Connecticut Law Tribune
PI Hall of Fame, Rising Trial Lawyer: Sean McElligott Quickly Learned How to Win Big
After early setbacks, Sean McElligott has learned how to win big
By Christian Nolan
September 22, 2014
This year, the Connecticut Law Tribune launched a Personal Injury Hall of Fame, with the top plaintiffs verdicts and settlements from the past three years. In addition to offering summaries of the top cases in a special publication, the Law Tribune is also honoring two litigators for their achievements.
About a decade ago, Sean McElligott was disappointed with life as a corporate defense lawyer to the point that he considered a career change. He used words like "mind-numbing" and "horrible" to describe his experience.
"All I did was write briefs," recalled McElligott. "I was completely miserable and just didn't think that the law was necessarily for me."
Fortunately for the Yale Law School graduate, he didn't leave the practice of law altogether. Instead, he landed a job with one of the most prestigious personal injury law firms in the state-Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder. Now McElligott is making a habit of winning multimillion-dollar medical malpractice verdicts, including a $10.5 million award in New London and a $12 million verdict in Danbury.
As such, McElligott will be honored with this year's Rising Trial Lawyer Award at the Connecticut Law Tribune's Personal Injury Hall of Fame dinner.
"I feel really fortunate to have found a part of the law I love so much," said McElligott. "It definitely didn't happen until a few years out of law school but it's something that's really caught fire with me. I can't be in court enough. When I am, I feel like there's no other place I belong."
After finishing law school in 2001, McElligott worked for two corporate defense firms in New York City, one being Simpson Thacher & Bartlett.
McElligott soon married Sarah French Russell, now a Quinnipiac law professor, who he met in law school. She wanted to move back to the New Haven area and took a job as a federal public defender.
McElligott, meanwhile, said he wasn't getting enough trial experience in New York and was looking to go elsewhere. He then latched on with Koskoff in 2006. He described it as "serendipity."
"I wanted to do trial work and I looked around the country at the best trial law firms and Koskoff kept coming up as a place that has a reputation nationally, but the firm is based in Connecticut," said McElligott. "I came here to basically learn from [attorneys] Mike Koskoff, Bill Bloss, Chris Bernard and that's exactly what's happened."
McElligott soon got more courtroom experience than he could have ever imagined. "Literally, right away it was just trial to trial to trial. The culture is to just try cases," said McElligott. "That's an experience that's not unique to the firm but it's definitely a rare experience for a young lawyer to have as much trial experience as he can basically handle and it's exactly what I needed at that stage of my career."
When McElligott first started at Koskoff, he had a lot to learn. He said his trial instincts were initially "always wrong." He said his thought process was more about the law and logic without considering the six jurors sitting in the courtroom.
"For me, it didn't come naturally at all," recalled McElligott. "I had to learn the importance of motions, the importance of personalities, momentum. ... You have to get in there [and] learn it and feel it. That, to me, was a big transition from the Ivy League and a corporate firm to what I do now."
McElligott began reading every trial advocacy book ever written. He "second-chaired" trials with firm partners. "I was basically just useless to the firm for the first couple years," McElligott said.
In time, the new mindset began "to seep in." He feels more connected to the general public. "You recollect the humanity you experienced before you went to law school and have it all wringed out of you," said McElligott. "You remember the person working and struggling and how they may view their case. For me, it's been a great personal transition, as well as professional."
McElligott handled what he described as his "first real trial" in 2011 in the case of Karla Rosa, a 44-year-old woman who was left with permanent injuries resulting from improperly administered anesthesia during surgery. Initially, she spent 26 days in a coma. She suffered permanent nerve damage and memory loss.
"I never felt more alive than I did trying that case," said McElligott. He said for every hour of in-court time, he spent 10 hours preparing. "I just wouldn't go to sleep until I had read every single article I could on a topic likely to come up the next day and I loved it," recalled McElligott.
The hard work paid off as a New London jury awarded $10.5 million, reportedly the largest personal injury verdict in New London County. McElligott was just 37 years old at the time and just getting warmed up.
In 2013, McElligott and Josh Koskoff obtained a $6.5 million verdict against Danbury Hospital after a 44-year-old man, Jeffrey Pattison, was given too much sodium intravenously, causing brain damage and eventual death.
Then in May of this year, McElligott and Koskoff again had big success in Danbury. This time, they obtained a $12 million jury award on behalf of a woman who had her colon perforated during what was supposed to be a routine hernia procedure at Danbury Hospital. She spent 70 days in the hospital fighting septic shock, nearly died, and suffered catastrophic permanent injuries.
Besides the medical malpractice trial successes, McElligott is handling his fair share of appellate case work.
Perhaps his most significant appellate case to date involved a loss of consortium challenge that went before the state Supreme Court. A partner in a same-sex couple, Charlotte Stacey, sought loss of consortium damages in the same medical malpractice case in which the estate of her deceased partner, Margaret Mueller, collect $2.45 million. The case involved misdiagnosed cancer.
The trial court and then the state Appellate Court, however, said that the couple would have had to be married at the time of the malpractice, in 2004, in order for a loss of consortium to succeed. But after a July Supreme Court ruling that gay rights advocates called the first of its kind in the country, Stacey will be given the opportunity to make a loss of consortium claim in trial court; the lawyers will try to prove the couple would have been married in 2004 had state law allowed it.
"This sets Connecticut apart amongst the other states who have enacted same-sex marriage," said McElligott.