Checkmate: The Grandmaster Behind Legal Victories
Since forming, Darren W. Penn’s practice has exploded with a number of record setting case resolutions that will change the lives of his clients for the better. As a life-long Georgian, Darren began practicing law in 1994 as a trial lawyer for State Farm Insurance Companies, the largest auto, property, and casualty insurer in the…
Since forming, Darren W. Penn’s practice has exploded with a number of record setting case resolutions that will change the lives of his clients for the better. As a life-long Georgian, Darren began practicing law in 1994 as a trial lawyer for State Farm Insurance Companies, the largest auto, property, and casualty insurer in the world. He started out handling cases involving automobile wrecks, premises liability, intentional torts, fire claims, theft claims, homeowners claims, insurance bad faith, and coverage disputes.
This was just the start of his amazing journey into law. We speak with Darren on how he has progressed during his career, and why he ensures his clients are at the center of everything he does.
Your main goal is to make a difference in the lives of your clients; can you share ways in which you achieve this goal?
I have been extremely fortunate in having had the opportunity and privilege to represent incredible people in cases that have had a major impact on not only their lives, but the lives of others. Believe me, as a trial lawyer, actually making a difference in the lives of others is one of the highest honors. In one case, we represented a young lady injured due to a defect involving Ford transmissions. This defect had existed for over 20 years and the company did very little to investigate the problem and did much less to fix it. As a result of the hard work in the case, the NHTSA (National Highway Transportation Safety Administration) ended up opening an investigation into the defect and changes were ultimately made.
I am currently working with the NHTSA, the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission), and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) on ongoing cases in hopes of, at a minimum, ensuring that information related to the products at issue is available to the public on a wide scale. In a recent case, we represented an individual injured by an industrial machine when a part of the product broke off — resulting in the loss of both of his eyes. The product was changed and a free trade was offered, but not officially recalled. We hope that the efforts put forth in that case may have contributed to a better understanding of some of the hazards involved with that kind of product and that the manufacturer does a better job of communicating issues with its products to its customers in the future. For our client, the result was such that he will be in a position to cover all of his medical care and living expenses in the future. The security of knowing that those expenses will be taken care of have gone a long way towards enhancing not only his recovery, but the ability to cope with his injuries.
We have also worked extremely hard in areas of serious public concern, such as the world sex slave trade and childhood sexual molestation that is so often covered up and hidden until civil statutes of limitation have expired. A few years ago, I met Emma Hetherington, the Director of the Marlon Wilbanks CEASE Clinic, which is operated through the University of Georgia School of Law. We have dedicated hours and resources towards assisting the clinic and other victims of abuse. We worked very hard on the “Hidden Predator Act” that was originally passed in 2015. And most recently, during the 2018 legislative session, our firm, along with many other incredible people trying to make a difference in the lives of others, worked tirelessly towards amending the Hidden Predator Act to expand its effectiveness in the State of Georgia. While we were unfortunately not able to make the necessary changes to this law, we will continue to pursue those efforts until those changes are made. We are dedicated to pursuing this for as long as it takes.
You are often creative in your approach towards cases; what do you do if you have hit a wall in terms of handling or overcoming the case for your client?
It is kind of funny that you would describe it as “hitting a wall.” In my practice, I really don’t see it that way. The way I see it, is that if a wall is put up in front of your client, it is my job to figure out which way to turn to get by that barrier. It’s sort of like being inside the maze and when you come to a wall, you have to find the alternative route for achieving success for your client. Sometimes that means literally creating the alternative route. Maybe go over the wall. Maybe you go under the wall. Other times that means simply determining which way is the best turn.
I can think of three examples of this in my practice. The first was a medical malpractice case tried by my former partner that ended up with a hung jury that was split 11-1 against our client. For the second trial, I joined the trial team and the jury returned a verdict in favor of our incredible client. That was one of those highly impactful moments of my career. A day I will never forget.
The second was a case involving the denial of a long-term disability insurance claim we tried and lost before a jury. We disagreed with a number of rulings in the case and were able to get those rulings overturned on appeal and a new trial granted. The granting of the new trial led to a favorable result for our deserving client.
