It was the kind of storm that veils a midsummer daydream in a midnight cloudscape, and every Chicagoan knew it was coming. Since 6 a.m. on July 2nd of 1992, news radio had been urging people to forget their beach ball suntans and to seek shelter. While the tempest flung airplanes around like origami, every urban laborer from Mundelein to Evanston was sent home, save for one ill-fated crew of 11 construction workers who were charged to keep working. I call them Morici’s Eleven.
“I’ve wanted to be a lawyer since I was 10-years old,” Personal Injury Trial Attorney, James Morici, said in his office on Michigan Avenue. “As a kid I never had a flashlight or a transistor radio I didn’t take apart. I was my grandfather’s shadow—right in the middle of changing storm windows, adjusting hinges, fixing plumbing and electric…” He smiled, “In my profession, I still get to do that same kind of thing. You know, investigating the incidents—taking apart the flashlight.”
Having graduated with highest honors from ITT/Chicago-Kent College of Law in 1979, Morici has since been celebrated as one of the college’s “125 Alumni of Distinction,” and, most recently, he was elected to appear on the 2014 list of Illinois Super Lawyers—an honor that ranks Morici well within the upper echelon of personal injury attorneys. But while his armory of awards and credentials are certainly remarkable, it hardly does justice in terms of portraying Morici’s devotion to his clients:
In his own words, “I like to have a very personal kind of commitment to every one of my clients. I might have a shelf full of cases but my clients only have one, and one injury. When I am working on a particular client’s case—doing a deposition, going to trial, talking to that client—that client has my 110 percent, exclusive focus.”
Come noon, Morici’s Eleven were still buttering cinderblocks with mortar as they erected a 30-foot-high concrete wall for a Wal-Mart. Nine hardhats atop the scaffold, one in a forklift, and Pedro Gutierrez was at the foot of the wall, questioning its stability. They were the only laborers in Chicagoland who weren’t homebound and even in the approach of the cloudburst, the general contractor on-site was hell-bent on an Independence Day deadline. But the freshly laid brick was a card-house in the whirlwind, and as its damp joints wilted, the sorry contractor watched from a safe distance: while his men frantically clambered down the scaffold; as Pedro Gutierrez raced to the base of the wall to brace its collapse; and ultimately, as kilotons of concrete masonry crumbled, pulverizing their bodies into the Earth.
On the one hand, Morici specializes in construction site negligence and premises liability:
“I’ve tried more construction worker injury cases than any lawyer in Illinois. To be realistic, on construction sites and in many other work places, time is money. Now obviously it’s worth it in the name of safety to erect a scaffold, to secure guard rails and planks, to make sure everything is properly tied to the building, and to have the personnel there to make certain that these safety measures are taken. But it is time, and time is money, and do general contractors sometimes allow sub-contractors to cut corners for the sake of working a little faster? Yes—and when that happens, sometimes catastrophes occur. That’s where we come in,” said Morici.
On the other hand, Morici specializes in Products Liability Law, which is the legal elixir for when a personal injury or wrongful death arises because of a faulty design or the negligent manufacturing of a product. Morici’s office is adorned with artifacts that symbolize past products liability cases, one of which is a green John Deere tractor, set on the crown of his bookshelf as a reminder of a client who suffered a severe brain injury while working on an assembly line.
Morici tells the story, “A big piece of that tractor suspended by an overhead crane was coming to my client’s station when the hook holding the tractor gave way, and a big feeder house the size of my credenza fell onto his head. There was a broken gate assembly that didn’t properly latch. I spent three years working on a case against the manufacture of this hook, learning everything there is to know about the metallurgy and the mechanical engineering that goes into a relatively simple implement.” And at that point, my impression of the simple John Deere model had been infused with the dramatic complexities of its meaning—a three year trial at a glance—a hieroglyph.
After being wrecked by kilotons of cinderblock, Morici’s Eleven emerged from the rubble marred and mangled, each man having sustained a career-ending injury. The left arm of Pedro Gutierrez, for instance, required amputation after it was severed in the wall collapse. In addition to his physical ruin, the man endured unimaginable psychological trauma. One heartbreaking ramification was that his five-year-old twin daughters were afraid of his prosthetic limb, and therefore shied away from his affections. In his own words, he had been ‘maimed,’ but fortune took a turn in his favor when he contacted Morici Figlioli & Associates.
If I may just cut to the chase, or race to the bottom line: the predominant issue that Morici Figlioli & Associates faces is that most people do not have a personal injury lawyer on retainer, naturally, because people believe they are invulnerable to the talons of tragedy. But from the instant calamity strikes, time is of the essence; evidence is quickly lost [scaffolds are torn down, the guilty cover their tracks, details are forgotten] and insurance adjusters are deft at pressuring victims to accept their lowball recompenses—lest they revoke their “generous” offers in a game of take it or leave it—which is why it is imperative to retain James Morici, and Morici Figlioli & Associates, immediately.
“Insurance companies are your best friends when they are collecting premiums,” Morici explained. “We’ve all heard the jingles, the slogans. The good neighbors—even the cute little gecko. But when you make a claim you see a totally different side. You will now be dealing with an adjuster. They are experts at undermining a person’s ability to recover, and our clients are at a disadvantage. We reverse the playing field.”
In 1997, James Morici settled the Wal-Mart case for $24 million. He said that Pedro Gutierrez wrote him a note after the case was settled—having just returned from Disney World with his family. The note read, “We were standing on Main Street looking at Cinderella’s Castle, and I said to my wife, ‘Rosa, look how beautiful it is. Thank God for Mr. Morici!’”
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