The Difference We Make: Aaron Wiseley
When I am asked to think of a case that changed me, I know exactly which one it is. It comes to me in two images that I can’t forget. The first is in a tiny room barely able to hold the love seat, recliner and television that fill it. In the corner there is a guitar gathering dust.
In the love seat is a man, broken and hurting from a cacophony of injuries. His left leg covered with bandages protecting a nearly eight-inch-long, four-inch wide swath of skin graft. The ankle on that leg and his left shoulder are bound up in cast of white and grey. The broken ribs of his midsection are bandaged, the fractures in his pelvis are not. There is no cast available for those injuries. He simply had to sit there, suffering with each breath and movement.
It is his face that shows the greatest toll of these injuries. Not the fractured orbital that affected his vision and impacted his mind. It is the look. The lonely, defeated look on his face as he struggles to breathe, struggles to heal, struggles to move on with his life. He strokes a small dog at his side, almost like he would have played the guitar if he was able. He glances at the clever automatic door he’d built from scratch, with sensors and electrical wires, unsure if he could fix it now if he had to.
This is the body of Aleksandr Durnyak. He immigrated with his wife from the Ukraine. He was served his portion of the American dream, and he feasted on it. He cared for a young daughter. He built his life behind the wheel of a truck. He’d become a citizen. Things were going well for him, as well as they could have for almost anyone.
Right up until the accident.
Western Wyoming, where the accident happened, is so sparse. It’s amazing that two trucks would even share that road sometimes, but that day they did. That day, another driver working for another trucking company, pushed beyond his physical capabilities by his job demands, driving a truck that shouldn’t have been on the road, lost control and put Aleksandr into a hospital bed for nine months.
Nine months of recovery. Nine months of surgeries and visits. Nine months without working. Nine months of knowing that he could never work again. Nine months of agonizing breaths under broken ribs.
Nine months of silence from the other company.
That’s when I met him. I visited him in South Dakota, where he lived, over and over again. While the silence grew between us and the legal team of the trucking company that hurt him, he asked me what to do. The entire family begged for answers. I was there for them at every step. We stayed the course.
A courtroom is hardly ever as exciting as it seems on the screen. That doesn’t mean there is no drama, it’s just harder to find, mostly. Finding the drama in that case was easy. There was a pitiful offer at the outset of the trial] and then after the jury began deliberations, they made two requests:
- First, they asked for the medical reports.
- And then, 30 minutes later, the jury asked for a calculator.
All told, the Durnyaks came away with an $8.2 million verdict. Life-changing money that they needed. Between his fused shoulder and inability to walk without a cane, he would never be able to work again.
The first thing they did was buy a house, and that’s the second image I think of. Aleksandr, his wife Lyudmila and his daughter, Lillian. They’re standing in a row outside the single-story ranch. It’s clearly winter and cold. Aleksandr holds his family and his cane. They’re smiling.
The case took a long time. We had to fight hard, and every step of the way I was with the Durnyaks. Every day I spoke to them and every meal I shared with them brought me close to them. It brought them close to the outcome they deserved.
With that case, we made a family’s life better. It was all I could have asked for.