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Caring Beyond The Courtroom

Gregory Rizio Believes in Putting Clients’ Needs Ahead of His Own, Championing His Colleagues, and Cultivating a Positive Reputation for Personal Injury Attorneys

“My desire to become an attorney began when I was a child. My grandmother told me that I always seemed to have an answer to her complaints, so she told me I should become a lawyer,” laughs Gregory Rizio, Founder of Rizio & Nelson. “Later on, while attending Point Loma Nazarene College I thought about becoming either an attorney or a youth pastor. I guess you could say that I had an angel on one shoulder and a little imp on the other. Apparently the imp was a little louder, but I feel great that I get to live my life by serving my clients and honoring the Golden Rule,” he says sincerely.
Rizio isn’t just blowing smoke, either. It is precisely his willingness to help others that makes it immediately clear that Rizio is the furthest thing from a “cut-throat, smooth talking” Personal Injury attorney. On the contrary, Rizio is candid, selfdeprecating, and frankly, a really fun guy to interview. He’s also very open about the fact that it bothers him that there are those who share his profession who do live up to the stereotype of “ambulance chaser.”

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By way of example he says, “I got a call just a few days ago from a young man who was incredibly frustrated. He’d spent the day calling attorneys, and no one would take his case. But no one would tell him why. That’s not right. I specialize in helping people, and that means that I help them however I can. I didn’t take his case either, but I spent the time necessary to explain why no one was going to take his case. By the end of the call he was so relieved to finally have answers. He just needed someone to spend a little time with him and help him.”
Fortunately, Rizio says, those who are in the field of Personal Injury for reasons other than helping people are the minority, not the majority. This is especially true of many of Rizio’s closest friends in the field. “When you get to a certain level [of success], you’re rooting on your competition. I want to see my fellow attorneys do good work. I’m rooting on people like John Gomez, John Rice, Fred Schenk and Bill Shapiro. Sure, there is a little friendly competition amongst attorneys, but what I really want to see are good results. We have tough jobs, and I like seeing my colleagues help those who need help. Plus, I love seeing laws being created or changed to keep people safe.”

Clients’ Needs Come First
“My firm, like most well-respected firms that are in this, do it for the greater good. Every attorney at Rizio & Nelson truly desires to develop a family type bond of trust with our clients. We understand that the clients and their family have been put into a position that they did not ask for, anticipate or expect. In most cases, the clients are hurting, angry, confused and scared about an unknown future. It is our job to provide them with an emotional stability to help carry them through this unbelievably tough and frightening time. We are here to help them come to grips with their new reality and help them regain their focus, strength and hope.”
Once again, Rizio isn’t just talking the talk, he’s speaking from experience. He can still recall exactly where he was when catastrophe struck his own family. “My wife and I were leaving dinner, when we got the call that her grandfather had been killed in a head-on collision. I remember that feeling, and I know what it is like to get that kind of a shock. Saying it’s a tough place to be in, is obviously a gross understatement.”

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His personal experience with tragedy has only served to reinforce his desire to help, even when others think he’s taking on a case he can’t win. Such was the case when Rizio decided to take on Herman vs. Cardiel. Little did he know that a case that most attorneys had turned down would result in the #1 verdict in the State of California, or that it would be the #1 Plaintiff’s Personal Injury verdict in the nation, or that it would wind up being the 10th largest verdict in the nation in 2014. Rizio, frankly took it because he believed in the case.
“I took the case for two reasons. The first was that the statute of limitations was almost up. The second reason was that I thought there was a chance that the insurance company had really screwed this up. The plaintiff was a 25-year-old man who would need a lifetime of care after a 2011 accident on Interstate 15 left him unable to speak or move his limbs. But I believed and continue to believe he was fully aware of what was going on. I needed to help him and help his family. No one wanted the case, there was a $15,000 policy limit, and most people thought we were going to lose,” he says.
The final result was an incredible $57.9 million verdict in Riverside Superior Court, which now stands as the record for the largest Personal Injury jury trial verdict in the history of Riverside County. Not surprisingly, Rizio received award after award, including the Litigator’s Award in the categories of catastrophic brain injuries, catastrophic injuries, wrongful death and personal injuries, which is bestowed upon the top 1% of attorneys nationwide. The Western San Bernardino County Bar Association awarded him Trial Lawyer of the Year in 2014, and he was again named Trial Lawyer of the Year in 2015 by the Consumer Attorneys of the Inland Empire. He was named a 2014 Top 5 Trial Lawyer of the Year Finalist by the Consumer Attorneys of Los Angeles, and was simultaneously nominated by Consumer Attorneys of Orange County as Trial Lawyer of the Year.

