You could say Robert Mongeluzzi wrote the book on construction accident cases—he penned the American Association for Justice’s go-to text on the topic, Handling Construction Accident Cases.
But, as Mongeluzzi shared with us in the 2007 issue of Pennsylvania & Delaware Super Lawyers, he’s more than professionally familiar with the concept of personal injury. Catastrophe seems to run in his family—his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all suffered workplace injuries during their blue-collar careers.
Still, Mongeluzzi is something of a thrill-seeker. Driving high-speed cars, mountain biking and skiing are a few of his hobbies, but no risk he takes outside of the courtroom is as thrilling as going to trial. He has been lead counsel on many seven- and eight-figure settlements, but he always remembers his roots, often quoting his blue-collar hero, Bruce Springsteen, in opening or closing arguments.
He takes on several dozen cases a year. Seven or eight go to trial, and a couple typically go to verdict. “Ninety-five percent of my cases settle,” Mongeluzzi says. “The problem is, we don’t know the 5 percent we’ll try. So they all have to be prepared.” And the cost of preparing a case can easily run into six figures. He routinely prepares videos and mini-documentaries about his clients and their cases to encourage insurance companies to settle. And he has pioneered the use of videos—particularly videos of defense witnesses during depositions—during his opening statements. For example, the video about Emmanuel Martinez, the young man in Georgia who had the multiple amputations, is a professional, powerful production that shows how physically painful his life is, how difficult it is for his family to take care of him, how he needs so much high-tech equipment and skilled care, and most of all, how much the young man tries to remain positive. It shows he has learned to speak English, he has taught himself to paint, and during the brief daily periods when he is upright in his plastic “bucket,” he volunteers at a local burn unit. “One of the things that we’ve lost in this profession, and one of the things that I think great trial lawyers have, is creativity,” Mongeluzzi says. “It almost gets beaten out of you in law school, and that’s a shame. Go out and take a risk.”
Earlier this year Mongeluzzi represented Andrea Lane, a 42-year-old Philadelphia policewoman who suffered a disabling arm injury while training for bicycle patrol; her bike slipped and she crashed on a city trail that had not been properly maintained. Mongeluzzi filed a lawsuit against the contracting firm that was responsible for the trail’s upkeep. The turning point in the trial came when testimony from a defense witness, an economist, suggested that Lane’s damages for lost wages should be limited because she would have been eligible to retire from the police force at age 57. Mongeluzzi began his cross-examination abruptly.
“Who’s Joey?” he asked the economist.
The economist was mystified.
Mongeluzzi went over to the gallery behind his client, reached into the audience and patted the head of Joey, 9, the youngest of Lane’s six children. Then Mongeluzzi asked the economist how old Lane would be when Joey graduates from college. Probably 56. Did it seem like Lane would be able to retire at age 57, when she was just starting to pay back six sets of college loans?
The jury deliberated two and a half hours and came back with a verdict of $3.5 million. The other lawyers in Mongeluzzi’s office now call it the “Who’s Joey?” cross-examination.