Jon Papin is an attorney with Vrdolyak Law Group, a law firm that for over 50 years has been dedicated to assisting those who have suffered death or injury from accidents or medical malpractice. Based in the firm’s Chicago office, Jon is a civil lawyer with over 30 years of legal experience who specializes in representing clients in cases involving medical malpractice and commercial trucking. Committed to social justice, Jon has delivered some of the highest verdicts and settlements in the state of Illinois. In recognition of his work and his dedication to his clients, he holds the highest possible peer review rating, AV Preeminent, from Martindale-Hubble. Further, he is ranked among the top five percent of attorneys in Illinois, is a member of the Illinois Leading Lawyers Network, and was selected for inclusion in Illinois Super Lawyers. He was also inducted into the Illinois Society of Trial lawyers.
You have countless accolades as a civil attorney. What drives you to continue to fight the “good fight” on behalf of your clients against massive corporations and insurance companies?
What gets me up in the morning is helping people who deserve and need my help. Many clients have suffered devastating injuries or have lost family members. I help them find their way out of the darkness to a better place, by changing the trajectories of their lives. I do not believe in accolades. I do believe that you are only as good as what you did yesterday. For me, this is personal, in that I work only on a few select cases --so that I can give each of my clients personalized attention. Most have my cell number, and I try to be available 24/7.
It is not always about being a lawyer; sometimes it is about being a counselor. Once, my paralegal was concerned that one of our clients was going to kill himself. He was profoundly depressed because he had been in an accident, suffered chronic pain syndrome, and could not work. I went to his house to check on him. He was in the bedroom with the lights off and a gun next to him. I took the gun, emptied the clip, and helped get him the money needed to improve his life. Helping people is why I continue to fight the good fight every single day.
You began your career as a civil defense attorney before becoming a plaintiff attorney. How does this dual insight help your clients?
I started my career as a civil defense attorney in 1989, and for 13 years, I defended hospitals, corporations, etc. In 2002, while I was working for one of the biggest and best firms in Chicago, a plaintiff lawyer asked me to work for his firm, and I loved it—the feeling that I could help people and make a difference. For the past 18 years, I’ve been working on behalf of real people against the very corporate entities that I once defended. My ability to see both sides of a case gives me, and my clients, an advantage. Having been a defense lawyer, I understand what the defense may do, and I try to take away those defenses in pre-trial discovery.
Tell us about Vrdolyak Law Group and your work there.
The company was founded over 50 years ago by Edward Vrdolyak, who was once one of the most powerful politicians in Chicago. His son, Eddie, Jr., runs the firm now. It’s a one-stop shop and a great place to work. Vrdolyak Law group specializes in personal injury, medical malpractice, wrongful death, and other areas. Our firm also handles commercial trucking cases, a very specialized niche. I have extensive knowledge and experience in this area, so I was brought in to focus specifically on commercial trucking cases.
Can you tell us more about your specialization in commercial trucking litigation?
I think that I have handled most every type of trucking case possible in both state and federal courts. More than 4,000 people a year are killed by tractor-trailers. There are 750,000 trucking companies in America, 500,000 of which have a heartbeat with the DOT. There are reputable trucking companies, but many are not and will hire anyone. Sometimes even great drivers are pushed beyond their limits and bad things happen. It is not uncommon for trucking companies to create shell corporations to hide money from plaintiff attorneys, like myself. This is fraud, plain and simple. But I have been doing this for a long time, and I will usually find the “happy shell family” and their holding companies where the cash is stored.
Further, when I discover trucking companies who knowingly hire “dirty drivers” (with a history of accidents, tickets, drug abuse or all the above), I make them pay personal money to settle the case, above their insurance limits. Because if I don’t, these accidents caused by unqualified or “dirty” truckers will never—never—stop. The trucking companies will keep hiring them.
You’ve recorded many record-breaking verdicts and settlements for your clients. Will you share the details of the case you just mentioned?
Records aside, my most memorable commercial trucking case was Estates of Lindner, a federal court case in 2006. Lindner involved multiple deaths caused by a fatigued trucker with a sketchy background, which was known to the trucking company. The trucking company hid documents regarding the trucker’s background and claimed it only had $5 million in coverage. When, they had $11 million in coverage --so they hid coverage and lied. I found the additional $6 million in coverage by subpoenaing the trucking company’s insurance broker. As a result of their lying, I made the trucking company pay an additional $2 million of their own money. The case settled for $13 million. It was featured in 2016 on MSNBC ‘s, Morning Joe.
Since then, I’ve worked on many more trucking cases and become more sophisticated in trucking litigation and in trying those cases. I learn something new most day doing commercial trucking. However, one constant seems that some trucking companies will take chances with the lives of the public and hire questionable drivers. I am working on cases now where trucking company lied about its policy limits and tried to obscure the background of the trucker, whom they hired and keep on despite multiple accidents and in violation of their own internal hiring and retention standards.
You work outside of your career to help “clean up the highways” and protect people from trucking accidents. Can you tell us about this?
Sure. I am a past president of APITLA, the Association of Plaintiff Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America, and I work with them to reduce the number of injuries and deaths across America caused by unsafe and illegally operating trucking companies. The association works with the federal government and runs educational seminars for other plaintiff lawyers to teach them about trucking law.
Attorney — Vrdolyak Law Group
9618 South Commercial Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60617