For Jeff Friedman ’69, founding partner of personal injury law firm Friedman Domiano & Smith, giving up has never been an option.
Friedman’s life was changed forever on July 9, 1964 – the day after his 17th birthday. He was headed to Geneva-on-the-Lake in Northeast Ohio with his friends for a beach party during his summer vacation. On the drive there, the group of teens, who were driving in multiple cars, became lost. They pulled over, regrouped, and Friedman jumped in someone else’s car. The driver began speeding despite pleas from the other passengers to slow down. Sitting in the backseat behind the driver, Friedman didn’t see anything coming. Suddenly, the vehicle veered off the road and collided with two trees. Everyone involved was able to walk away from the accident – except Friedman, whose neck snapped on impact.
He was conscious when police arrived. They extracted him from the vehicle and transported him to Geneva Memorial Hospital. He spent six weeks at Mount Sinai Hospital in Cleveland, then moved to Highland View Hospital, now known as MetroHealth – where he finished his senior year of high school being tutored – for 13 months.
“I actually got my best grades then,” says Friedman, who has managed to maintain a positive attitude, along with a magnitude of success, despite the obstacles he has faced in life, including paraplegia.
The doctors didn’t know his prognosis immediately. During that time, U.S. military veterans were returning from the Vietnam War with similar injuries, and doctors were learning about spinal-cord injuries.
“They have a lot more knowledge now but not nearly enough to be adequate,” Friedman says.
Despite the huge hurdle life unexpectedly threw at him, Friedman maintained an optimistic disposition from the start.
“I guess I’m sort of an oddity,” he says. “Sure, there were times when I would say, ‘Why did this happen to me?’ but I had a pretty good disposition. That’s just the way I am. You’ve got two choices: You can stay in the hospital and do nothing, or you can get out and do something. The first option didn’t appeal to me.”
After weighing his options, Friedman decided to apply to John Carroll, where he majored in political science, formed a political science club, and worked with the University to improve handicap accessibility on campus.
“The Jesuits were great,” Friedman says. “They said, ‘If you want to come and work, then we’ll have you. We’ll make accommodations for you.’ Because the University wasn’t accessible at the time, anything I needed, they did. A ramp here, a ramp there. They built it. They were just wonderful.”
While he was still a student at JCU, Friedman ran for University Heights city council. He lost the election by a mere 130 votes. Two years later, he ran again, won, and remained a member of council for the next 29 years.
After graduating from JCU, Friedman, whose father was a lawyer, continued his education at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland. The automobile accident fueled Friedman’s passion to become a lawyer and fight to change what he calls the highly unfair guest statute law in Ohio, which stated a driver wasn’t liable for any injuries caused to any guests or passengers in a vehicle, and injured passengers couldn’t collect against the driver.
Friedman began working on the case with attorney Mike Shane during his final year in law school. When Friedman graduated from law school and became a lawyer, the case was still ongoing. He argued the law with the Supreme Court and won. The law was ruled unconstitutional in 1973.
“I believe that I’m more empathetic than most,” he says. “You’re looking through the eyes of someone who’s been there.”
Now he practices in Ohio and Florida, residing in Florida from November to May. His law firm specializes in anything from automobile accidents to gas explosions.
“He’s very independent,” says Brandon Germany, who has been Friedman’s caretaker for about a year and lives in a suite attached to Friedman’s home. “He’s probably more independent than me most of the time.”
“He doesn’t miss a beat,” says Friedman’s wife Margaret. “He’s very dedicated and devoted. You’re not going to meet anyone like Jeff. He’s so selfless, and he’s so devoted to the little guy for the greater good. He’ll do anything to help his clients.” JCU
– Jackie Mitchell ’14