Their personal injury, medical malpractice and products liability practice covers the spectrum of what can go wrong in people’s lives, she added. But what they both like about it, in addition to helping injured people and their families, is that there is always something new to learn.
“Every case is a new mystery,” Conlin said. Sometimes the mystery is how something negligent could possibly have happened, but sometimes it’s a piece of medical or mechanical knowledge that demonstrates how things are supposed to be done, Stennes said.
They have a busy trial practice, here and in North Dakota. Coming up is a trial in Bismarck where a surgeon performing a stomach wrap cut two blood vessels in an area of the body well away from where he should have been, Conlin said. The trauma led to another surgery to repair the problem, which resulted in infection, which resulted in a stroke, which led to blindness. “He’s missing his entire left field of vision,” Stennes said.
In another case a client was injured when a balcony fell off a building. In addition to the fractures from the fall, he had a stroke in the hospital and now, fresh out of college, his right side is dysfunctional. His speech is impaired.
Trucking accidents are common to Conlin and Stennes. A large accident occurred on Interstate 94 when a box truck headed west veered into the eastbound lane. One person died and another, represented by Richard Ruohonen, is seriously injured. The defendant has raised a sudden medical emergency defense and said that he was coughing. Ruohonen said he was clearly fatigued. It is set for trial in September.
But it illustrates the dangers faced by drivers who are tired or ill, Stennes said. A coughing defense is kind of “in vogue,” she said, and he may have been sick when he started driving. She absolutely agrees with other lawyers who have said that truckers are overworked. “Trucking regulations are behind the times. A lot of trucking outfits gain money by running drivers ragged.”
Stennes and Conlin also have a case pending at the North Dakota Supreme Court where five patients were injured by the same spine surgeon in Bismarck over a 20-month period. There would be more but the medical malpractice statute of limitations is only two years, Stennes said. Their problem is that the defense refuses to turn over any documents, claiming the documents are part of the peer review process that happens after an adverse medical event.
But the defense also does not want to provide a privilege log, unlike state law when any other privilege is asserted. “It’s a hospital secrecy statute. They’re saying, ‘You just have to trust us,’ ” Conlin said.