On Sunday, August 12, 2012 at 9:07pm I got the following email from my client, Willie Roth, whom I’ve been representing for 3 years:
I want you to reach out to the defense and the insurance to see if their last offer is still on the table. If so, accept it, and let’s be done. My physical limitations and my mental state are about as good as they are going to get, and I am tired of feeling like a mushroom. Thanks for all of your help.
We’d had 2 failed mediations in the past couple years, and the last offer presented just wasn’t good enough in either of our estimation, but he’d grown tired of fighting with them. Tired of living on a workers’ comp check that represented half what he made before he fell off a nearly 2-story high ladder and required multiple discs in his back to be fused together.
I responded at 9:20pm from my iphone:
I think it is. Defense counsel insists we’re close to getting the insurer to agree to our terms, though. I understand your frustration, but I really do think another few weeks would do it. Let me try to reach him again on Monday.
I immediately emailed the opposing counsel about getting the settlement we’d agreed was warranted here…the one the insurance company had, so far, seemed unwilling to “close the gap” and authorize, despite its own counsel’s insistence that it do so.
But Monday, I had a meeting at 8am after we sent Maddie to her first day of elementary school. Then I had a deposition at 10am and a mediation at 1pm. And Tuesday, I had a hearing in the morning, followed by a mediation that afternoon at 2pm. Wednesday, I got up at 4am, drove 4 hours to Savannah, mediated a case, and then drove 4 hours back. Thursday, I had a meeting a 7:30am, a meeting at 10:30am, and a 2pm mediation. At the end of the day, our office suite went to happy hour and dinner together to send off our summer file clerk who was returning to college this weekend.
At 6:03pm, I got an email from my after hours answering service that said this:
Call From: Scott Roth / Regarding: His brother. He said it was urgent.
I’d forgotten to follow up on my email Monday like I said I would. I wasn’t sure why Willie’s brother was calling me, but I was a few drinks in by this point, so I figured I’d call him Friday morning. Still, it bothered me.
I called Scott at 9am Friday.
Scott: Willie died yesterday. I found him on the floor of his bathroom. He was still pretty warm…I don’t know if he had a heart attack or something happened related to his diabetes or what… I just… I wanted to let you know.
I asked some questions about whether it looked like a fall and thought about whether I could possibly relate his death to the back surgeries I helped him get over the course of the past few years. Realizing such was unlikely, and realizing I’d lost about $20k in expenses and fees by not settling before he died, I mustered:
Me: I’m really sorry to hear this. Your brother and I spent several hours together during two failed mediations and a couple depositions. We exchanged countless emails and phone conferences. I’ve represented a lot of folks the past decade, but Willie…he was one of my absolute favorite clients–a joy to talk to and be around. I will miss him.
And then I hung up and cried a bunch while wondering if I could have saved him the heart attack or diabetic coma or whatever killed him by acting immediately on Monday instead of getting too fucking busy to follow through. I hated myself.
I emailed my opposing counsel with the news. He called me within a few minutes, but I wasn’t able to talk to him about it. He asked if I’d be okay and offered to take me to lunch, but I had obligations to meet and appointments to keep. Specifically, a 10:30 client meeting and a noon deposition. He promised he’d light a candle for my client at Mass over the weekend and that he’d “chant vespers.” I didn’t know what that meant, but it sounded like a nice gesture.
I got through the day.
Tonight, I drove 45minutes north of town to catch the last 15 minutes of his visitation. I met Scott, who greeted me with a “I was expecting someone older!” to which I replied, “So was I!” because I love any chance to quote “A Few Good Men.”
I met his family and saw pictures of his mother, who died 5 months ago. I met his sister. His brother-in-law talked to me about his hernia case and the hearing set for 10 days from now. I saw a very still Willie Roth lying in the suit he wore when we were last together. I missed his smile and his eternal optimism in the face of shitty circumstances and unpleasant news from medical professionals.
I answered some of Scott’s questions about Willie’s case and discussed how Florida and Georgia have different workers’ compensation laws. The clock changed to 8:00pm. Visitation was over.
Scott reached his hand toward me for another handshake. “Willie always said good things about you and what y’all were doing. I hate that, you know, you can’t get compensated for any of that now…”
Then, “It really means a lot to us that you came tonight. I know you’re busy.”
And for the first time since 9:00 Friday morning, I almost felt like I’d done right by Willie Roth. By his family, at least.