Photo by Michelle Nolan.

Photo by Michelle Nolan.

For some lawyers, the craft is in your blood. Not only was Joseph Power’s father a lawyer and a judge (Chief Judge Joseph A. Power of Cook County Criminal Court in Chicago), but he has two brothers and a sister who are lawyers, and his own son is a lawyer, too. Power and his son, James, now work alongside each other at Power Rogers, a prominent personal injury firm in Chicago.

A Catholic and a Democrat, Power grew up in the inner city of Chicago. He’s naturally driven to help others and thinks about his cases from every conceivable angle. A bulldog in the courtroom, this Lawdragon Hall of Famer has had astounding successes in a multitude of trials over his decades-long career.

Power has tried a wide variety of cases, from big trucking accidents to defamation to products liability. He often represents individuals up against large companies; he’s also represented sophisticated entities, including a recent case for a large law firm seeking $5M in unpaid billing.

In one blockbuster case, Power represented a conservative Baptist minister, Pastor Duane Scott Willis, and his wife Janet, who lost six of their nine children in a van fire. In pursuing discovery of the accident, Power uncovered not only a defective fuel tank and faulty tailgate welding, but a massive bribery scheme that awarded unqualified truck drivers licenses in exchange for supposed political contributions. The case led to 74 criminal convictions, including that of former Illinois Governor George Ryan, who went to federal prison in 2007. Power secured a $100M recovery for the family, whom he keeps in touch with to this day. 

More recently, he and his son tried a case for a truck driver who lost both his legs when cargo was dropped on him. They brought the case against both the company that loaded the cargo and the forklift operator and obtained a verdict of $95.4M.

Lawdragon: You have done all sorts of cases in your career, and trucking accidents seem to be a particularly bright spot for you. Why would you say that is?

Joseph Power: Probably 95 percent of lawyers don’t actually try cases. So, when a case is really going to trial, they seek out the few lawyers who have the experience. For that reason, a lot of trucking cases come my way.   

I just happen to know that there's a lot of different ways in which you can recover money damages. You can't just think of it as a trucking case, because if you just pursue the trucking company, they only have a million in coverage, right? Is there other insurance coverage?  You may have a broker involved. You may have various entities, the trailer, the tractor. Who owns them? What’s their culpability, in fact or in law?

The Willis case speaks to this. We had a trucking company that said they're not even going to pay their million dollars, and by hook or by crook, we found nine or 10 different defendants who all paid seven or eight figures to settle the case.

You have to think about who did wrong. The person who worked for the railroad who released the truck onto the roadway – we sued them. We brought action against Chrysler. We did testing and learned they did not protect the gas tank as much as they protected the oil pan, and we had an expert who said they did that because they were more worried about warranty claims. So, they made sure that the oil pan would not be penetrated by foreign objects but not the gas tank. The oil pan was twice as thick as the gas tank based on our testing, and so when this object hit the oil pan, it didn't perforate, but then it went back and went right through the gas tank and the floorboard and created an opening for the gasoline to enter and cause a fire in the van.

One way or another, there are often many entities responsible for a tragedy, and had they acted differently, it would have been prevented.

LD: You secured the largest medical malpractice verdict that went to judgment in Illinois. Can you tell us about that case?

JP: Mrs. Medeiros went in to have a test done on her lungs, the bronchoscope, and unfortunately, she aspirated. The oximeter told them that she was having problems and she needed to be intubated. But they didn't do anything. They delayed it for too long, and she ended up with anoxic brain damage.

Aside from the negligence of the defendants, there was an issue of whether she was conscious or not. If she's not conscious, that would mean that there would be no recovery for pain and suffering, and the noneconomic damages. We demonstrated that, when she watched TV cartoons in Spanish, she would laugh. In addition, when her husband would tell her jokes, she would also laugh.

That was the only real way in which we could demonstrate that she was aware, that she had what's called Locked-in Syndrome. Even though she seemingly was unconscious otherwise, when she heard things in Spanish that made her laugh, she did. So, we were able to prove conscious pain and suffering because she was aware.

We won a $55M jury verdict in that case, including a $15M loss of consortium award for the husband. I also ended up being the godfather of one of her grandchildren.

One way or another, there are often many entities responsible for a tragedy, and had they acted differently, it would have been prevented.

LD: Do you often form personal bonds with your clients?

JP: I keep in touch with the clients. I'm available for all clients whenever they want. I don't want to intrude on their lives. Once we recover money damages, we hopefully ease their burden so they can move forward in their life. That's my hope for them, and I'm always available.

Some still visit me; Scott and Janet Willis were just here. They are doing well now, retired in Florida. Others will call me, telling me what they're up to, wondering how the grandkids are doing and things of that nature. We share a bond with all our clients, and it’s always very satisfying to see them living well after going through such tragedies.

LD: Backing up now. Your dad had such a successful legal career. Did he encourage you to go into the law?

JP: I’ve been excited about the law since I was very, very young. My dad probably played a role, but he didn’t push me or encourage me. He left that up to me.

I didn't know how or what kind of law I'd get into when I first started. But then, I got a job while I was in law school as a law clerk, and I became interested in this particular area of law because I felt very bad for those people who were severely injured, or who lost a loved one due to the carelessness of another.

