Cavanagh Law Group partner Michael Sorich is a veteran trial attorney who represents clients in Illinois and across the United States in personal injury cases.
Since joining Cavanagh Law Group in 2016, the former prosecutor has obtained more than $80 million in verdicts and settlements — including $20 million in a Chicago Police Department “code of silence” case, $7.5 million for a woman who suffered traumatic injuries after being struck by a Metra train and $5.9 million for the widow of a worker killed on a construction site.
Sorich boasts experience in every area of personal injury law and has special expertise in cases involving trucking and construction. We sat down with Sorich to learn more about his recent work, how COVID-19 has impacted American roadways and why it’s important to hire an attorney quickly after an injury.
You recently obtained a $4.175 million settlement for a Wisconsin man who was seriously injured in a collision with a tanker truck. What can you tell us about that case?
Our client was driving his pickup truck down a highway in Walworth County, Wisconsin, when a tanker truck driver rolled through a stop sign and crashed into our client’s truck, pushing him off the road. Our client had the right of way. Our client’s injuries were so severe that he underwent numerous surgeries and still requires physical therapy.
The defense claimed the tanker truck driver looked both ways and stopped for the stop sign before entering the intersection. But we hired an accident reconstruction expert to recreate the crash, second by second. Tim and I were able to objectively prove that our client would have been visible had the tanker truck driver stopped and looked both ways.
How do truck crashes differ from those involving only passenger vehicles?
Truck crashes are more likely to cause catastrophic or fatal injuries because of the sheer size of the vehicles involved. Semi-trucks can weigh up to 80,000 pounds.
What we’ve seen time and again is that while families are grieving and trying to process a devastating loss, the truck driver’s insurance company comes in very aggressively. They often send investigators and adjusters to the scene within hours of a crash. You don’t see Geico or State Farm sending representatives to collisions with basic sedans, but it happens all the time with big trucking companies. The insurance companies want to collect evidence as soon as possible because their goal is to minimize losses. They don’t want to provide you with fair compensation.
It is crucial to hire an attorney immediately after a crash. You want someone on your side to preserve evidence — because insurance companies are not working on your behalf.
Why is it important to hire an attorney who specializes in trucking cases?
An experienced trucking attorney will have the expertise and know-how needed to understand industry-specific technology, lingo, driver apps and insurance rules. Tractor trailers, for example, have specialized technology. A veteran attorney will know exactly which modules within the truck should be preserved after a crash. At Cavanagh Law Group, we have a roster of impressive consultants to decode and understand that data. Truck drivers have to keep and maintain logs of their hours of service. You need someone who can interpret that information and figure out the true trajectory of a driver’s whereabouts.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the trucking industry?
We’ve seen a lot of trucking companies pushing their drivers harder because the demand for deliveries is so high. There’s a nationwide shortage of truck drivers, and there is currently legislation being considered that would lower the federal minimum age for semi-truck drivers from 21 to 18. That’s a horrible idea. Younger drivers just don’t have as much experience.
The fact that it’s even being considered goes to show that many trucking companies care more about profits than people. They just want warm bodies at any cost. When someone operates a large, powerful vehicle over long distances, there’s the opportunity to become fatigued and careless. That’s intensified when your employer is demanding you get products from point A to point B as fast as possible.
Walmart recently announced it is raising its starting pay for truck drivers to as much as $110,000 per year. The company also said it plans to let existing Walmart workers join an internal training program to become truck drivers. Those changes are going to attract a lot of applicants, and not everyone will have the experience or skills necessary to safely operate massive tractor trailers. This is yet another example of big companies prioritizing profits. Walmart is rushing to find drivers and needs to be mindful of the safety of the motoring public. It is far too dangerous to employ drivers who are not properly trained and vetted.
You have had numerous successes representing clients in trucking cases in Illinois and across the country — including those involving low-speed collisions, texting and driving, and injuries at repair facilities. Can you share some examples?
In Chicago, Tim Cavanagh and I obtained $2.1 million for a cement truck driver who sustained spinal injuries in a low-speed crash with a DePaul University van. In that case, a student driver crossed the center line and hit our client’s truck head-on at 5 miles per hour. Defense attorneys argued that our client’s injuries could not have possibly come from the crash because it occurred at such a low speed. But collisions don’t need to happen at high speeds to cause serious damage.