Yet when asked which of the many awards he received felt like the biggest honor, Rizio says simply, “I find it a massive honor when people hire me.”
Rizio’s resume is filled with other incredible accomplishments, many of which benefit us all, as evidenced by Palumbo vs. San Dimas. While Rizio secured a $9,000,000 settlement for his client, he’s far prouder of the fact that what he did in that case was to protect other drivers on that road. “I look at cases like that, with a 16-year-old client, as if they could have been my child. Part of the settlement was a complete re-design of the roadway, including adding a rest-on-red light signal, a narrowing of the roadway to reduce speeds and the removal of dangerous wooden fence that was changed out to PVC fence.”

Rizio is also the rare Personal Injury attorney who will take on child abuse cases, after ascertaining that the lawsuit will in no way further stress or affect the plaintiff’s wellbeing. “Most personal injury attorneys don’t take these cases. It is hard to get insurance to pay for it, and believe me, and I’m not the guy who does a lot of these cases, but if I think it will help get justice for a child, I will take it on,” he says. “I really do try to live by the Golden Rule, and I put my clients’ interests ahead of mine.”

Championing Colleagues, Commitment to Serving the Community
Rizio is incredibly proud of his team at Rizio & Nelson. “The wonderful attorneys and staff I get to work with make it a joy to come to work every day. All the members of my firm have strong ties to the San Diego community. After attending Point Loma Nazarene College I went on to California Western School of Law and then spent a short stint with the San Diego District Attorney’s office. I met my colleague Darren Pirozzi walking into the doors of California Western School of Law orientation and have maintained a close friendship ever since. Aaron Hicks came from Tennessee to San Diego to attend Thomas Jefferson School of Law where he met his lovely wife Laura and decided to stay. Both Darren and Aaron maintained successful solo practices until joining up with our firm. And then of course there is Michele Markus and Judie DeuPree, who have both worked with me for over 20 years. Without those two watching the firm and my back, we never would have achieved the success that we have.”

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Together the team at Rizio & Nelson work on cases wherever they are needed throughout the state and in Arizona. In San Diego, Rizio currently has several major cases, including a severe spinal injury suffered as the result of a falling tree, and a traumatic brain injury case, in which a homeless man was struck while crossing the street legally, in the crosswalk. Recently Rizio also settled a wrongful death case in San Diego against a power company after an employee was electrocuted, and no one else wanted the case. “Numerous attorneys turned down the case believing it only to be a workers’ comp case. But through investigation, we discovered that a large building had been improperly wired, so we were able to settle the case just days before trial for $3.8 Million,” Rizio says. “Of course, it doesn’t bring back the children’s father, or a wife’s husband, but we were able to help after others turned it down.”
Still, Rizio is, more often than not, quick to brag about those who could ostensibly be seen as direct competitors. “I’m so proud to be in the company of so many talented attorneys throughout Southern California,” he says. Moreover, many of Rizio’s friendships with Southern California’s top trial attorneys were formed as the result of his deep commitment to giving back to the legal community by serving on various committees in support of the profession. Similarly, “I have dedicated my law career to memberships and councils where I can make a difference in protecting people. I am extremely proud to be serving on the CAL-ABOTA Executive Board, the Inland Empires’ ABOTA Executive Board, and to be Consumer Attorney of California’s Executive Counsel.”