LD: Can you recall some of those early cases that drew you to focus on personal injury?

JP: There were so many of them. I remember one when I was a law clerk, I was doing what's called answers to interrogatories, responding to discovery. I found out this poor guy was killed by a drunk driver. The guy only had like $25,000 in insurance, and he left a young family – four children. It was so tragic, and there was no real route for the family to recover because he had such minimal insurance coverage.

LD: And tell me about your first million-dollar verdict. How old were you, and what was the case?

JP: It was a wrongful death case that I tried against the railroad. I was 28. A young man was killed by a train in a tragic occurrence, and I represented his widow. This poor lady lost her husband at a very young age, 24. She ended up living with another individual, and that fellow got leukemia. Her daughter got very ill, as well, before trial. It was very, very sad, the circumstance of the case.

I inherited the case because frankly, no one else wanted to try it. It was a very old and difficult case. The young man had a clear view of the train coming from his right, and there were no obstacles, no trees or anything to block his view. They had only offered $75,000 to settle it.

So, I got an expert on it, and we said the train was going too fast for the circumstances, because they didn't have a bar, gate or crossarm that would come down and block the intersection. No flashing lights or anything. Our position was that they should’ve had something to alert people from crossing when a train was coming. We were able to prevail.

I felt very bad for this woman and her family, and I was fortunate enough to be able to try the case and be successful. We ended up collecting every penny after the appeal by the defense failed. It was very gratifying.

LD: And then when did you start your own firm?

JP: I was working with a fellow named Jack Hayes, who I started clerking with, and then I worked as an associate. I became his partner, and he became ill and retired. So, I carried on with the firm. Eventually, it spun into my own firm. 

LD: And when did Larry Rogers join you?

JP: I first met Larry when I was in law school. I used to park my car next to White Sox Park and take the L train down. My car was an older and oftentimes, it didn't start. Larry’s brother's gas station was across the street, so I would go in there to get a jump or get gas and things like that. I met Larry, and Larry had dropped out of law school at the time because he had three jobs, trying to take care of his family. We became friends, and I encouraged him to go back to law school. I arranged for Jack Hayes to hire him as a law clerk. He passed the bar exam after graduating law school, and we eventually became partners.

LD: Do your styles complement each other?

JP: I’m probably a little bit meaner and tougher on our opponents than Larry. But now Larry Jr. has come along, and I think he’s outdoing me. He’s more of a pit bull than I was. I used to be the bad cop when Larry Sr. and I would try a case together. Now, I'm the good cop when I try cases with Larry Jr.

LD: You have a stunning trial record. To what do you attribute your success?  

JP: Hard work. I never break my word with defense lawyers or anyone else, and I'm the same with the jury. I’m honest and try to be trustworthy with my opponents, with the court, with the jury. I think it comes across. I never overpromise. I deliver what I promise.

Plus, growing up in the inner city of Chicago, you're also educated in the school of hard knocks. So, I'm pretty good at knowing who the best jurors will be. In the City of Chicago, County Cook, I know where everyone lives. I know the cultures; I know their tendencies. That’s been very helpful to me in picking a jury.

We share a bond with all our clients, and it’s always very satisfying to see them living well after going through such tragedies.

LD: Do you have any advice for young lawyers who want to have a career in the courtroom?

JP: Take smaller cases at first to learn your craft. That’s what I did, and it’s how you develop. You get the experience then move on to bigger cases.

Other than that, just work hard, be honest, and return the phone calls of your client. You may be surprised to hear it, but that can be a problem with lawyers. Sometimes you have to deliver bad news, and you just need to bite the bullet and do it. Return the call. If you wait, it’s going to get worse.

LD: Do you have any upcoming trials you can talk about?

JP: I have case coming up next year involving a man who lost both legs at a 7-Eleven store. It has to do with the failure to place bollards to protect people who go in and out of these stores. You put bollards up because it's a well-known phenomenon that people, when they're pulling into parking lots, moving to stop, they accidentally step on the gas instead of the brake. It happens quite a bit. The curb will only protect vehicles going two miles an hour or less, that’s it. Any faster than that, they’ll override the curb and can hit someone or hit the store. My client lost both legs because of this. So, it's our position that they should have bollards up that would protect people in the event of going over the curb.

I have another case coming up involving a City of Chicago employee who lost his life. He was a bricklayer who was outside what's called a trench box, and the trench collapsed on him and ended up killing him. I'm pursuing that case against a consultant for City of Chicago who we're saying did not protect him by any pre-construction safety plan, which would've made sure that he had protection when he had to work outside the trench box. You can work inside the trench box and do certain things, but when you have to connect the private sewer to the public sewer, you need to get outside the trench box, and they should've had a plan to protect the sides of the trench so it wouldn't collapse on him.

LD: You’ll have to keep us posted on the results. What would you say is the most fulfilling aspect of your career?

JP: Taking care of people. When I'm successful in pursuing a case, seeing that I'm going to ease their burdens. Even though I can't take away the pain, you can make their life less painful by having some comforts they would not otherwise have. You help them get the care that's necessary, that they would not otherwise have, the medicine that's necessary to ease their pain, the assistance in and around the home that they need. It’s comforting to me, that I'm able to deliver that for my clients and make their lives more bearable.