For veteran personal injury lawyer Rich Ruohonen, the biggest and most rewarding case of his career has also been the most disappointing at times – “a roller coaster ride” with so many twists and turns, Ruohonen jokes, it probably shaved a few years off his life.
It began in 2008 with a report that a 3-year-old boy had been violently assaulted over a lengthy period of time – and possibly raped – by a disturbed 9-year-old at a New Horizon’s day care center.
In 2011, Ruohonen, a partner at the Bloomington-based TSR Injury Law, sued out the case, which went to trial for the first time in the winter of 2015. Because of the intense pretrial motion practice, scores of depositions and expert testimony, Ruohonen brought his TSR colleague Chuck Slane in as co-counsel. When the verdict came back, the duo was jubilant. The award: an eye-popping $13.5 million.
Deep disappointment followed swiftly.
After the verdict, the presiding judge stayed the judgment and, in rare post-verdict order, sent the parties back to mediation. After that didn’t go anywhere, she promptly granted the defense motion for a new trial. In a blistering memorandum, she wrote that Ruohonen’s opening statement “tainted” and “poisoned” the jury against the defendant.
“It was one of the worst days of my life,” says Ruohonen, who disputes the judge’s characterization of his courtroom performance. “You fight for six or seven years, everyone says the case isn’t worth anything, and you crush them at trial, only to have someone take it all away.”
At the second trial, according to Ruohonen, the defense shifted from vigorous denials that the boy had been sexually assaulted to a more oblique strategy of questioning what happened. In the end, a jury came back with a $6 million award — less than half the first but, Ruohonen says, still the second largest award of his career.
While that judgment has been paid, the fight is not over. In January, Ruohonen and Slane took their case to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, where they are seeking to get the original award restored or, in the alternate, a limited retrial on previously barred claims for punitive damages and future lost earnings.