Our client had no history of spinal injuries before the crash. In the months that followed, he was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease, among other things. He underwent a discectomy and three-level fusion surgery. To illustrate the injuries for potential jurors, we retained a biomechanical engineer who explained how the force of impact was directly responsible for our client’s injuries. We also commissioned a computer animation to illustrate our client’s surgical procedures.
Tim and I obtained a settlement in the case two weeks before it was set to go to trial.
We also obtained a $1.5 million settlement for a widow from Connecticut who lost her husband in a crash caused by a semi-truck driver who was texting and driving. He was driving through a construction zone in Clark County, Illinois, when traffic began to slow in front of him. He was looking at his phone and slammed into our client’s car — setting off a seven-vehicle collision. Our client survived the crash, but her husband did not.
The case demonstrates both the dangers of texting and driving and how crucial it is to pay extra attention in a construction zone. Changing roadway conditions make it dangerous for both drivers who aren’t cautious and the construction workers on the road.
You have represented numerous clients in construction cases. In 2017, you obtained $5.9 million for the widow of a construction worker killed in a construction zone. You more recently obtained $1.2 million for a man injured at a construction site in Park Ridge, Illinois. What can you tell us about that case?
Our client fell through a hole at a job site and suffered significant injuries. The construction company was performing demolition work at the site and failed to cover the hole properly or notify people about the potential danger. What’s unique about that case is that our client was the general contractor in charge of the overall construction site. We were able to make a case against the subcontractors for failing to protect the hole.
Why is it important to hire an attorney who is experienced in representing clients in construction cases?
It comes back to the technical know-how. You want an attorney who will immediately know what to pursue in discovery, someone who will file a protective order to preserve the necessary evidence to get to the heart of the issue. There are a lot of technical requests that an attorney who is inexperienced in construction won’t even know to ask for; that could be the engineer’s daily diaries or minutes from worksite safety meetings.
Last year, Congress passed a historic $1 trillion infrastructure bill that is providing massive amounts of money for infrastructure. We’re seeing an increase in construction in Illinois and around the country. Unfortunately, with more construction, that invites the opportunity for more injuries to occur.
There is a lot going on at a construction site — a lot of moving parts. Who is responsible for an injury is often a point of contention. You have contractors, subcontractors, engineers, safety specialists. Sometimes there’s just too many cooks in the kitchen, and things don’t get done because everyone assumes someone else is doing it. An experienced attorney can understand and pour through tens of thousands of pages of documents, contracts and plans to ascertain who was involved in a failed safety plan and why it didn’t work.
You’ve done numerous speaking engagements with law associations, schools and community and alumni groups. Why do you like speaking engagements? What do you like speaking about?
I enjoy the educational aspect, and I love being able to tailor my content for specific audiences. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to speak at a diverse range of events. I presented at an ethics seminar for the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association (ITLA), for example, and at a medical negligence seminar, where I discussed a $3.6 million settlement I obtained in a failure-to-diagnose case.
I recently spoke to the West Suburban Bar Association (WSBA) about handling a personal injury case from start to finish. The presentation counted toward attorneys’ Continuing Legal Education (CLE) hours.
And for a group of lifeguards, I addressed pool safety and spoke about a $6 million settlement I obtained for a man who nearly drowned in a supervised pool. He had a heart attack while swimming laps and was underwater for nearly five minutes before another swimmer pulled him to safety. Meanwhile, two lifeguards were standing just feet from him, but were talking to one another and failed to notice our client. When I spoke to lifeguards about the case, I played them security footage of the incident and they were just horrified.
Depending on your audience, you have the opportunity to educate people and help them identify and address pitfalls they may face in their careers. I have a wealth of experience and have handled a diverse range of cases. I am always happy to share my knowledge and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312- 425-1900.
Are you involved in any charities, professional organizations or alumni organizations?
I am on the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association (ITLA) board of managers. I am president of the Marist Law Association and also serve on its board of directors. I am also a member of the Irish Fellowship Club of Chicago, the Western Springs Village Club board and the Western Springs Pool board.
What do you do for fun in your spare time?
I spend time with my family. I have three children in grade school, who are 7, 10 and 11. My wife and I spend a lot of time at my kids’ activities. An average weekend for us involves a lot of sporting and theater events.