Break It Down

Carol Dan Browning’s cases can get abstract, but she speaks to juries in concrete terms

Published in 2014 Ohio Super Lawyers — January 2014

Carol Dan Browning lives in Louisville, where the Ohio River is never too far away. The McAlpine Locks straddle the river, built of millions of pounds of rebar, precast beams and concrete. They are used to bypass the Falls of the Ohio, which wrecked many boats in the days before the locks were built.

Prior to becoming a lawyer, Browning was a civil engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which was engaged in a major repair project on the McAlpine Locks. Sometimes as she drives past them, she can still see equipment she designed being used to keep the ships afloat.

Browning knows how to put things together and take them apart. In her practice, she takes testimony from the other side’s expert witnesses on drug, medical and product liability cases for Stites & Harbison, and she has been an expert herself in any number of cases.

It is far more abstract work than her work on the Locks, but it has paid off, most recently in a crescendo of cases she’s taken on to defend pharmaceutical companies. In 2004, the Kentucky attorney general began suing these companies for allegedly setting artificially high prices on medications sold to patients through Medicaid. (Doing so, the state says, results in pharmaceutical wholesalers earning outsized profit when reimbursements are paid to them.)

Over time, the state of Kentucky has brought similar charges against more than 40 pharmaceutical companies, and Stites & Harbison has defended five. While these cases have led to penalties against some companies, the success Browning has had arguing on her clients’ behalf has led to other pharmaceutical companies hiring Stites & Harbison to represent them.

This wave of cases, Browning says, is set to finish up very soon in Kentucky. While researching the disparate systems for pricing drugs may sound dry to some, she says that she doesn’t just like, she loves wrapping her mind around these systems. She ties it to work she did before she got her law degree.

“I think my engineering background is very helpful to what I do,” she says. “From the analytical standpoint in the products and medical device field, it helps to have that science foundation.”

While she enjoys the intellectual challenges, she isn’t one of those lawyers who describes her work as “fun.” She says, “I think that people who say trials are fun may not have tried a lot of cases. Trials are very hard work but they are also intellectually challenging. But I’ve never understood the use of the word ‘fun.’”

Browning was the wonk who got away from a family stocked with engineers in Ellwood City, Pa. After her engineer dad moved the family to Danville, Ky., Browning ended up working for the Army Corps of Engineers, but after two years with the corps, she got serious about an interest in the law.

“I know I made the right choice,” she says.

Her skills at interviewing witnesses have helped make her reputation, and Browning has taught trial skills classes at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law. “Fundamentals you can teach. But then so much is just getting up on your feet and doing it,” she says. “Because what works for one trial lawyer doesn’t necessarily work for somebody else. You have to find out what you are comfortable with. Juries figure out quickly if you’re trying to be someone you really aren’t.”

Part of her approach is to break down the technical data in a way that a jury can easily understand. Important to her success: great visual aids. “Browning taps creativity for courtroom visuals,” went a Louisville Business First headline.

Also essential is understanding the limits of lingo. Breaking down the technical information at the heart of a case is hard to do and easy to forget, she explains. “I think so many times as lawyers we get caught up in what we think is interesting and in what the judge is going to be impressed by, and forget that these 12 or six lay people off the street are our real audience.

“I’m amazed at how many lawyers use it, especially in their opening statement. They’ve lived with the case for years and they understand the jargon, but this is the jurors’ first exposure and they don’t know what it means. You gotta tell ‘em what it means first.”

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