The third case involved a tire service professional that jacked up a motor home without using jack stands and the vehicle fell off the jack onto our client’s husband. The trial court granted summary judgment against us. We appealed, the decision was reversed, and our client had her day in court.
As a trial lawyer, every decision I make is for the benefit of my clients. And my obligation to my clients from the very beginning is to achieve the most successful result for them that I can. This could mean the case ends in settlement or trial; it just depends on how the case develops, the decisions made by our opponents, and the best interests of our clients. At the end of the day, our ultimate goal is to achieve a result that makes a difference in the lives of our clients.
Can you expand more on how you have influenced critical changes in safety regulations and legislation?
I don’t know if I can necessarily expand on specifics of critical changes that have been made. However, I know that the longer I practice and the more cases I am involved in, the sort of issues that really draw my interest are those that can have a greater impact not only for our clients, but for the greater good.
For example, we were recently involved in a case involving a defective product made by a Chinese manufacturer. Well, almost any product liability lawyer you will meet would tell you that pursuing a case against a Chinese manufacturer is fraught with all sorts of legal challenges. However, this particular case also involves a mass US internet retailer that is the bridge that brought these Chinese products to consumers here in the United States. One of the reasons we were interested in this case was the potential to shed some light on how blindly allowing a manufacturer to sell their products over the Internet with unfettered access to consumers and no requirements to meet basic consumer protection standards is not a good idea. This is a practice that needs to stop, as it has caused an enormous amount of harm to people all over the world. There is a reason why minimum safety standards exist in the US and foreign manufacturers should not be able to skirt those standards through the internet.
Moreover, is there anything you are currently advocating to change, for the betterment of the legal system and your clients?
Yes, protection of the civil justice system is unending. The reality is that our system, while not always perfect, is by far the best system in the world and has done more good for people than harm. Here at Penn Law, we are always advocating for any change that will enhance the civil justice system and our clients. As I noted, we are involved in the legislative process each and every year. We have dedicated time, effort and resources for all legislators for their benefit in reviewing language of bills to help ensure that what they are intending to do is accomplished in a way that does not harm citizens. And, we never hesitate to assist in passing legislation that we feel will benefit the citizens of Georgia. That is why we have worked so hard on legislation – like the Hidden Predator Act -, over the years. This is the kind of work that simply never ends. If one law is passed for the greater good, there are others that can be worked on as well.
You have tried well over a hundred bench and jury trials as lead counsel; do you remember your first case, and the ways in which it shaped the way you tackled your future cases?
Oh yes, of course I remember my first case as lead counsel! Actually, I remember the very first bench trial I had, as well as my very first jury trial. The bench trial was a magistrate court case in Gwinnett County, Georgia. The court session began at 8 pm. and there were about 25 cases on the calendar. I had one of the simplest cases a lawyer could have because I was defending an individual who had been sued for an auto wreck and the plaintiff was the owner of a company trying to get his company truck repaired. Well, the law in Georgia is that a corporation cannot be represented by an individual. They have to be represented by a lawyer and this plaintiff did not have a lawyer. It was an easy victory for my client: I walked out of the courthouse at 1 am.
My first jury trial was also a defense case where I defended an individual in an automobile wreck. It was a three day trial, and I was a complete nervous wreck. I tried the case against a lawyer with a lot of experience representing plaintiffs who had tried hundreds of cases over the years. Here I was, this super green, yet eager, young lawyer who did not have a clue on how to try a case. At the end of this trial, however, the old adage that “cases are won and lost not by how good lawyers are but how good the clients are” held true. My client won their case because the plaintiff was not so well-liked by the jury. I can assure you it did not have anything to do with my work as a trial lawyer in that case, even though I tried hard!
From IP to medical malpractice, you specialize in a variety of industries; which poses the most challenge for you?
