For more than a decade, trial attorney Marc McCallister has represented clients across Illinois in complex personal injury cases. He has obtained numerous multimillion-dollar results, boasts expertise in every area of plaintiff’s law and has been named an Illinois Super Lawyer annually since 2016. Fewer than 5% of attorneys statewide make the cut.
McCallister joined Cavanagh Law Group as a partner in May 2021. We sat down with the father of four to learn about his biggest cases, passion for education and why an attorney who’s willing to take your case to trial can make all the difference.
You have devoted most of your career to personal injury law. What inspired you to represent plaintiffs?
For me, it’s always about the people. When clients come to us, they are hurting or going through tough times. I think it’s the ultimate sign of respect to bear witness to somebody’s struggle. A lot of people don’t have anybody who will listen to them or try to help them overcome the burden they face. In addition to providing legal counsel, I take great pride in advocating for my clients.
As a personal injury attorney, what you do often has a lasting impact in people’s lives. A few years ago, I obtained a substantial result for a farmer who lost his leg in a farm accident in LaSalle County, Illinois. He was able to use that money to purchase the best prosthetics and start a nest egg to send his kids to college. Nobody in his family had ever gone to college. It was humbling to be a part of that family’s journey as they had to overcome so much. In the end, the case changed the whole family’s future.
You spent 14 years with two well-respected Chicago personal injury firms before joining Cavanagh Law Group in 2021. What drew you to the firm?
Cavanagh Law Group takes really tough cases to trial. Many attorneys just want to settle cases, but Cavanagh Law Group advocates for its clients in an aggressive way. That’s unique, and it results in tremendous outcomes for clients across the country.
[CLG founding partner] Tim Cavanagh has the guts and ability to really push cases until the time is ripe to resolve them. He sees things from different angles and challenges all of us. I am very impressed by the caliber of every single attorney at the firm. Our team is ferocious, tenacious. That mindset is really attractive to me.
How can clients benefit from an attorney who is willing to take a case to trial?
It shows clients that we have their backs as advocates and are going to work the case meticulously. There is going to be a maximum investment in terms of time, work, effort and money. So if the case gets to a point where settlements are being discussed, the client knows we didn’t miss a thing and never took a shortcut.
You obtained a $1.6 million jury verdict in 2019 for the family of a man who died after falling at Franciscan St. James Health Hospital. Can you tell us more about that case?
While under the hospital’s care, the man fell and sustained a broken nose and lacerated liver. He had internal bleeding that went undiagnosed, and he died within 24 hours.
I learned a lot about him from his children. At 84 years old, he was the primary caregiver for his wife of 40 years who had suffered a severe stroke. He was also known in the community as the neighbor that would take his snow blower every winter and go up and down his street clearing people’s sidewalks and driveways.
Physicians at the hospital had put the man on Ambien and blood thinners for a pulmonary embolism, but no one helped him get to the bathroom in the middle of the night. He fell, was injured and complained his stomach hurt, but the doctors and nurses didn’t do anything.
You also recently obtained a $3 million settlement from Northwestern Memorial Hospital on behalf of a man with a rare spinal condition. What happened there?
I represented a 36-year-old man who developed an anomaly in his spinal column that compromised blood flow. He started to have weird tingling sensations in his feet but didn’t know what was happening.
Doctors at Northwestern ordered tests to check different levels of my client’s spine, but they missed two levels. They sent him home on steroids without a diagnosis. Eventually my client sought a second opinion at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and was diagnosed as having an arteriovenous (AV) fistula. Unfortunately, as a consequence of the incomplete testing and the delay in diagnosis, he suffered sensory loss and now has partial paraplegia.
It was a difficult case with complex medicine. We retained a number of expert witnesses, including a neurosurgeon, neurologists and a neuroradiologist. This should never have happened, and I’m very proud of the result we achieved for my client.
You’ve represented clients in everything from product liability cases to instances of nursing home abuse. What can you tell us about the settlement you obtained for the family of an Illinois manufacturing plant worker?
I represented the family of a man who died in 2014 after repeated exposure to a chemical called diacetyl. Diacetyl is the flavor additive used to give microwave popcorn a buttery taste; it’s also used to create flavors for animal feed and other human food.
From 1997 to 2002, the man was plant manager at a Wheeling, Illinois, factory that used both liquid and powder diacetyl. He encountered and inhaled diacetyl particles over the course of his job. We alleged that exposure caused him to develop bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome, which ultimately led to his death. Defense attorneys denied he was exposed to the chemical.
My team devoted significant time to discovery and obtained documents and studies from multiple countries. In the end, it was learned that the defendants’ own studies and experiments demonstrated that exposure to diacetyl was not only dangerous, but fatal. We reached a significant confidential settlement for the man’s family.
Did you always plan to become an attorney? Tell us about your early career and education.
I graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a major in advertising and marketing. I worked for a talent agency in Los Angeles for a year before coming home to Chicago and earning my law degree at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. I always loved public speaking and was interested in brand marketing, but realized that wasn’t the career I wanted to pursue.
My first trial advocacy course at Chicago-Kent is what really solidified my desire to be a trial attorney. There’s a lot of pressure: You are required to think on your feet and juggle multiple variables at the same time. I loved it. While I was still in law school, I worked for the city of Chicago’s litigation department, where I handled arbitrations and some smaller proceedings. Once I graduated, I spent two years doing medical malpractice defense work.
How does your experience as a defense attorney inform your work on personal injury cases?
It’s helpful to understand the other side’s process — both at trial and while negotiating settlements. You gain insight into how defendants approach risk analysis. I learned a lot about what concerns hospitals and insurance companies when they’re facing a lawsuit. I believe my prior work experience helps me to understand how my adversaries evaluate claims.
You currently serve as chair of the board of directors for Tutoring Chicago. Tell us more about the nonprofit.
Tutoring Chicago provides one-on-one tutoring to more than 800 kids in the Chicago area. What’s amazing about the organization is that kids work with the same tutor year after year, so they build close personal relationships. You see tremendous growth and confidence and accomplishment.
This past year has been interesting and challenging. I have enjoyed working with Tutoring Chicago’s staff to help the nonprofit evolve and adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tutoring Chicago was able to use technology to create a hybrid model and maintain tutor-student connections in a way we never thought possible. The organization has grown tremendously, and I’m very excited about Tutoring Chicago’s future.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, you took up open-water swimming on Lake Michigan. That’s not a hobby you see every day. How did that come about?
I live about a mile from the lake. Last year, I would get up early and take my (then) 2-year-old son to the water. I’d sit there with a cup of coffee, watch the swimmers and just think to myself: That’s nuts. I ended up talking to a swimmer who said I should get a wetsuit and try it out. I could barely swim 50 meters the first day; I was walking because I was so bad at it. But before I knew it, I was up to half a mile, then a mile.
I love the lake, taking in the horizon and being in the water. It’s been amazing stress relief during the pandemic. I hope to start swimming in events this summer.