Thursday, January 13, 2011

Jeffrey Hill and Gregory Gold: Largest slip and fall verdict ever

Published: December 28, 2010 in the Lawyer USA
Read full article here!

By the time Holly Averyt called solo attorney Jeffrey Hill, every other lawyer had
turned her case down.

Even Gerry Spence saw little merit in a slip-and-fall with no witnesses in icy Greeley,
Colo., known for its conservative bent, against Walmart, a defendant notorious for
digging in and refusing to settle.

But something in Averyt’ s voice, despite its hard edge, told Hill, who practices in
Colorado Springs, that she deserved to be represented and he was the one to do it.

“ I’ ve spent a lot of time representing people who for whatever reason are society’ s
outcasts, and over 15 years of doing that I have learned to distinguish between people
who see themselves as perpetual victims and people who are legitimately aggrieved,”
said Hill.

He then enlisted the help of Gregory Gold, a friend with whom he had successfully
tried a case in 2005 against a 911 operator who didn’ t respond to a call from a woman
who ended up being murdered by her boyfriend.

This time, the two small-firm lawyers turned a case that no one else wanted into a $15
million jury award, the largest slip and fall verdict in history.

From the beginning, Averyt, an obese trucker who worked as an independent
contractor, claimed she slipped on white kitchen grease that flooded a Walmart
parking lot while she helped unload frozen foods.

But her story didn’ t come together until the second day of trial, when documented
evidence of the spill and a Walmart-financed cleanup surfaced for the first time.

Both lawyers said that the jury responded to Walmart’ s deception in denying the
grease spill or that Averyt ever fell.

The attorneys, both 41, started practicing around the same time and met at Gerry
Spence’ s Trial Lawyers College, where Hill became a staff member in 2002.

Hill went to law school when he realized his original plan of becoming a veterinarian
required math and science skills he lacked (despite being the son of a nuclear
scientist). He decided to be a trial lawyer after becoming glued to a Gerry Spence book
one day in a bookstore.

Despite some dark days when he’ s though of throwing in the towel, like after he
lost a case as a public defender and his client got a life sentence, Hill keeps trying
cases because he knows if he didn’ t represent some of his clients, especially in the
conservative community where he practices, most likely no one else will.

Gold, who grew up in a legal family with a father who still practices law, says the win
was more satisfying as a team.

“ It was a fantastic feeling to work with a friend and colleague. Rather than working
quietly alone, we’ d be in the foxhole together at 11 pm wondering what they were
going to throw at us in the morning,” said Gold.

Occasionally, their personality differences surfaced.

During some of those late-night sessions, Gold drew energy and inspiration from
watching Vince Lombardi’ s half-time rallying calls on YouTube, like the one that
opens the movie “ Any Given Sunday” : “ I firmly believe that any man’ s finest hour -
his greatest fulfillment to all he holds dear … is that moment when he has worked his
heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious.”

The more sober-minded Hill watched the clip and said: “ That’ s nice. Let’ s get back to

- Sylvia Hsieh

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