Losing a loved one or suffering a catastrophic injury is even more tragic if it was preventable but for the wrongdoing of a corporation, insurance company, government or hospital. The attorneys at McGinn, Montoya, Love & Curry recognize that most people who have experienced such horrific losses turn to the legal system to ensure that their suffering is not in vain.
“When the worst thing in the world has happened to somebody,” says partner Kathy Love, “we represent them.” Families want wrongdoers to be held accountable and they want changes so that other families do not have to suffer as they have. “Every single family that comes to us,” says Love, “tells us, ‘We are here because we don't want this to happen to someone else.’”
The firm, based in New Mexico, focuses its practice on wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases, including trucking collisions, medical malpractice injuries, sexual abuse, police shootings and dangerous products. Its goal is not only to obtain justice for clients, but also to make changes that make the whole community safer. The resounding question for the cases they take on is, as partner Elicia Montoya puts it, “How do we prevent this from happening again?”
The firm sees the importance of drawing attention to systemic dangers as a way to catalyze change. “Oftentimes, decisions are made to cut costs or increase productivity, but they end up having a dangerous impact on consumers or patients or drivers on the road,” says partner Katie Curry. “I love this work because there’s a huge opportunity to make a difference, to change things for the better.”
The firm recently settled a case against an out-of-state hospital corporation, and as part of the resolution, the company agreed to hold an annual symposium to educate medical providers about national trends in emergency room care.
In another case, a nursing home resident died of neglect, in large part, the firm discovered, because the company had no one in charge of overseeing its medical providers. As part of the settlement, the company agreed to ensure that there was a designated medical director to whom doctors and physician assistants were required to report.
The details are confidential, but the resolutions are typical of McGinn, Montoya, Love & Curry cases: The firm pursues justice by finding out why the tragedy occurred, then fights to hold the company or industry accountable either through trial or through negotiating changes to policies and practices as part of settlements.
Using the Law as a Force for Good
The drive to make systems safer is not just responsible lawyering – it is what matters most to the firm’s clients.
In fact, they’ve noticed a phenomenon that happens more often that one might think: They frequently need to follow up with clients to remind them to cash their settlement checks.
“Most people really don't like cashing a check for their child's life, or for their husband's or wife's life,” explains Love. “They’re there because they don't want this to happen again. They don't want their loved one to have died in vain and they don't want other families to have to suffer like this in the future.”
We spoke to the partners in the midst of preparation for simultaneous jury trials: one case against 7-Eleven and another against a health insurance company.
The resounding question for the cases they take on is,“How do we prevent this from happening again?”
The 7-Eleven case focused on a store in California where police were called multiple times a day in response to complaints of criminal activity. Still, the store hadn’t paid for any of its own security. One night, there was an attempted theft.
“Our client, a good Samaritan, tried to stop the theft,” says Montoya, “and ultimately got attacked with an ax.” The case went through about a week and a half of trial before it resolved.
The case against the insurance company was litigated in Santa Fe. The company had an incentive program for employees where, at the end of the year, whatever money was left over in the budget was dispersed to the employees in the form of bonuses. “It created this perverse incentive for the people who were making decisions about life-saving medical treatment,” says Love. “They knew that if they spent more on out-of-network hospitals, they would have less in their pockets at the end of the year.”
The firm represented the family of a man who died waiting for approval of an emergency surgery for an aortic dissection – a tear in the heart’s main artery – at an out-of-network hospital. “He was stonewalled by the insurance company for 27 days,” says Love. “His death was, sadly, completely unsurprising with a perverse system like that in place.”
The firm was spurred on in the case by some of the man’s last words, which were posted on Facebook: “I’m sitting in a hospital room waiting for my insurance company to determine what the cheapest option for them will be …. If I die because they sent me to the wrong place or didn’t send me anywhere at all, promise me that someone will sue the shit out of them.”
Speaking Truth to Power
In one particularly memorable case early in her career, Curry got a call from a woman who said her husband had been sexually assaulted during a doctor’s appointment in the prison where he was incarcerated. They started investigating, and discovered that this doctor was a serial abuser, regularly assaulting inmates who had no choice but to see him since he was the prison doctor.
“It speaks to one of the missions of our firm,” says Curry: “In addition to making real changes, we pride ourselves on representing the little person when there’s an abuse of power.”
As a result of that case, the firm worked with the company providing medical care to New Mexico prisons to implement a policy that a second person has to be present for any appointment that involves the examination of breasts or genitals.
“It was one of the first cases where I saw firsthand how this work can make a real difference on a larger scale,” says Curry.
