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Out of the Shadows Into Survival

Top Left to Right: Kacie Wagner, Max Halpern and Ben Coughlan

Gomez Trial Attorneys’ Newly Dedicated Brain Injury Division Shines as a Beacon of Hope, Help, Experience, and Expertise for Brain Injury Victims and Families

According to the CDC, more than 2.5 million people are diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries in the United States each year. More than 50,000 of them will lose their lives as the result of these devastating injuries. The remaining millions will be forced to live with the after-effects of a brain injury, effectively joining a growing population of brain injury survivors.
However, brain injuries continue to be overwhelmingly misdiagnosed, insufficiently treated, and altogether misunderstood even by most doctors. Consequently, countless brain injury victims in San Diego and beyond suffer horribly year after year, with few resources, little support, and a lack of support as they attempt to navigate their way through life, given their “new normal.”
“Brain injuries are unique in that they aren’t always outwardly apparent. If you meet someone on the street you may have no idea that they have a brain injury, but that does not mean that a victim isn’t suffering. Regardless of the severity of the injury, suffering a brain injury can be a life-altering event, not just for the survivor, but also for their families,” says John Gomez, founder and lead Trial Attorney at Gomez Trial Attorneys. “The aftermath of a brain injury can take an enormous toll both financially and emotionally on the victim and their entire family,” he adds.
“People who come to us after suffering a brain injury are coming to us because they can’t get the help they need anywhere else. They don’t know where to turn,” says Gomez. Indeed, after years of fighting for the rights of brain injury victims, Gomez recently decided that enough is enough, and decided to take formal, intentional action, within his firm.
The result is the creation of the Gomez Trial Attorneys Dedicated Brain Injury Division—an entire practice group dedicated exclusively to helping brain injury survivors to obtain treatment they need, the resources and support they deserve, and the opportunity to rebuild their lives after suffering a brain injury through no fault of their own. In addition to Gomez, Senior Trial Attorney Ben Coughlan, who has served on the Board of Directors of the San Diego Brain Injury Foundation for years, and Senior Trial Attorney Jessica Sizemore will helm the newly created division. They are supported in the new practice group areas by their Trial Attorney colleagues Kacie Wagner and Max Halpern.
“We are endeavoring to create an atmosphere for brain injury survivors that goes far beyond their case needs, and focuses on their life needs. While we can’t help everyone, we are uniquely situated to provide resources to our clients that no one else can,” Gomez explains.

Left to Right: John Gomez, Jessica Sizemore and Max Halpern

Long History of Helping Brain Injury Victims
GTA is uniquely qualified indeed, to provide these much-needed services, as the firm has a long history of representing clients in these overwhelmingly complex, expert-laden, labor-intensive and expensive lawsuits. Yet, even in the face of these obstacles, Gomez has never shied away from taking these cases to trial. On the contrary, he’s been on the forefront of some of the most highly publicized brain injury cases in the nation. For example, in Novak vs. Pizza Hut (2010), Gomez represented a mother and daughter who were severely injured after a Pizza Hut delivery driver crossed over into oncoming traffic and crashed into the women. Shari Novak suffered permanent brain damage, while her mother suffered a broken neck and other injuries. In this case, Gomez was able to prove that the driver, who had only had a license for three months, and had documented episodes of blacking out, should never have been hired as a delivery driver. In this case, the jury awarded Gomez’s clients a total of $10.8 Million.
Again, in Zaccaglin v. Starbucks (2011), Gomez recovered $7.5 Million for his client who suffered a brain injury after slipping on a wet floor at a Starbucks. “He was able to walk out, and attempted to return to work. He was initially diagnosed with a concussion,” Gomez recalls. However, the defense attorneys refused to believe that Zaccaglin was seriously injured. “They distrusted his story, and essentially called him a liar the entire time, even though he was suffering horrible emotional problems including mood swings, irritability, and was completely overwhelmed by any kind of stimuli. His executive functioning, including cognition and memory, was badly damaged.” Gomez prevailed in the case, despite the defense’s final settlement offer of $75,000.
More recently, Gomez was a public face of justice involving mass tort litigation against the NFL, following the suicide of Junior Seau. “A mass settlement has been reached, with all of those cases being resolved,” Gomez says. With these and numerous other successful brain injury recoveries secured for clients, Gomez says it was time for his firm to up its efforts in helping this underserved market of victims. He subsequently tapped Coughlan and Sizemore to lead the department in early 2017.
“Ben brings unique experience to this practice area that few other lawyers have. His experience in advocating for survivors inside and outside of the courtroom makes him the ideal choice to lead us forward,” Gomez says. “In addition, Senior Trial Attorney Jessica Sizemore, who has developed and tried numerous TBI cases, will work closely with Ben to develop this practice area into an unmatched Brain Injury Department.”
“When John brought me the idea to develop a unique brain injury practice which focused on survivors’ legal, medical and emotional needs I was thrilled,” says Coughlan. “John understands that a brain injury is a disease process that affects each survivor in a different way. He understands that often survivors are just looking for support. I am certain we will help a lot of people moving forward.”
Together with Sizemore, Coughlan says the pair have been immersed in the scientific, medical and technological advancements being made to help victims of brain injuries for more than five years. “Jessica and I have been keeping a library of information for years, reading all new literature that comes out, attending all relevant conferences, and keeping on the forefront of this growing field, where even doctors still have so much to learn. If doctors or lawyers aren’t keeping up with the latest technologies, including sensitive imagining tests, they are doing a disservice to very seriously injured people,” Coughlan explains. However, GTA is certainly at the precipice of all emerging science, and technology. “We have been among the first in the state to get several different types of brain imaging techniques including PET Scans and Diffusion Tensor Imaging scans admitted into evidence at trial in mild traumatic brain injury cases,” Gomez confirms.


