Trial Run: New Michigan Association for Justice president looks to the year ahead

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Trial lawyers are on the front lines to expose wrongdoers and protect the public, notes Scott Goodwin, who on July 1 took over as president of the Lansing-based Michigan Association for Justice (MAJ), the state’s largest group of plaintiff lawyers.

“It’s very important to understand that what MAJ plaintiff trial lawyers do every day matters,” he said. “Citizens can’t always rely on governmental agencies to take action and protect their rights”

A prime example was the case of faulty ignition switches in General Motors Corp. vehicles, which Goodwin said was only brought to public and government attention through the litigation process by trial lawyers.

Goodwin cited other recent cases where trial lawyers — and especially MAJ members — have made a difference, among them the failure by Consumers Energy to properly train and supervise employees which resulted in an explosion at a Royal Oak home that killed a man.

In addition, he noted the case of Michigan oncologist Dr. Farid Fata, accused (and currently in jail) for allegedly intentionally misdiagnosing patients with cancer and over-medicating and/or prescribing unnecessary medication, in a scam that bilked the federal government out of $35 million in Medicare claims over a two-year period.  

“These corporations like GM, Consumers Energy, large medical facilities and wealthy physicians can fight individual citizens with armies of lawyers, experts and PR firms while the little guy consumer is injured, disabled, and has a lack of resources to challenge these groups,” Goodwin said.

Plaintiff trial lawyers balance the system, he said, “by giving these folks a voice — and that voice is in the courtroom, in an attempt to level the playing field in a court of law and with a jury of their peers.”  

While the 1,600 members he leads at the MAJ — formerly the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association — come from different cultures, races and ethnicity, Goodwin said they all share a common goal of protecting people and assisting consumers to obtain justice and promoting the right to a jury trial.

Goodwin’s recent successes include $1.8 million for a motorcyclist who suffered injuries to his brain and arm, $1.4 million for a bicyclist struck by a city bus, $1 million for a child who fell off a hayride, $1.1 million for injuries caused by a propane gas explosion at a private residence and $1 million for a student hit in a crosswalk while walking to class.   

A graduate of Detroit College of Law (now Michigan State University College of Law), Goodwin has spent close to three decades fighting as a trial lawyer for the injured and disabled, winning listings in “Best Lawyers in America 2014,”  “Lawyer of the Year,” and “Super Lawyers” and an “AV Preeminent” rating from Martindale-Hubbell.  

His goals as the new MAJ president include working with judges and legislators to promote access to justice and making sure victims of drunk or negligent or drivers, or bad doctors, have an opportunity to seek redress through the court system.

Goodwin said he also wants to protect the U.S. Constitution, especially the 7th Amendment right to a jury trial, and hold people accountable for their actions and personal responsibility for causing harm to others.  

“We’ll also continue to protect and promote the No-Fault system from insurance company mischief and protect the public who never wake up expecting to be in a crash,” Goodwin said. “The Michigan No-Fault system is the best in the world, and provides the best care for the most grievously injured.”   

The MAJ will present the 11th Annual No-Fault Institute Sept. 29-30 at the Westin in Southfield. The event will be moderated by past MAJ President George Sinas, of Sinas, Dramis, Brake, Boughton in Lansing, and MAJ Executive Board member Wayne Miller, of Miller & Tischler, PC, in Farmington Hills.   

Goodwin will also promote an effort to MAJ membership to perform good deeds and positive actions to enhance the image of plaintiff trial lawyers.
Examples of helping to save lives and promote safety, he said,  include giving away smoke alarms to people who cannot afford them, the “Groceries for Guns” cam, and the annual Law Day initiative during which MAJ members provide free advice to those who cannot otherwise afford legal services and/or consultations.  

At Goodwin’s own firm, Goodwin & Scieszka Law Center in Birmingham, he and Jim Scieszka give away bike safety helmets during their annual Law Day event.

“Over the years, we’ve provided over 10,000 helmets, at no charge, to protect kids and tprovide a strong example that safety matters,” Goodwin said. “In an era where Michigan has turned back the clock on safety by allowing motorcycle riders to ride without helmets — even though we’re learning more every day about the effects of head injuries on the brain — giving away these helmets encourages kids early on to wear a helmet.”  

Goodwin is looking forward to the 12th annual “Mark Weiss Day” scheduled Aug. 1 at Comerica Park, when the Detroit Tigers host the Colorado Rockies.

“The event is in honor of MAJ Past President Mark Weiss, who passed too early, and who devoted his time, effort, and skills fighting for the rights of the poor and powerless,” Goodwin said.  

The picnic starts at 5:30 p.m. and the game at 7:08 p.m.

The event is a fund-raiser for the Mark Weiss Memorial Scholarship Fund, created in 2003 as a joint project of the MAJ and Weiss’s alma mater Wayne Law.

The fund has exceeded its original target of $250,000 and, to date, 36 scholarships have been awarded to Wayne Law students and recent graduates who share a commitment to providing legal aid to the underserved.