Speed Racer

Catastrophic injury lawyer Michael L. Werner can’t drive 55

Published in 2010 Georgia Rising Stars — March 2010

Michael Werner was six months into his Master of Medical Science of Anesthesiology program at Emory University School of Medicine when he met a classmate’s husband, Eric Hertz, a plaintiff’s attorney, whose stories reawakened Werner’s earlier interest in the law. Thus, even before he studied for the anesthesia board exam, he studied for the LSAT. When he passed both, he became an anesthetist by day and a law student at night.

It was the time at the hospital that led to Werner’s legal specialization. “You see patients and they come to you after being involved in car wrecks and they’d be dying or sustaining brain injuries or loss of limb, and my career in anesthesia was helping these people short term. But after they left the hospital, the question was, ‘Well, then what do they do?’” Werner says. “The short term is easy. It’s taking care of their long-term needs that matters, and I wanted to be the person that helped them put their lives back together. Nothing’s more rewarding.”

After graduating from Georgia State University’s College of Law in 2002, Werner started his own firm, Werner & Associates, and worked of counsel on medical malpractice cases with mentor Hertz and his partners at Hertz, Link & Smith. His anesthetist background helped.

“If you’re going to be successful in catastrophic personal injury, you have to know the medicine,” says Werner. “Not only do you have to fully understand the extent of your client’s injuries, but if you don’t understand the medicine, opposing medical experts are going to eat you alive.”

Werner cites a recent case. A client, making a left turn in his car, was hit by a tractor-trailer, causing brain injury, a broken arm and a cervical spine fracture. Because witnesses and the investigating police officer believed the client had turned left at a red light, causing the crash, the defense offered only $150,000 to settle. But Werner found out, through reconstructionists he hired, about a four-second delay in the traffic lights and turned down the offer. “The jury awarded my client over $11 million,” Werner says. “This is a great example of talking about making a difference. When the jury came back with that award, it was exhilarating.”

He adds, “I know I’m positively impacting my clients’ lives daily. Many of my clients are people who either the insurance companies had denied their claim or they had spoken to other attorneys who said they have no cases.”

And what does a catastrophic personal injury lawyer do to get away from the stress of litigating accidents? He races cars. “Other than the pure adrenaline of driving 150 miles an hour plus, I think the great thing about racing is that you completely forget about all the stress,” he says. “You don’t think about your clients, you don’t think about defense attorneys. It’s simply you and the car.”

He always felt the need for speed, but it wasn’t until his time at Emory that he took a couple hundred dollars to Road Atlanta’s racing school, where he drove his Nissan Maxima around the track, getting tips from instructors on the sidelines. After taking classes in both classrooms and cars, Werner got his racing license and quickly climbed the ranks. Today, he says, he is ranked No. 1 in his class in the National Auto Sport Association’s southeast region, and holds the fastest lap records in his car’s class at both Carolina Motorsports Park in Kershaw, S.C., and Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. He even teaches.

As for risking catastrophe? “You can’t be afraid of crashing, because if you fear failure you’ll never excel,” Werner says. He translates that attitude to the law. “There are going to be times when you get beat, but the important thing is you get back in the car or on your feet and you go try another case.”

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