Getting injured in an accident can impact everyday life for individuals and their families, and personal injury lawyers help people through these difficult situations. Four local personal injury lawyers weighed in on why they like this field of law, and also provided advice on what do do if injured in an accident.
“I hope to help, not just in a legal sense, but to get people through these traumatic situations,” says Bonnie S. Dombrowski, who has been representing personal injury clients for 26 of her 30 years as a lawyer. “Many times people are especially vulnerable, such as someone who has lost a child or a spouse, or someone who can’t go back to work.” She heads the Arizona office of Jacoby & Meyers in partnership with the Shore Dombrowski Law Firm.
“I didn’t start out to specialize in personal injury, but while I was in law school I clerked at a firm that handled personal injury cases,” Dombrowski explains. “I realized that these types of cases mix law and sociology, and I have a degree in sociology and members of my family were social workers.”
Barry Bellovin, who started the Bellovin Law Firm in 1981, has been interested in law since eighth grade. He did so well in debate class that his teacher encouraged him to become a lawyer. When he was 15 years old, his father was in a car accident, which led to his interest in personal injury cases.
“My interests are all about helping people,” says Bellovin. “People who get injured are like Humpty Dumpty — and lawyers help to put people and their lives back together.”
Bellovin says he also enjoys his work because he is always learning something new. “Being a personal injury lawyer covers different fields such as medicine, law, accounting, psychology, and even mechanics when you need to understand how an accident happened,” he says. “My days are varied. I might need to meet someone at a hospital, spend the day reading documents, or go to court. Every day I am doing something different.”
James “Jimmy” Fein, of Fein, Flynn and Associates, P.C., says, “I think I always wanted to be a lawyer and I have also always enjoyed politics.” Now semi-retired, he is “of counsel.” While he is still the main partner, and consults on cases, he does not handle court appearances. He often speaks with people who contact the office and evaluates the situation to determine if they have a case worth pursuing.
The first law firm Fein worked at in Tucson was Miller, Pitt and Feldman, and he also worked for a year as a prosecutor for consumer fraud claims through the Pima County Attorney’s Office. When he started his own law firm in 1976, he chose to focus on personal injury and consumer claims cases.
“We do not charge any fees up front, and this is typical of personal injury lawyers,” says Fein. “We think of ourselves as the poor man’s key to the courthouse. We take a cut of the settlement if the case is successful, and we pay the expenses until the end of the case.”
One reason Fein chose to specialize in personal injury is because he wants to help make life easier for people. “We always represent the little guy or the underdog, and I am very proud of that,” he says.
David E. Hameroff, of the Hameroff Law Firm, P.C., says he knew he wanted to be a lawyer since he was in the fourth grade. All through high school and college he took courses and was involved in activities that he thought would help him get into law school. He was in student government, including as president, at the University of Arizona, and also did volunteer work.
“It was my association with Jimmy Fein that influenced me to specialize in personal injury cases,” says Hameroff. “We were partners from 1983-2000 and we both always fought hard for our clients. I still carry a full load of cases and I still fight hard for my clients.
“I like the field of personal injury because I can make a difference in people’s lives. In bigger cases where the injuries are more severe people may need money to live on or may need medical care for the rest of their lives. In cases where the injuries are minor, people still need money for car repairs or medical care. Even with the smaller cases there are changes and inconveniences to someone’s life.”
Motor vehicle collisions where someone else is at fault are the most common cases handled by these lawyers. Some of the most common causes of accidents include people running a red traffic light or following another car too closely and rear-ending it. The lawyers have seen a large range of injuries incurred by accidents.
“For me the most difficult cases to handle are when a child has died from an accident,” says Dombrowski. But there have been other difficult cases for her, such as wrongful death case involving a man who was cut in half as a result of a trucking accident. She says the case took almost seven years to resolve due to added complications because the victim lived in New York, but his family lived here in Tucson.
“It is more that the people are memorable, than the particular case,” says Dombrowski. “There have been certain families that I have become especially connected to. People come into your life and into your heart and stay there.”
Bellovin also says that accidents involving children and those resulting in paralysis or death are among the most difficult. “There are a lot of issues to deal with for the accident victim and their families, and I need to not just be a lawyer, but also a counselor and a coordinator for prolonged medical care,” he says. “There have been cases where I have become very close to the family, and have developed lifelong friendships.”
One of Fein’s most unusual cases was suing Ford Motor Company for fraud because the Ford dealer did not disclose the history of a car sold to a couple in Arizona. The car came from Hawaii and had a history of problems. The couple were in an accident because the brakes failed to work properly. They had minor injuries but the case was more about the car’s history. Fein won the case, but the court of appeals reversed the decision and the Arizona Supreme Court turned down the petition to hear the case. The whole process lasted from 1994-1997.
“In a way the case was fun,” says Fein. “I had fun thinking that it was just little ol’ me against the Ford Motor Company.”
In another memorable case Fein and Hameroff represented a 26-year-old man who was in the back seat of a car when it was hit by a truck. As a result of his injuries, the man was paralyzed from the neck down, and he died about 10 years after the accident. “What was memorable was that I was so impressed with this person’s courage in facing his situation,” says Fein.
“Some cases are especially memorable because you get emotionally involved,” says Hameroff. “I developed a relationship with the family and I visited the patient in a nursing facility. On cases such as this, personal involvement helps to solidify our relationship with the family.” However, he stressed that not all cases require this kind of involvement with the client or the client’s family.
When not working, these lawyers spend time on other projects. Dombrowski loves gardening, sings with the Congregation Chaverim choir, and is on the board of the Gerd and Inge Strauss Manor, a B’nai B’rith assisted living community for low income seniors. Bellovin has served on the board of Tucson Hebrew Academy, which all four of his children attended. He works out with a personal trainer and practices meditation. Fein volunteers at a homeless shelter, assists UA law students with a project to help veterans, and is an avid poker player who has competed in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. When Hameroff gets the chance, he heads to San Carlos, Mexico, to go fishing. He also is a member of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona-sponsored Cardozo Society, a group for lawyers, judges, and law students. As an avid UA Wildcat basketball fan, he rarely misses a game.