It was an inflection point, a turning point of sorts, for Bjerke. “I felt like in order to do my job well, I had to put my empathy in a box,” Bjerke said.
Some trials, and consequently, negotiations slowed down during the pandemic, but the roller coaster that is litigation shot up last summer and Bjerke had four weeks of trial between mid-June and mid-August. Whether cases get tried is generally a judge-by-judge decision, Bjerke said. Bjerke also had two trials by Zoom. While the clients are OK with Zoom, Bjerke said, “I prefer in-person because I’m old.”
But the past year has also been marked by arbitrations. “I had more arbitrations last year than in my whole career,” he said. The process has satisfied clients, Bjerke said.
“They want to feel like they’ve been heard,” he said. The key is a good arbitrator or panel that is engaged with and listening to the client, he added.
There are several cases waiting for a chance at bat. Last year at this time, Bjerke had 15 trials scheduled for when the courts open to civil jury trials again. Many are still scheduled.
One is a serious brain injury a man suffered at a power plant. He was up in the air on a scissors lift near a garage door when someone opened the door, knocking the man to the concrete ground. He is blind and requires 24/7 care at a cost of $60,000 per month. Mediation was held in May but the case did not settle and awaits a court date.
Another case now scheduled for September regards an injury at the Hormel plant in Austin, Minnesota, in which a man was standing on a torque lift that was open in the back. A spring broke in a switch on the floor, causing the lift to run into a concrete ballast. The 27-year-old lost his foot.
Another plaintiff sustained a serious injury when an elevator misleveled, causing a passenger to trip and fall getting out, resulting in a serious brain injury preventing her from working. Bjerke said that case will also be tried in federal court and has a May trial date.
Bjerke achieved a confidential seven-figure arbitration award when a man was injured at a concert when a storm blew up while he was inside a tent. He sustained a brain injury after he was hit by a tent pole 25 feet high and 8 inches in diameter. If the pandemic allows, Bjerke is expecting another busy trial year.