'' he said. ''She taught me that lawyers in general, if you practice good and ethically, you can make a difference and improve society.''

Upon reflection, Engelhardt said he wished he had started representing victims of medical negligence earlier because he's found the work to be so fulfilling. Instead, he represented police officers who had been accused of misconduct. He was a partner in a Southfield law firm when more than three years ago he jumped at the chance to work for Goethel.

''That opportunity was a golden one I couldn't pass up,'' he said. ''So I came to work for Steve as my teacher, my mentor, my leader. And things have gone remarkably well.''

Before he could practice in the medical malpractice field, Engelhardt went through a lot of training and tutelage under Goethel, a process that continues today.

''They call it the practice of law for a reason,'' he said. ''Because it's a continual process.''

The West Bloomfield native lives in Farmington Hills with his wife and daughters, Victoria, 14, and Riley, 2, and son, Sheldon, 17.

Engelhardt is the son of an emergency room physician, who is not surprisingly more supportive of his daughter-in-law's chosen career than his son's.

''But my father-in-law (a trial lawyer) is very supportive of my chosen career" he said, smiling.

The hardest part of his job is definitely being away from his family as much as he must, particularly during trials, which can last for weeks and require 16-hour days or longer.

"Luckily," he says, "I have been blessed with a very supportive family.''

Published: Thu, Feb 2, 2012

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