There are no small cases, only small lawyers. And Tom Spooner certainly isn’t one of them. While Spooner’s no stranger to huge settlements and high-octane cases, at the end of the day it comes down to a quest for justice, and oftentimes that means fighting for just a single deserving underdog.

Having been lead attorney in over 100 trials and arbitrations, Spooner has more than proven himself in state and federal courtrooms throughout Oregon. His grounded and meticulous nature, his empathy and dedication to justice make him truly stand out amongst his peers. Spooner believes in showing respect for all involved in these often harrowing and life-altering incidents.

A recent leap from “one side of the V” to the other finds Spooner, along with his firm Spooner Staggs Trial Lawyers, firmly footed on the plaintiffs’ side, after spending most of his career aggressively defending insurance companies. Recently, the firm started to notice a change in how claims were being handled by insurance companies. As the companies increasingly relied on cold AI and algorithms to make the settlement decisions, Spooner knew it was time to rethink their practice.

It was a seamless switch for Spooner, who has always been motivated to seek justice. His ability to guide people through the obstacle course of the insurance industry with ease and expertise is an incredible asset for clients – and garners big wins for the firm.

“We have such an in-depth insight into insurance coverage issues from having worked on the defense side, that I know immediately when something doesn’t smell right,” Spooner says. “Whether you get a jury verdict of half a million dollars or you help a kid pay for his car, at the end of the day, it's the same amount of satisfaction to me – helping someone to navigate the system.”

That kid was a 21-year-old, living with his parents, who found himself at the mercy of a big insurance company who thought they could sweep him and his expenses under the rug. That’s where Spooner came in.

“I was looking at it thinking, this isn't right, you're getting screwed,” says Spooner. “This was his first car, he's working a full-time job and trying to get his life started – it was important to us to help this kid.”

Spooner brought his full force to this relatively small claim and made an enormous impact for this young man, shaping the way he sees the world and himself in it. And that, according to Spooner, is a great way to value success.

Lawdragon: Your father is celebrated trial lawyer Ralph Spooner. Did that have any impact on your decision to go into law?

Tom Spooner: Growing up, my dad would take my siblings and me to work with him. He would pull us out of school when he was doing a trial or a significant summary judgment hearing and have us come watch him work. He wasn't doing it to force us to be lawyers, but rather to show us what the world was like outside of school and what he was up to each day. It had a big impact on me regarding how to carry myself in the world, how to deal with people, how to talk to people.

In college, I didn’t plan to get into law. After college I was working as a fishing guide. So much of that job wasn't about fishing; it was about spending an entire day with people, just talking about their lives and backgrounds – people from all walks of life. That actually motivated me to go to law school. I got into the University of Oregon and once I was there, I loved being in law school.

They were hitting all those angles of age discrimination in front of the jury. It’s a tough thing for the client to have to navigate... So that was a very satisfying win.

So many of my classmates had fantastical ideas about what it was to be a lawyer, but I really knew what I was getting into. Being exposed to my father’s practice as a trial lawyer steered me in that direction once I was in law school. I knew what I liked about being a lawyer was being in the courtroom.

LD: Tell us about a case that stands out in your career on the defense side.

TS: I had a very interesting construction case, and those cases primarily deal with contract disputes. But in Oregon, a party – a building owner or a homeowner – can make a claim for negligent construction outside of the terms of the contract. This was the situation regarding an apartment building project where I represented the general contractor. There is a standard AIA form contract that gets used on commercial projects that is favorable to architects and general contractors.

There were multimillion-dollar claims against our client on this apartment building. Normally in Oregon, the breach of contract statute of limitations is six years from the date of the breach and the negligence statute of limitations is two years from when you discover the damage to your building. But this AIA contract has an accrual clause that threw that all out the window. The statutes of limitations start running from substantial completion of the project and the limitation period is just two years for any type of claim. At the time, this clause had never been tested in Oregon courts. It had been used a lot, but no one had ever actually litigated it. We filed a motion for summary judgment and won. The court ruled that yes, this clause is enforceable.

The building owner appealed, and it was heard by our court of appeals. We did an enormous amount of legal research from different courts around the country and provided examples of exemplary case law. Based on our research, the court of appeals upheld the trial court's decision and agreed with us, finding that it was a proper contract clause under Oregon law. The building owner appealed to the Oregon State Supreme Court and they denied to review it – essentially saying they wholeheartedly agreed with the lower court’s decision.


That was a major feather in my cap because it was an issue that had never been dealt with before in Oregon. It effectively created a new law on these very popular construction contracts.

LD: Spooner Staggs recently switched from the defense to the plaintiffs’ side. Tell us a bit about that transition.

TS: What I've enjoyed so much about the plaintiffs’ side is the full spectrum of types of clients and cases that I've handled – from big to small. This past year I did a four-day jury trial representing a client who was run off the road by a semi-truck in a hit-and-run crash. From day one the semi-truck driver just denied having anything to do with it, despite multiple witnesses to the accident.

My client was a Vietnam veteran who had built a great 25-year career in commercial real estate development. He was past retirement age but enjoyed his job and earned a significant commission-based income. The accident had a big impact on him physically and prevented him from working while he was undergoing treatment for his injuries. The trucking company completely denied any responsibility and put on the full defense – we're not at fault, the plaintiff caused the accident, and he wasn't injured. And if he was injured, it wasn't bad. And he didn't need to take time off work. And he shouldn't have been working at all because he's at retirement age. It was endless.

