- KATE BAGGOTT
SALISU (SAL) A. RICHARDSON, Managing Partner Litigation ATB LAW , Fort Lauderdale &
SAL A. RICHARDSON
Sal A. Richardson is completely purpose-driven. The litigator, who has been resolving some of Florida’s most complicated Workers’ Compensation cases since 2003, is currently the Managing Partner for Litigation at the Florida offices of Adelson, Testan, Brundo, Novell and Jimenez. Sal has developed a reputation for his ability to resolve difficult cases with precision, skill and dedication.
In his highly-specialized practice, Sal’s firm represents employers and the carriers of their Workers’ Compensation insurance. He also represents self-insured employers who finance their own Workers’ Compensation claims, normally administered through a third-party administrator.
“We are essentially in the Risk Management business,” Sal explains. “We help our clients mitigate the risks of being in business, and injured employees are one of those risks. Every company in Florida with more than four employees has to have workers compensation insurance to cover medical treatment and lost wages due to a compensable accident. It’s a self-executing system, so as soon as an injury occurs, an employer should inform their Carrier, who will then administer those benefits as demanded by law. When disputes arise regarding those benefits, an Employee (Claimant) often obtains an attorney, and files a Petition for Benefits for medical treatment or lost wages believed to be due or owing. The Employer/Carrier (E/C) must then obtain counsel , preferably my firm, to defend against those claims. Litigation then ensues.”
Adelson, Testan, Brundo, Novell and Jimenez is the preferred counsel for a number of employers and insurance carriers on a national basis while Sal’s offices manages their litigation efforts on a state-wide basis. A full time litigator, he can find himself in both Tampa and Orlando on the same day for depositions on different cases in the morning and afternoon. Among lawyers, litigators are those who protect their clients’ rights and interests through the court system. Litigators deliver arguments before judges and juries at hearings and trials across the country. Specialization in Workers’ Compensation was Sal’s most expedient path to a career in litigation, though Florida’s Workers Compensation decisions are made by Judges of Compensation Claims, and not juries.
“When I Interviewed with my first Workers’ Compensation firm, I was told I would be at trial within a year,” Sal recalls. “The partners were all board certified and took the law very seriously. They set the bar for legal integrity and fact finding very high such that we always prepared to defend at trial if needed. That is leverage. If people know you are skilled, ready, willing and able to go to trial, then that makes them more willing to negotiate with you in good faith.”
While many lawyers try to avoid court at all costs, litigators welcome the challenge of preparing for trial.
“In our practice, we define a strategy for claim resolution from the very first petition through to the final hearing,” Sal explains. “It’s like a game of chess in that regard. Once you have determined what your client wants, we strategize towards that end. That ensures we remain focused on the client’s goals, and only take actions to reach a resolution in the client’s best interests.”
As a law student at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law, Sal became a member of the Trial Team, involving him in mock courtroom competitions that honed his early litigation skill set. His skills were sharpened by his coach, Senior Judge Phyllis Kotey, now a Clinical Professor of Law at Florida International University. In his Final year on the team, UF won the annual Flor Mock Trial Comp[etetion, and Sal was noted as “Best Advocate” in a separate national white collar crime competition at Georgetown University.
“Litigation assumes we are adverse to each other,” Sal explains, “but at the end of the day, everyone wants the case to be closed. A smart part of litigating, especially when you are closure oriented, is knowing how to use the evidence to get to that point sooner than later. "
"The earlier you can strategically reveal the strengths in your case and weaknesses in theirs, the better opportunity you have to settle with wise counsel earlier, allowing them to bow out gracefully, and saving those additional litigation expenses.”
As comfortable as Sal is in the courtroom, most cases are indeed settled before they get there.
Sal, who knew he wanted to become a lawyer by the time he was in the fourth grade, had no illusions about the hard work his profession would require. This area of law has time constraints that present additional challenges. Workers’ Compensation regulations demands that mediation occur within 130 days of a litigation commencing and a trial must occur within 210 days on the outstanding issues following mediation. It means that lawyers like Sal often work down to the wire.
“I was recently preparing for a trial on a Wednesday, so I spent the weekend writing a Memorandum of Law that was submitted on the Monday before,” Sal recalls. “As a result of my Memorandum, the case was resolved that Monday and didn’t go to trial. My work that weekend was purposeful and that purpose worked! Working in the law can be a grind, but I grind to produce a result. Though I do not always get the result I want, I often do. That’s why the practice has become a source of enjoyment for me.”
Detail-oriented hard work, combined with a well-defined purpose, is clearly the formula behind Sal’s success and he has the examples from his experience that proves the formula works.
“In a case I inherited from prior counsel, I had authority to settle for $90 000,” Sal remembers. “An offer to settle for $50,000 had already been made. Upon receipt of the file, and a review of more than 1200 pages, I discovered the Claimant had previously been treated for the same complaints, and had failed to make his authorized physicians aware of same. Within 60 days of taking over the file, we pulled the original offer off the table, and settled for $10,000.”
Saving a client $80,000 just 60 days after taking on a file is, in the Workers’ Compensation field, is significant, but the dollar value of these cases can indeed be much, much higher.
In another highly-complex case, Sal’s client had spent $2 million on medical and indemnity expenses. The accident occurred during what was a joint venture for the employer, a foreign entity. Sal argued that due to the Joint Venture, liability should be shared between the two Employer/Carriers equally. In that case, Sal was able to receive, through negotiation, $450,000 in reimbursements to his client. Additional monies are also expected from what is known as a subrogation claim. When an employee is involved in a work related where a third party is at fault, Sal and his firm also seek monies back from the at-fault party to recover the expenses they paid out to their affected employee.
Sal’s dedication to his clients doesn’t end there. He is also proud of his firm.
“For our size, we have the largest percentage of women partners,” Sal says. “Our employees speak a total of 19 different languages and are a truly diverse group. We have a phenomenal team.”
Any suggestion that he might be a workaholic are quickly dismissed.
“The purpose of work is to live your life,” says the single father of three who is engaged to be married later this year.
Living his life includes a dedication to his family and community. In particular, he volunteers to serve children and youth. He serves as Chairman of the Advisory Board for 4H of Broward County and is a member of the 100 Black Men of Greater Ft. Lauderdale that offers mentoring and leadership programs. He is also a Board Member of “It’s My Birthday,” a non-profit which celebrates the birthdays of children and youth who have been admitted to medical facilities or the shelter system. In addition, he serves on the South Florida Chapter of his alma mater’s Black Alumni Association. The community has recognized Sal’s volunteer efforts. In 2013 Legacy Magazine named him as one of its “40 Under 40 Top Business Leaders of South Florida” and, in 2014 he was one of the 50 Most Powerful African Americans in Business in Broward County.
Kate Baggott's technology and business journalism has appeared in the Technology Review at MIT, the Globe and Mail, Canada Computes, the Vancouver Sun, and on the Business to Business News Network
Kate is the author of two short story collections.
Fort Lauderdale 100 SE 3rd Avenue, Suite 1350 Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33394
Sal A. Richardson Managing Partner for Litigation