Published in 2023 San Diego Super Lawyers magazine
By Joe Mullich on March 27, 2023
It’s the kind of story Robert Hamparyan, a trial attorney who heads Hamparyan Injury Lawyers in San Diego, has heard countless times: A motorcyclist turns into an intersection, is hit by a truck, and lands unconscious on the street. It’s sheer luck other vehicles don’t run over them.
But in this particular story, the motorcyclist is Hamparyan himself.
It happened a few decades ago in Huntington Beach. He wound up with a severe concussion and no memory of the accident, but it wasn’t—as the saying goes—his first rodeo. A jiujitsu enthusiast, longtime athlete and avid motorcyclist, Hamparyan isn’t a stranger to injury: “I’ve wrecked my neck, I’ve wrecked my back, I’ve broken numerous bones,” he says.
He believes all this gives him even more empathy for his clients. “Everyone is going through their journey in life and has their battle scars,” he says. “As lawyers, sometimes we don’t know things about our clients’ childhoods, or factors that make them act the way they do. We don’t understand what they are going through in their daily lives after an incident that causes them pain. We learn as we talk to them and get to know their stories. We don’t know what they’re going through until we walk among their shoes.”
Over the years, Hamparyan has repped clients who have suffered brain injuries, elder abuse, and injuries from mishaps involving cars, trucks, bicycles, boats and motorcycles. He has recovered more than $100 million for clients, with 40 of his cases exceeding $1 million.
“Robert is a black belt in jiujitsu, and his approach is full-contact litigation,” says Aaron Salomon, a partner at Pines Salomon Injury Lawyers, who has tried several cases with him. “He also has a big heart. I’ve seen him put his life on hold, time after time, and spend time with a plaintiff’s family.”
Salmon adds: “You can’t be a plaintiff’s attorney and be all aggressive without the soft side.”
Raised in the Midwest, Hamparyan was a high school wrestler who had a habit of sticking up for underdogs. It got him into numerous fights.
In 1982, he attended USC, majored in sociology with a minor in kinesiology, but he wasn’t sure about what he wanted to do. His father, an engineer, gave him one piece of advice: Go into any profession but the law.
“My dad was not very fond of the legal industry for some
reason, and my initial thought was to do something to appease him,” Hamparyan says. “I didn’t like math, so I thought I’d become a dentist.”
A summer working at a USC dental program made him realize his destiny lay elsewhere. He tried sales. He worked as a bartender—a profession that taught him how to size people up. “You learn if they’re having a bad day or a good day, and do your best to make them happy,” he says. That idea—making people happy—stayed with him, and it led to the one profession his father warned him against. “The idea of sticking out my neck for folks who needed help and helping them be in a better place motivated me to be a lawyer,” he says.
In 1994, he got his J.D. from Western State University. Afterwards, he traveled to San Francisco to apply for a job as a public defender but found the line of applicants 100 deep. So for several years he did insurance defense work. He enjoyed honing his legal skills but it wasn’t exactly helping the underdog.
“The insurance industry generally has a callous way of looking at human beings,” he says. “People were evaluated based on how much money they had, how desperate they were, and how experienced their lawyer was. I understand they are doing their job, but it was inhumane when you saw nice people on the plaintiff side get hurt because they weren’t able to afford a complete defense.”
Too often, he’d win a case and walk out of the courtroom feeling empty and dissatisfied. “The number of times it happened took a toll on me.” So he switched to the plaintiff’s side and in 2010 opened his own firm. “I felt like I was jumping out of an airplane with a tiny parachute,” he says. “But after doing it, I felt liberated.”
Plaintiff attorneys he’d battled threw him work. “I was willing and thankful to jump on almost anything,” he says. The cases were difficult on different levels. Often, he found clients withheld key information from him or misrepresented facts to him. In one case, an injured client told Hamparyan he could not perform certain physical actions—such as housework chores or working on his vehicle. During the cross, the defense produced a video of the client performing those actions.
“I wanted to walk out of the courtroom,” he says. “That night I had a come-to-Jesus moment with the client, telling him he made us look so bad and I wanted to fire him as a client.” The client was apologetic, but Hamparyan knew the case was damaged. He kept imagining what the jury thought of him.