He also spends as much time as possible participating in charity work through his church, often building homes in Mexico, feeding the hungry in Africa, as well as other humanitarian efforts. In fact, giving to those in need is a way of life in his family, and this summer his 17-year-old daughter will also head to a third-world country to serve orphans. “I’m excited and proud of her, but a tad petrified. I’m a personal injury attorney, I can’t help it,” he chuckles.
But rest assured, if there is one thing Rizio is not, it’s a “square.” Despite being known for paying incredibly generous referral fees, giving his clients his personal cell phone number, taking on cases that others turn down, working safety improvements into settlements, and giving back to charity, believe it or not, Rizio is concurrently a nightclub owner, which he can’t help but laugh about, when questioned about it.
“I do own the Continental Room, even though I’m too old to go to my own nightclub,” he laughs. Continuing, he says, “I’ve offered to set up colleagues and friends in the legal community with a VIP room, which makes me sound very generous, but no one ever takes me up on it! We’re all too old. Besides, I’m an attorney by day and basically a cab driver for my kids at night.”
However, he’s happy to do the driving, and loves attending volleyball games, soccer games, and watching his daughter cheer. The family also loves mountain getaways, when time allows. “Our firm’s success would not have been possible without my wife Ericka and my three kids understanding that what I do is more than a job,” he says.

Indeed, Rizio is clear that the families of highly successful attorneys deserve a great deal of credit for patience, understanding and support. In fact, he tries to share that message with young attorneys pursuing the same path. “The first thing I tell any new attorney is that being a successful lawyer is not a 9 to 5 job; it is a lifestyle choice. It is something that must truly be who you are. I also tell them not to do it for the money. If they honestly do it to serve their clients and the legal community by living out the Golden Rule, they will really love what they do and the money will take care of itself.”
If it sounds like Rizio is an open book, that’s intentional. “I want to change the perception many people have of lawyers. I am genuinely sorry any time a client has to meet with me, because I know that means something horrible has happened in their life. But you know, I thought I might want to be a minister years ago, and in some way I feel like I’m now able to minister to my clients. And I feel like I’m living the life I’m supposed to live, and that what I do to help people reflects who I am.”

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» EDUCATION

  • California Western School of Law, San Diego, California, J.D.—1991
  • Point Loma Nazarene College, San Diego, California, B.A. cum laude—1988
» EXPERIENCE

  • ABOTA (Inland Empire Chapter); President Elect, 2014
  • Past President (2011-2013); Consumer Attorneys of the Inland Empire
» MEMBER

  • Executive Board Member; Consumer Attorneys of California Plaintiff Legislative Branch
  • CAL ABOTA Board Member; Inland Empire President Elect
  • Orange County Bar Foundation Board Member
  • Multi-Million Dollar Advocate Forum, Personal Injury Category
» RECOGNITION & AWARDS

  • 2014 Litigator's Award in the categories of catastrophic brain injuries, catastrophic injuries, wrongful death and personal injuries, which is bestowed upon the top 1% of attorneys nationwide
  • Western San Bernardino County Bar Association Trial Lawyer of the Year in 2014
  • Nominated by CAOC as Trial Lawyer of the Year in 2014
  • 2014 Jennifer Brooks Trial Lawyer of Year; Western San Bernardino County Bar Association
  • 2015 William Shapiro Trial Lawyer of the Year; Consumer Attorneys of the Inland Empire
  • 2014 Top 5 Trial Lawyer of the Year Finalist; Consumer Attorneys of Los Angeles
  • Top Monetary Personal Injury Verdict for California & Top 35 in National Plaintiff Verdicts (Overall) Herman vs. Cardiel 2014, Riverside County ($57.9 Million)
  • 2014 Top 100 Trial Lawyers; The National Trial Lawyers Association
  • Nations, Top Attorneys Recognition; National Association of Distinguished Counsel Organization
  • Super-Lawyer; Personal Injury Category, Southern California Region
  • Top Attorneys Recognition (various years recognition in the following magazines): Inland Empire Magazine, Orange County Metro Magazine,
    - Orange Coast Magazine, Los Angeles Magazine, Valley Living Magazine, The Nine O Nine Magazine

 

Contact:
Gregory Rizio
Rizio & Nelson
www.rizioandnelson.com | grizio@rizioandnelson.com
1801 Parkcourt, Building H, Santa Ana, CA 92701
Phone: 888-745-7595

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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About the Author: Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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