Beside the magnificent artwork and exquisite architectural detail of David Christensen’s office inside Detroit’s historic Hecker-Smiley mansion sits perhaps the workspace’s most impressive feature: framed tabletop photographs of some of the children Christensen has successfully represented in medical-malpractice cases over a 35-year career.
“For me, it’s great to be reminded of the people we’ve helped, because we were able to obtain results that changed their [lives] for the better despite a tragedy,” says Christensen, considered one of the finest medical-malpractice and personal-injury attorneys in the country.
Christensen says he can’t remember a time in his life when he didn’t want to be a trial attorney, and even recalls a classmate writing in his high-school yearbook, “You’ll be fooling juries just like you fooled Father Clements.”
Christensen started making a name for himself when, in 1976, he won what was the largest jury verdict in Macomb County ($240,000) and the first of many medical-malpractice recoveries. To date, he has won seven multimillion-dollar malpractice and product-liability lawsuits. “I have to say that my favorite work is preparing my clients for depositions and trials,” he says. “I listen to their whole story from when they were born, because if I’m going to ask a jury to help a client of mine, I better be able to let them know who my client is, warts and all.”
In 2000, he obtained a $5-million judgment against General Motors Corp. that became the only sustained verdict against the company alleging inertial release defects in their seatbelts. Christensen had filed the case before the 1995 Tort Reform Act took effect; that law now greatly limits non-economic damages such as pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life. (The limit is now about $400,000.)
Although 80 percent of his practice is still medical malpractice, with the balance a mix of premises liability, legal malpractice, and auto cases, Christensen also enjoys serving as Denmark’s appointed Danish Consul for Michigan. With a dedicated office in the mansion’s dining room, Christensen, whose grandfather was born in Denmark, enjoys meeting about once a week with a Dane in need of a passport.