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Attorneys of the Year: John Dornik

PrintJohn Dornik, a 2016 Minnesota Attorney of the Year says, “I just didn’t give up. I was committed to these girls and their father.”

He’s talking about a family whose story started with a tragic airplane crash in the Superior National Forest in 2003. The two preschool-age girls suffered extensive injuries and burns. Their mother and uncle, the pilot, were killed. It was front-page news. Damian Fowler wrote “Falling Through Clouds” about it.

The case finally was concluded in fall 2016.

Thomas “Toby” Pearson, the father, wrote in his Attorney of the Year nomination that he hired Dornik — “the best lawyer for the job” — when he was faced with having to file a claim against his brother-in-law’s estate as well as deal with a federal lawsuit by an insurance company seeking a declaratory judgment to deny coverage to the family as third-party victims of the plane crash.

“Working with persistence and patience under the bright spotlight, John excelled, but what separates John was his commitment to justice that lasted until the final outcome — 13 years later. His commitment to this case lasted even while he transitioned to a different law firm,” Pearson added.

Dornik carried the case through a knot of litigation, deftly managed insurance compensation negotiations and ultimately achieved a settlement with a complex estate, Pearson said.

Dornik said he took the case and persisted with it because it didn’t seem right to him that the risk was these little girls’ because they “came down on the wrong side of some law” that protected an insurance company.

Dornik said a federal judge ruled the court wasn’t going to decide on coverage, so the matter would have gone to a jury. The insurance company decided not to go to trial. Determining settlement amounts and negotiating with the pilot’s estate took 10 more years.

Dornik is now with Siegel Brill, P.A., and teaches products liability at the University of Minnesota Law School.

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