With the kinds of complex cases that we handle, each and every one of them are challenging in their own way. Each case has its own challenges as well as its own positives. In my opinion, the best chance for success for your client is to literally become a “specialist” in the subject matter of whatever the case is about. So, for example, if the case involves product liability, you have to learn everything you can possibly learn about that product, the company, the way the company operates and manufactures its products, how those products have performed in the real world, and then everything you can possibly know about your client’s injuries, from a medical and a real-world perspective.
If the case is a medical malpractice case, the same is true except you are dealing with issues related to medical treatment of a patient, medical conditions, considerations of standard of care for professionals in like or similar circumstances, and what impact those issues had on your client, including all of the harm done. The same is true in each and every other kind of case you could name: trucking, auto, premises liability, business tort, commercial litigation, etc. It is my strong belief that your best chance of success for your client is really diving into each and every detail about the case and knowing those details better than your opponent. If you cannot master the details of every aspect of the case, your client will often be vulnerable. That is not where you want them to be.
On the other hand, which is your favorite area of law and why?
The answer to this is simple: my favorite area of the law is trial. There are few things in life that have as meaningful an impact on the human soul than going through the entire process from the investigation of a legal matter, the filing of a case, discovery, surviving dispositive motions, sometimes dealing with appeals, trial, and verdict and watching the reaction of your client when the jury’s verdict is read. After all that time, effort, blood, sweat and tears getting there, in just an instant, I have seen sheer joy, overwhelming relief, shock, overflowing gratitude, disappointment in tears of both joy and sadness. And, believe it or not, a lot of changes in this world are made in those very moments. Aside from falling in love, your wedding day, the birth of children, death of loved ones, and other world changing events, I am not aware of any more poignant moments in the lives of human beings. I, for one, am simply privileged to be able to be a small part of those moments sometimes.
How would you advise aspiring lawyers to climb to the top?
Of course, “climbing to the top” is certainly relative and it truly depends on one’s definition of the top. For me, success as a trial lawyer is the same as success in just about anything we endeavor to do. When I talk to younger lawyers or lawyers possibly seeking to make changes in their careers, my message is basically the same. I truly believe that you must love what you do with all of your heart and soul if you really want to be successful at it. This is especially true as a trial lawyer for there are so many different ways to make a living in this world that are not nearly as stressful and difficult.
But, if you truly love what you do and care about each and every one of your clients, it will show and the results will take care of themselves. I have always found that if you keep your focus on the client, the chances of success are greater. Believe me, I didn’t necessarily choose to be a trial lawyer but, rather, I think it sort of chose me. I am one of those fortunate ones who truly loves what I do day in and day out and tries to make a difference, however small, in any way that I can. For that, I am truly blessed.
Darren W. Penn
Penn Law LLC
4200 Northside Parkway, NW
Building One, Suite 100
Atlanta GA 30327
“My name is Darren W. Penn. I am the founder and owner of Penn Law LLC. We are a trial firm that handles a wide variety of tort and other complex civil litigation in state and federal courts across the United States. Our practice handles extensive product liability, trucking and auto collisions, wrongful death, medical malpractice, sexual abuse, child molestation, whistleblower, business tort, entertainment and even intellectual property cases. We have worked on mass tort and class action cases, however, I personally prefer representing clients on an individual basis or at least a smaller group basis. We have handled almost every type of legal case.
“I am a past President of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association, a member of the Board and past Chair of the Georgia State Bar’s General Practice and Trial Law Section, the past Chair of the Civil Justice PAC of Georgia where I still serve on the Board. I am currently a member of the Executive Committee of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association and have been heavily involved in the legislative process over the years in an effort to ensure that Georgia’s citizens have equal access to a strong civil justice system pursuant to the Seventh Amendment of our Constitution. I am a member of the “Verdicts Hall of Fame” and have received various awards for service and dedication to the civil justice system.
“Simply put, we are a trial firm, not a specialist firm. We handle so many different types of cases because we are a trial firm that focuses our efforts in making life a little more liveable for clients who have suffered grave and extreme losses. We think of ourselves as a full service trial firm because we are not simply “paper pushing” litigators. We’re equally adept inside the courtroom as outside.”