Insight

Courtroom Mastery

Victor H. Pribanic recalled the excitement of returning to the courtroom in late 2021 for a medical negligence case that could help set a new course for Pribanic & Pribanic’s trial advocacy.

Victor H. Pribanic Makes Return to Courtroom
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Justin Smulison

April 26, 2022 09:03 AM

Victor Pribanic was away from the courtroom for too long due to the pandemic. When he saw his client’s medical negligence case listed on the docket for the Court of Common Pleas of Cambria County in November 2021, the Pribanic & Pribanic Co-Founder felt a renewed thrill of what it meant to be a trial lawyer.

“Nothing can replicate the experience of a courtroom trial,” said Pribanic, a seven-time Best Lawyers “Lawyer of the Year” in Pittsburgh for Plaintiffs’ Medical Malpractice (2014, 2017, 2020) and Product Liability Litigation (2010, 2012, 2015, 2018). “After months of video hearings and meetings, we felt the energy about returning to court and we harnessed it to make our case.”

After several weeks of preparation, Pribanic gathered his notes, files containing demonstrative evidence and protective face masks to adhere to safety guidelines.

His injured client was a man in his 50s who suffered from a pedicle screw that was improperly placed during a spinal fusion near the vertebrae. Attempts to correct the problem had previously failed; a disc in his lower back caused chronic sciatic pain that shot through his right leg. An operation intended to relieve that pain resulted in severe new pain in his left leg.

Such cases are challenging, Pribanic notes, because a misplaced screw is not generally regarded by expert neurosurgeons as a negligent event; most agree that it can happen even while exercising reasonable care during the operation. But failing to fix it quickly can cause permanent injury. Unfortunately for the client, too much time had elapsed between his waking from surgery with new pain, discovery of the misplaced screw and his return to the operating room. He ultimately suffered a permanent left foot drop.

“We began the trial with no consent to settle the case from the defendant neurosurgeon,” Pribanic says. He exposed errors and inconsistencies in the doctor’s actions and reading of X-rays and brought these details to light during a masterful cross-examination of the defense’s expert witness. “I knew I was connecting with the jurors—despite the fact that they were spread throughout the courtroom and that the face mask caused my glasses to fog up.”

The defense must have recognized that Pribanic was nearing a favorable verdict, because they offered to settle the claim just prior to the closing arguments on the last day of the trial. But Pribanic notes that the settlement was just one of the victories of the day. His intuition that his arguments were resonating with the jury was spot-on, as one juror sent him a letter expressing their appreciation for his advocacy:

I am sending this note in appreciation. I was juror #11 in the trial in early November [2021]. I don’t know how to put this into words, other than to say that even words like, ‘amazing,’ ‘remarkable’ and ‘outstanding’ appear trite/cliché.

Frankly, I conclude there are no words that encompass what you were able to do for your client and his family. Your dedication, passion and hard work were so very evident.

I’m so grateful that there are people such as yourself advocating for the injured.

The handwritten letter is a striking example of how representing the injured has a meaningful impact upon both the clients’ lives and jurors who participate in the work of administering justice.

“It is extremely gratifying to know that we made a difference for our client and that it truly moved a juror—who is by definition, a ‘peer’ of the plaintiff,” Pribanic says. “It is a privilege and an honor to practice law in a system that may not be perfect but remains the best in the world.”

Justin Smulison is a professional writer who regularly contributes to Best Lawyers. He was previously a reporter for the New York Law Journal and also led content and production for the Custom Projects Group at ALM Media. In addition to his various credited and uncredited writing projects, he has developed global audiences hosting and producing podcasts and audio interviews for professional organizations and music sites. JustinSmulison.contently.com

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