In her 15 years of practice, while there is much progress to be made, Curry has seen a larger societal shift in terms of sexual abuse cases, precipitated by the #MeToo movement, which has brought a greater understanding to the experiences of survivors, including the fear and stigma that can prevent individuals from reporting abuse right away.
She also sees more awareness of the dynamics of power in these situations. “There’s a wider understanding now that not everyone is on a level playing field,” she says, “and that the power and trust inherent in the position of a teacher, doctor, priest or boss can play a significant role in precipitating abuse,” so there need to be checks in place.
They don't want their loved one to have died in vain and they don't want other families to have to suffer like this in the future.
The firm has battled for years against misconduct at the Albuquerque Police Department, representing innocent bystanders who were injured or killed in crashes caused during unnecessary police pursuits, and others who were wrongfully killed by police. They served as special prosecutors in a case in which a mentally ill man who was camping in public space in the foothills of Albuquerque was shot and killed by the APD SWAT team. Their work has brought to light a “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality and has contributed to an examination of policies and procedures within the department.
The partners have seen an uptick in trucking crash cases recently, which they trace to a lack of proper training in the industry.
“Companies are hiring inexperienced drivers and are not putting enough time into teaching them how to drive a truck, to study their routes ahead of time, to operate this heavy machinery,” says Montoya. “They’re taking shortcuts with safety and the results are deadly.”
They’re also currently serving as co-counsel with attorney Brian Panish for the family of deceased cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who was killed when Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun on the set of “Rust.” The wrongful death suit is being brought against Baldwin and the film’s producers, alleging negligence and an unsafe work environment, and that the armorer was unqualified and overworked.
A Family Affair
The attorneys at McGinn, Montoya, Love & Curry, a woman-owned firm, don’t view the demands of motherhood as inherently conflicting with their legal practices. When challenges arise, they make it work – which has meant nursing a baby in the back of the courtroom during trial, pumping breast milk during breaks in depositions, taking the red-eye to get home in time for piano recitals and signing back onto their computers late at night after the kids have gone to bed.
The partners’ children all know each other “like cousins,” says Love, and everyone’s whole family is invited to the annual firm retreat. The kids even pitch in with the admin: During some recent trial prep, Curry’s seven-year-old twins spent an evening cutting and pasting index cards for jury selection.
“They understand that lawyers are here to help people,” says Curry, “that it’s our job to see unfairness and preventable tragedy in the world and say, ‘That’s not ok.’”
The partners also test-drive their arguments and visuals on their families ahead of trial.
“We have really honest critics in our lives,” says Montoya. “Our kids will listen to our arguments and they’ll tell us if they’re bored. If they aren’t interested, no one else will be either."
“Our families are some of our best focus groups,” adds Love. “They all dive in and help out when we’re getting ready for trial. It really is a family affair.”
Love was the one who told us about the cut-and-paste story with Curry’s kids, because during our first scheduled interview, Curry couldn’t make it at the last minute due to a doctor’s appointment for her son. No one was remotely fazed.
“We all just really respect how important family is,” says Montoya. “When one of us has something going on with our families, everyone is right there, checking in on each other, encouraging us to take care of what needs to be taken care of.”
When a family issue comes up, “None of us are saying to each other, ‘Oh great, you’re going to be out of the office now,’” continues Montoya. “We say, ‘Of course you’re going to be out of the office for this.’”
For Montoya, the work, and her connection to her clients, comes from a place of deep understanding: Her father died from medical malpractice, just after she graduated law school and passed the bar. “That experience really fueled my passion and commitment to keep doing this work,” she says.
The sense of family extends to their clients, who often bond deeply with these attorneys as they usher them through the worst episode of their lives. They frequently stay in touch long after the case is finished, calling for advice on everything from vaccinations to which major to choose in school.
The partners are currently mentoring two young men who are family members of clients. (They never refer to “former clients,” even in cases that were settled decades prior.) Both of these men went through a tragic family death when they were young boys, and, inspired by the work of the McGinn, Montoya, Love & Curry team, turned that pain into action: They both hope to pursue law degrees after college.
For one, his aunt was abducted from a convenience store and raped and murdered in a field, despite the store owners having been told repeatedly by the local police chief that they need to fortify their security system to protect clerks working overnight.
In the other case, the young man’s baby sister was recovering from pneumonia when a traveling temp doctor, who was unfamiliar with the hospital’s code system, attempted to replace a chest tube and stabbed it through her liver, killing her.
“These young men did not want their family members to die in vain,” says Montoya. “They made changes in their own lives and are now dedicating their lives to becoming lawyers, to help other people whose lives have been turned upside down through no fault of their own.”