Focused on Building Relationships & Providing Resources
What’s important to note, however, is that the Brain Injury Division at GTA is not only focused on the litigation of brain injury cases. Instead, the group is dedicated first and foremost to ensuring the well-being, through necessary treatment for the survivor, while doing all they can to assist the family in recovering or adapting to the significant changes their loved one has undergone. To that end, the group is devoted to providing access to resources, serving as a liaison between victims and specialists, and championing the recovery efforts of the victim and family.
Sizemore explains, “We become very close with these clients. Often the way that information is processed by those who have a traumatic brain injury is very different from that of a victim with a purely physical injury. You have to slow down, and take your time. Cognition is often compromised, and these clients need and deserve face to face time with their advocates. They are relying on us to be the intermediary in not only litigation, but in helping them to decipher what their doctors are saying. We are part of their advocacy team, alongside their doctors. These people need resources, and they need hope. The result is we form very, very close relationships with our brain injury survivors.”
Coughlan couldn’t agree more. “Our survivors often cannot express themselves. They are searching for their voice, and they are often very lost. They don’t know what is happening to them, and they don’t know where to go. They are lost in not just the legal world, but in the medical world, because many times their doctors don’t know what is happening either. So, they are not getting to the specialists who can help, they wind up seeing staff doctors who are not up to date on the latest research and treatment, and they don’t get the treatment they need,” he says.
Continuing he adds, “Every TBI is different, but these are not invisible injuries. They are actually the most real injuries. What other injury affects our very essence? These are injuries to a person’s entire identity. Some of them literally become different people. They are trying to navigate their way through the medical and the insurance systems, all the while dealing with frustration, mood changes, memory issues and cognitive problems.”
Fortunately, Gomez, Coughlan, and Sizemore do know exactly how to help these victims, where others can’t. Their immersion in the field has led to strong relationships with not only their clients, but with the medical specialists who focus on treating brain injured patients. In addition, their long history of working with brain injury victims has enabled them to connect brain injury survivor clients to individuals currently dealing with the devastating consequences of a brain injury. “This is really one of the neatest things we can provide to our clients,” says Coughlan. “It is so important for victims to know that they can survive, so by connecting them with others who have been through it, we can provide even more support to clients dealing with this lifealtering event.”
Moreover, through the launch of GTA’s Brain Injury Division, Gomez, Sizemore and Coughlan are doing all that they can to promote public awareness of the seriousness of even seemingly minor brain injuries. “The defense will say that victims are suffering from anything other than a brain injury. They will say they are depressed, they will say our clients drink too much caffeine,” Gomez says. “That’s why these victims need attorneys who are specialists in this area. Generalists are not going to be able to overcome, and prove through the latest imaging techniques, through the neuropsychologists, through advanced MRIs that these victims have sustained serious injuries. A lot of these cases do wind up going to trial, and victims need their attorney to understand the latest science, and to put in the work with their families, to find out exactly how the injury has affected the victim. Most attorneys simply don’t have the expertise necessary to win these cases, and they don’t have the time to become the experts they need to, in order to win for their clients.”
In addition to the launch of the new Brain Injury Division, Sizemore and Coughlan have authored and published articles about the practice of brain injury representation for the local Trial Bar News. Likewise, Coughlan is a co-author and editor of the book Journey Toward Recovery: A Brain Injury Guide for Survivors, which was released by the San Diego Brain Injury Foundation.


More Survivors as True Measure of Success
For Gomez, Coughlan and Sizemore, helping brain injury victims to transition into brain injury survivors is both their greatest driving force, and their greatest reward. The cases in and of themselves are often life-saving. “By virtue of the outcome of these cases, we can change lives for our victims, as the injuries will more often than not prevent them from earning a living,” says Gomez. However, there is also an element of vindication that he says, helps change lives. “These victims have been called liars the whole time. When we can prove that they have never been liars, that instead they have been victims of a horrible injury, there is a huge psychological reward that our clients deserve and finally receive.”
Likewise, Coughlan says, “I don’t think you can be in the practice of injury law without a passion for fighting for people who are going through the worst time of their lives. Particularly with brain injured victims, when we are dealing with people who don’t understand what is happening to them, the ability to be able to help those who are struggling so badly, feels incredible. I think the passion that drives us as personal injury attorneys is ramped up even more when we are able to help a brain injury victim to finally get the help that they need, and to have access to resources that will continue to help them as they recover.”
“There is no such thing as a mild brain injury. Any injury to our brain, which is our control system, is a serious injury. So, we’re incredibly focused on supporting survivors, through changing the narrative about these types of injuries,” he says.

Ben J. Coughlan
Jessica Sizemore
Gomez Trial Attorneys
655 West Broadway, Suite 1700
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 237-3490

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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