So he owned up. During his closing argument, he told the jury: “The client did not tell me the truth about an insignificant fact. When he was hit by a vehicle, he had significant injuries. He did not have to exaggerate them. He didn’t have to lie about insignificant things. The minute he did that, I knew his credibility was going to be shot. And I knew my credibility was going to be shot, and I am not willing to go down in flames with him. But just because someone lies, that doesn’t mean you close the door on them and walk away. If that was the case, we couldn’t forgive any friend or family member who lied to us.”
Hamparyan won the case.
Such straightforwardness is his typical approach in the courtroom. Hamparyan’s slender face is accented with a pair of black framed glasses and a mop of wavy hair. He speaks in a friendly and calm manner, his level voice suggesting he will get to an important point without unnecessary detours.
“I’ve seen him before judges and juries, and I’ve seen him in mock trials, and in every setting people tend to accept his version of the story,” says Joel R. Bryant, an elder abuse attorney who has handled cases with Hamparyan. “He tells it like it is. He doesn’t pull punches. His word is as good as gold. And he doesn’t tolerate the opposite of that behavior. He’s the same age as me, but I think of him as an old-school attorney.”
On another occasion, involving the collision of two motorcycles, the defendant hired a videographer to get footage of Hamparyan’s client, hoping to find evidence to dispute his injury claims.
“I found out the defendant himself liked my client and found him credible,” Hamparyan says. “On the stand, I asked him why he had taken footage of him.” The defendant looked sheepishly at the jury and then pointed at the case adjuster and his own attorney: “They are the ones that did,” he said.
“The adjuster had a deer-in-the-headlight look,” Hamparyan remembers, “and tried to duck behind the bench area so the jury couldn’t see her. I laughed. The jury was laughing, too.”
“As a personal injury lawyer, you might have 10 witnesses who can testify to things like what the client was like before an accident caused brain damage,” Salomon says. “Robert is strategic about picking the witnesses who are going to mesh with his client, and the likely profile of the judge and jury in that jurisdiction. Each witness who testifies is consistent with the overall theme, and he’s able to tie all the testimony together in the closing argument.”
Salomon met Hamparyan in 2008 when Hamparyan was receiving the trial lawyer of the year award from the Consumer Attorneys of San Diego, and he eventually became Hamparyan’s mentee and co-counsel on several cases. They shared an Airbnb for four weeks trying a police abuse case.
“He’s a bulldog,” Salomon says. “He’s great with cross, but he’s best when he’s coming off-the-cuff for rebuttal. In closing arguments, defense attorneys often talk shit. That’s when Robert is unscripted and at his best. It cuts like a knife.”
In the section of his firm’s website devoted to motorcycle injury, Hamparyan notes his personal experience as an “avid fellow rider.” He owns and rides multiple types of bikes, from adventure to track, and talks about them lovingly. The BMW GS is what he calls his “zombie apocalypse bike. … It does nothing exceptionally but does everything well.”
When he was younger, he rode on tracks. Now he takes his motorcycle out to the desert and on adventure rides. “The motorcycle riding bug is dangerous, but it’s something I can’t get rid of,” he says. “I tried a few times in my life to purge myself of them, but they put such a smile on my face. The freedom of the road, the panoramic view, where you are one with the air and the elements, gives you an adrenaline rush you can’t feel anywhere else. It’s hard to explain unless you ride. I’ve handled a bunch of motorcycle accident cases, so I think it helps me understand how an accident could have happened and been avoided.”
Thirteen years ago, a jiujitsu studio opened close by. When he took his three sons in for lessons, he caught the bug, too. “It offers cardio, exercise, and the need to focus constantly,” he says. “During jiujitsu, there is not an instant where you are thinking about work; you are thinking about survival. It’s a sport that takes away your ego.”
Hamparyan applies the principles of jiujitsu to his legal practice. He talks about being on his back with an opponent on him. “If you don’t practice martial arts, you think the person on top has the definite advantage,” he says. “However, there are a lot of things that you can do from a defensive position.
“If you use the truth as a sword, rather than just as a shield, you’ll do just fine,” he adds. “I am not bombastic or a showman. Basically, I let the jury decide. … I give the jury the keys to the fancy car, let them drive, and trust they will end up in the right destination.”
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