The truck driver was an experienced older guy, but the company didn’t do much driver training. According to his GPS from the day of the accident, he didn't know where he was going, he missed his turn and was driving this crazy loop around all these side streets. He was turning left from the far right-hand lane, on a multi-lane one-way street, across the other lanes. That's when he hit my client and forced him off the road into a concrete utility vault.

The jury found the trucking company and their driver at fault for the accident, awarded my client $200,000 in pain and suffering – which for Oregon was very significant because my client didn't require any surgical procedures. His injuries would be classified as purely “soft tissue.” And a six-figure jury verdict for a soft-tissue injury case is not common in Oregon. In addition, they gave my client the equivalent to about a year-and-a-half of his lost income, which was roughly $350,000, plus medical expenses. All told the verdict was just over $600,000.

LD: It sounds like the defense was veering into age discrimination.

TS: Yes absolutely. They hammered on that in this case. He's an old guy with lots of existing aches and pains, he's well past retirement age, he doesn't even need to be working. They were hitting all those angles of age discrimination in front of the jury. It’s a tough thing for the client to have to navigate. Their case is being devalued by this defense attorney purely because he happens to be 72 years old. So that was a very satisfying win for him.

I have another personal injury client who was in a terrible car wreck. He’s 21 and lives with his parents and was young enough to be on his parents' insurance policy. And the policy had his car on it, but the insurance agent didn't add his name to the policy. The insurance company had sent all these denial letters to the family, trying to deny coverage for the total loss of his car. So, I contacted them to ask for a copy of the insurance policy to review. They kept dragging their feet on that, then they would subtly send me incomplete copies. It felt wrong, like they were hiding something, or hoping they could sneak something past me. I’m too experienced for that; I kept pushing them. "Hey, you're missing these pages. You're missing these specific endorsements." I kept on top of them – I could tell they were hoping I’d forget or lose interest. Not a chance. It took almost three months to get a full copy of the policy.

But once they did, I could see the Oregon endorsements deleted the language that they'd been relying on to deny coverage for his total loss. I sent them a nasty letter, calling them on their misconduct and demanding full payment for the vehicle along with other damages they then owed for wrongfully denying the claim. At that point, they knew I had them, and they promptly paid his total loss, his bank loan, plus the bank’s penalty for when they thought he was uninsured. They also paid eight months of prejudgment interest that we would've been able to recover had I filed suit against them, plus my attorney fees. It got this decent young kid back on his feet and able to get a fresh start. We all felt really good about this. Law is just a tool that can be used to accomplish certain goals, and it’s nice to be able to use our training and experience to use it to help people.

LD: I can imagine a lot of lawyers would look at this as small potatoes, but that must have made such a huge difference for your client.

It felt wrong, like they were hiding something, or hoping they could sneak something past me. I’m too experienced for that; I kept pushing them.

TS: We have such an in-depth knowledge of insurance coverage issues from having worked on the defense side that I know when something doesn’t smell right. And this denial just didn’t make sense. It isn't right and I know how to help. Whether you get a million-dollar jury verdict or help a kid out get the $12,000 he deserves for his totaled car. At the end of the day, it's the same amount of satisfaction and gratification for me. I just like helping people where I can.

LD: Has your style changed at all now that you have moved over to the plaintiff side?

TS: No, I win cases by being really detail oriented, and that works on both sides of the aisle. When I was on the defense side, I would often see  a plaintiffs’ lawyer who didn’t know the documents well enough, or missed small things in the medical records, or was  mired in the details. And if you know the minutiae better than your opponents, you have such a huge strategic advantage. I approach my plaintiff cases the same way. It really is the little stuff that can win cases.

LD: What advice do you have for younger lawyers who want to have a career in the courtroom?

TS: My first piece of advice is one that my father gave me which is, the number one thing is to be yourself. Don't try to create a different persona for the courtroom. When someone puts on a false façade – jurors immediately see through that. They want to see your true, authentic self.

Additionally, always be polite and professional to your colleagues, to the court, and the court staff. No matter how crappy your day is going, and no matter how badly the other side is acting – stay polite. That's a big factor to success. In our courthouses, there's not a separate entrance for jurors. You're coming in through the same security area, you're using the same stairways, you're riding the same elevators. Then when you're in the courtroom, they see everything. If you have a single moment where you're not being professional, there's a good chance a juror will see that, and that could tank your whole case.

Then the last thing I would say is – show up prepared. Don't think you can figure it out on the fly. Have a clear game plan and stick to the plan. Even if it may feel chaotic, the fact that you are following a simple strategic plan will usually get you a better result.

LD: What keeps you motivated about the work that you do?

TS: It's always been about helping people in their darkest times, helping them navigate the system that we have, regardless of what side you're on. On the plaintiff side, you've got a person who has been injured and has the stress of dealing with injuries and medical bills. I help them get a just recovery. It's a very stressful time for people and being able to guide them through something that's very unfamiliar for them at a very difficult time in a person's life – that’s very motivating.