Ipso Facto Q&A: Western Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association's Paul Lagnese

Monday, 04 March 2013 08:00 AM Written by  Drew Singer

20130304 PaulLagnese 150Paul Lagnese is a medical malpractice lawyer and president of the Western Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association, a group of plaintiffs lawyers roughly 450 members strong. He’s been practicing in the Pittsburgh area for more than two decades. The Duquesne Law alumnus spoke with Ipso Facto about the rapidly changing landscape of medical malpractice litigation and what it’s like to lose a partner and mentor to leukemia and lymphoma. Here are the highlights of that conversation:

Ipso Facto: What makes a good plaintiffs' lawyer?

Paul Lagnese: It’s someone who has the ability to champion for that individual so they can get the medical treatment or the replacement of income they’ve suffered through no fault of their own because someone else — a truck driver, a doctor, a construction supervisor — was careless in protecting the safety of innocent people.

Q: What role does the trial lawyers association play in the region?

Lagnese: We hold a scholarship essay writing contest for high school students, a 5k race, we have a comeback award that we give each year to a victim who has come back from very difficult odds, we have a community service award. It’s about 50 to 60 percent community outreach.

Q: Is that outreach intended, at least in-part, towards combating the stigma about medical malpractice lawyers?

Lagnese: Certainly it’s an issue that we have to be cognizant of. When part of our job is going in and picking juries, there’s the understanding that the jurors and common folk who make up those juries may have a perception that we’re ambulance chasers. Part of what we’re doing when we have things like the comeback award is to show that there are things we are doing to help members of the community and to put a face on the fact that our clients are people who are innocent victims and our goal is to help them to recover.

Q: Who’s your role model? Who do you look at as someone you aspire to be as a trial lawyer?

Lagnese: My mentor and the person who I emulate as best I can is Dan Berger, my partner who passed away about four years ago. Dan was someone who had done this for 30 or 40 years.

Q: What was it like to partner with father and transition to work with son?

Lagnese: As he was transitioning out, it was no problem at all, a natural progression, although I still miss having him around to bounce ideas off of, to help me work on cases. We all worked together and would talk with each other. When you work in a small setting like we work in together, I can’t separate the personal loss from how it effected me professionally, because it’s a man who I looked up to so much and cared about and miss every day, not just as a lawyer but as a person. As president of the trial lawyers association, I asked — and the organization agreed — that [an award] be named after Dan Berger, because he was that kind of person that had such an impact on my being the hopefully good trial lawyer that I am today. He shaped my views and manner in handling these cases, because I had never really done it before I started working for him.

Q: In medical malpractice suits, your clients are often seeking justice from those who did them wrong. However, increasingly more lawsuits are settled out of court because of the risk of winning nothing at trial. Is this trend jeopardizing plaintiffs’ ability to get justice?

Lagnese: In cases that go to verdicts, the doctors and hospitals win 85-90 percent of the time. There is normally a very great risk to your client that they will end up getting nothing if you proceed to a verdict in a jury trial. In a lot of situations, there will be settlements where the client might not get full justice, but if they don’t settle, they get no justice. Locally, there’s been a lot more effort by doctors and hospitals to try to resolve cases out of court over the last 5 years. The change is that a lot of cases are going to mediation, which has resulted in a lot of settlements that wouldn’t have come about in years past. I think it’s been an important development. In most instances, if they’re making a payment, it’s usually a fairly significant amount of money. That in and of itself is an acknowledgement that they recognize that they didn’t provide the best care in the circumstances. I often ask my clients, how will you feel if you go through a trial and at the end of the day the jury says what the hospital did was ok? Not only won’t you get money, but the hospital might say “Well it was ok what we did.” The first words out of many people’s mouths that come to me is “I just don’t want this to happen to somebody else.” The idea that taking a little bit less money and knowing that there’s a recognition that maybe the hospital didn’t do the right thing, that’s often more important than going for the extra little bit of money. Settlements are not necessarily something that’s denying justice.

(Image: Paul Lagnese, Berger & Lagnese)

Drew Singer is a third-year student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or on Twitter @Drew_Singer.

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