Lawyer Limelight: Michael Sorich

A former prosecutor in Chicago, Michael Sorich made the transition to plaintiff work and has since built a robust personal injury practice, garnering big wins and setting key precedents. He was on the trial team on the closely watched “Code of Silence” case surrounding an off duty Chicago police officer who fatally struck someone with his car while driving drunk, resulting in a $20 million settlement and a reckoning on police culture in Chicago. He attended the John Marshall Law School and is currently a partner at Cavanagh Law Group.

Lawdragon: Why did you pursue a career in law? Can you walk us through your career path?

Michael Sorich: Before changing careers, my father worked as an undercover Chicago police officer. When I was growing up, he would share stories about some of the cases he worked on. That sparked my interest in law, and in college, I volunteered for the McLean County State’s Attorney’s Office in central Illinois. My experience there really solidified my desire to help people who were victims of violent crimes and suffered tragedies as a result of the actions of other people. I wanted to be an advocate for those victims in the courtroom.

After graduating college, I entered The John Marshall Law School in Chicago. I clerked for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, where I then worked for 13 years before coming to Cavanagh Law Group.

As soon as I became a prosecutor, I was assigned to a Cook County courtroom and quickly moved through the ranks to a felony courtroom. I was motivated and honored by the incredible responsibility of being an advocate for victims. It gave me tremendous satisfaction to help their voices be heard.

LD: How did you transition into becoming a plaintiff’s attorney?

MS: I always knew I wanted to become a plaintiff’s attorney. I think there are a lot of parallels between being a criminal prosecutor and being a plaintiff’s lawyer: Each has to be determined in gathering evidence and know how to effectively present that evidence to a jury. I tried hundreds of cases as a prosecutor, and that trial experience really helped my transition into plaintiff’s law. Presenting a personal injury case requires a lot of the same skills as putting on evidence in a murder or armed robbery case.

By moving into private practice, I knew I could help people who were catastrophically injured support themselves for the remainder of their lives. I’m also able to provide assurances and comfort for families who lose a loved one. In those tragic cases, nothing will ever bring that person back, and nothing will ever make that family whole again. But we can at least use the civil courts system to give families some sense of justice, some answers, and help paying medical bills or other expenses.

LD: Out of all the work you’ve done in your career, what would you say is the most interesting matter you’ve handled?

MS: There are a couple that come to mind, but the most significant was a Chicago Police Department “Code of Silence” case that settled for $20 million during closing arguments in federal court in 2017.

An off-duty Chicago police detective killed two men when he crashed into their car on the side of a Chicago freeway in 2009. He was driving drunk with a blood-alcohol content that was more than three times the legal limit. He had a history of drunken driving, but his fellow officers always looked the other way in previous situations. That emboldened him to continue to drink and drive.

There were certainly challenges in that case to prove the “Code of Silence” existed and that it was a moving force, but the way some of our biggest evidence was produced at trial truly conveyed our argument. We learned in the middle of the trial that certain documents had been hidden from us. The city was compelled to turn them over, and then ultimately settled for $20 million during closing arguments. I worked on that case with Tim Cavanagh, who founded Cavanagh Law Group, for eight years. I was proud to help the victims’ families during the worst time of their lives and to shed light on just how dangerous the “Code of Silence” really is.

LD: Is there another matter or client in your career that stands out as particularly memorable for certain reasons?

MS: Tim Cavanagh and I handled a case against Metra in 2017 that resulted in a $7.5 million settlement. Our client sustained a catastrophic brain injury after she was hit by a commuter train on the South Side of Chicago.

On the day of occurrence, Metra was doing construction on the tracks, and unbeknownst to our client, reversed the flow of train traffic. As she was looking north waiting for her train, she was hit by a southbound train. The woman survived, but can no longer care for herself. One of her daughters had to essentially devote her life to her mother by becoming a full-time caregiver.

Metra didn’t provide enough direction or warning about the construction and train traffic that day. It was a hotly disputed liability case, and we retained several experts. The settlement was memorable because it provided some comfort to our client’s adult children, who can now afford a caregiver.

Another case that stands out is Kriete-Green vs. Montelongo, which settled days before trial for $5.9 million. Our client, Daniel Green, was working in a construction zone in Elmhurst in 2011 when he was hit and killed by a semi-truck. Dan was bent over cutting a pipe off the roadway when a truck making a right-hand turn jumped the curb and ran him over. Dan was a marvelous guy. He was married, and a few years earlier, had started an annual benefit that raised a lot of money for his local park and community. His wife now hosts that benefit every year.

There were contractors, subcontractors and engineers all out monitoring the construction zone. But what they failed to do was set up a traffic configuration that directed trucks away from the construction work zone. All they had to do was put up cones, barrels or drums, just some kind of barricade, to provide a buffer for the workers.

Dan’s case is relevant now because multiple state troopers and construction workers have been killed on Illinois highways in recent months. Cases like this one are a tragic reminder that there needs to be more traffic control for construction workers and law enforcement. Drivers don’t pay attention, and there are too many preventable deaths.

LD: Are there any trends you are seeing in your practice in terms of the types of matters keeping you busy these days?

MS: There are certainly more cases related to ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft. It’s paramount to have safe drivers on the road, and it should be a top priority for these companies to screen and vet their drivers. It’s definitely concerning that people are just getting into cars with strangers. I think it’s an emerging area of law, and we’ll see more suits being filed against those companies.

LD: Your firm has had a couple big settlement wins recently. Can you talk a bit about those?

MS: In October, Cavanagh Law Group obtained a $3.6 million settlement for the family of Theresa Szmurlo, who died of a ruptured brain aneurysm in 2015. Theresa went to an emergency room with a painful, persistent headache three days before she died. A radiologist found an intracranial abnormality on a CT scan and recommended an MRI, but Theresa was sent home without the test. Over the next two days, she sought a second opinion from a nurse practitioner and went to another emergency room. No one ever ordered an MRI, and Theresa died at the hospital. Minutes mattered in this case, and each doctor should’ve known our client needed immediate care.

Within the last 12 months, Cavanagh Law Group also obtained a $5 million settlement for a man who had his hand amputated by an industrial machine at work. The blades weren’t safeguarded, and there weren’t substantial warnings on the machine to keep employees safe. We settled two months before trial.

The firm also recently obtained a $1.5 million settlement on behalf of the estate of Raymond Johnson and Ruth Johnson. In 2017, a semi-truck driver who was texting and driving in a construction zone slammed into Raymond’s car, killing him instantly and leaving Ruth with serious injuries. The federal government only requires trucks to have $750,000 of liability insurance. It’s a law that was passed in the 1980s, and that number hasn’t risen with inflation. That’s extremely unfair to crash victims, and presently there is a proposed bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to increase the mandatory minimum for insurance on trucks.

LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?

MS: I have three little kids who take up a lot of my time when I am not in the office. My kids are 8, 7 and 4, so we spend a lot of our weekend at soccer and t-ball games.

LD: Are you involved in any pro bono or public interest activities?

MS: I’m on the board of Marist High School’s alumni law association on Chicago’s Far South Side. I think it’s important to give back to the community and share your experiences with others. I go to the school’s career fair every year because my education at Marist helped me become who I am. A lot of high school students don’t know what they want to do, so I like to discuss the law and explain how many opportunities there are in the field.