"Twelve years after its founding, KNR’s mission has evolved from solely being strong legal advocates of personal injury victims to being leaders and contributors in the communities they serve, which is now nearly all of Ohio. “My main objective is to give back to our community,” Nestico says. “There is too much in our line of work that involves harm, tragedy and taking rather than giving.”
The firm has achieved remarkable success since its inception. Their combined total verdicts and settlements obtained for victims has exceeded $500 million, but that’s not the only fact that Nestico or his colleagues use to measure the firm’s success. KNR has also raised over $400,000 for local charities. Its employees are engaged in events, walk-a-thons and fundraisers, including a number in Cleveland and northern Ohio.
“We want to be on the cutting edge in our industry, in setting a standard for what it means to be civically engaged and to build and strengthen community,” says Nestico, KNR’s managing partner.
An Empathetic View of Personal Injury Law
When Nestico was 15 years old, he was injured in a multicar crash when one driver failed to stop at an intersection. He landed in the hospital for three months; his injuries required surgery and a steel rod in one arm. Even so, he realizes it could have been worse. Another of the crash victims was killed.
“At least I got to go home to my family,” Nestico says. “In that moment, my life changed forever. I didn’t know at the time it would lead me to my profession helping other victims of car accidents. I was forced to grapple with the realities of a serious car crash, driver negligence, and all of the what ifs that come with knowing that none of us is guaranteed another day. As a teenager those are heavy thoughts.”
The accident itself wasn’t the only influencer on Nestico. He recalls the legal aftermath and the ordeal it created for his family. “I remember that my parents just wanted me to get what I needed in order to get back to life as normal. I always thought that medicine and health were professions with objective outcomes. I mean, you either have a broken bone or you don’t. You are going to survive an accident or you aren’t. That side of it was cut and dry. But the long and arduous process of wrangling with the insurance companies while they determined what was owed to me and my family – that was anything but clear cut. It became evident to me that your entire recovery outcome could be determined by people at the insurance company. They fought us tooth and nail. It made me realize that accident victims need a voice, and I felt equipped to be that voice.”
Nestico’s experience being injured and subjected to exploitive practices by insurance companies led him to personal injury law, and has given him a natural ability to empathize with clients. KNR attorneys work with families and victims of car accidents, truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, work injuries, medical malpractice, dangerous drugs or devices, defective products, or other causes of injury or wrongful death.
As one would imagine, the physical, mental and emotional toll on clients is immense, and the road to recovery sometimes long.
“People tend to be aware of the physical aspects of recovery from a crash or wrongful injury,” Nestico says. “They might consider the emotional part of it as well. But in order to achieve full recovery – physical, emotional, mental – we need to realize the role played by financial recovery. That’s where KNR comes in. We ensure that accident victims and their families get the settlements that they deserve so that there’s never a question about whether they can afford the full range of treatments necessary.”
Ethics in the Industry
After having been an accident victim, and witnessing firsthand how powerful insurance companies seemed to view injury victims and their families as standing in the way of profit, Nestico developed strong views about ethics. There are clear guidelines governing the industry, outlined in a code of responsibility and enforced through regional disciplinary councils.
Nestico and his colleagues are part of several such disciplinary councils, a fact he believes contributes to KNR’s strong point of view on ethics and strict compliances with ethical rules and norms. He’s served on the Summit County disciplinary council for over 10 years, alongside founding partner Robert Redick. Partner Nomiki Perantinides Tsarnas serves on the Mahoning County council. These groups are tasked with making sure that area lawyers conform to a professional code of responsibility, and investigates lawyers directly when complaints are made or ethics violations suspected.
The position is a volunteer one and is unpaid, but Nestico and his peers at KNR believe strongly in the work of the council and prioritize the firm’s involvement.
“When there is a change to the rules, or in the way they are interpreted or applied, our deep knowledge of the code of responsibility ensures that KNR attorneys maintain full compliance,” Nestico says.
In its 12-year history, the firm has never been cited or sanctioned by a disciplinary council. KNR goes above and beyond by hiring its own ethics lawyers on permanent retainer, with whom they consult on a regular basis. Why does the firm take on this additional expense, when it already has a deep bench of expertise on legal matters as well as Ohio’s code of ethics? “As the largest personal injury firm in the state, we want to ensure that all services that are provided follow all of the rules,” Nestico says. “It’s worth the expense to ensure that not only our clients are protected, but that our lawyers are, too. This provides an additional level of protection and comfort to our attorneys, who say it’s a perk of the job.”
Their involvement on disciplinary councils brings additional scrutiny to KNR, which he seems to welcome. “Since I’m on the council in Summit County, if there is a complaint against KNR, it bypasses regular procedure and goes directly to the Ohio Supreme Court’s disciplinary council. We welcome it, though; we’ve got nothing to hide and are proud of the way we do business.”
KNR attorneys have unmatched expertise on Ohio’s code of ethics. They also have a deep bench when it comes to taking on the “big guys,” the insurance companies, large corporations, big trucking companies, etc.
Deep Knowledge of the Insurance Industry
KNR attorneys have a sweet spot when it comes to knowing the industry. More than half of KNR’s attorneys have previous experience defending insurance companies or corporations. This provides valuable intel and deep experience navigating the complexities of what happens after injury, accident or wrongful death.
“A key part of what we do includes understanding what the claims process looks like within a large, powerful insurance company, and holding everyone accountable for ensuring all aspects of that process are followed,” says John Reagan, a partner who joined KNR in 2010.
Reagan has experience defending catastrophic personal injury and wrongful death claims from auto collisions, defective products, and more, as well as direct experience defending insurance companies and product manufacturers. His knowledge is so extensive that he’s taught seminars and classes about the ins and outs of the claims process.
“What may seem like slow, laborious paperwork is really important to ensuring our clients get positive verdicts and strong settlements,” Reagan continues. “There are key questions and clues that emerge during each case. KNR attorneys and staff are skilled investigators – knowing the right questions to ask, data to seek, and how and when to apply pressure to find answers to our questions.”
There’s a more personal side to this, as well. Finding answers to tough questions about each case – Who was at fault? Was it negligent? Were laws or compliance rules being broken? – is as much a part of helping victims and their families find closure as it is about winning cases.
“During the recovery process, we spend a lot of time with personal injury victims and their families, who typically have many questions,” Reagan says. “Hiring outside investigators to research the scene of the accident or re-enact events can shed light on what happened the day that tragedy, which helps families find closure, which is the most satisfying part of my job.”
This expertise may seem equal parts technical and empathetic, but there’s a third component as well. KNR’s deep well of experience with insurance companies enables them to take on large cases against powerful companies – something that is far more difficult for general practitioners.
“It makes us more effective. We know how to be aggressive with these guys, and we know how to do it ethically and in the right way. Lots of attorneys might get nervous taking on powerful corporations and insurance groups; but it’s something we’re trained to do, and we have a track record to show for it,” adds Reagan.
Promoting Awareness and Industry Best Practices
Often, the process of investigating details following a car crash or other situations resulting in wrongful injury will yield information that can help protect the general public. Nomiki Perantinides Tsarnas, a partner who joined KNR in 2007, shared how a particular case two years ago led to improved safety training protocols at a major trucking company. In the resolution of a wrongful death lawsuit against the trucking company, it became evident throughout the investigation that not only had the driver falsified his log books prior to crashing into and killing a woman, but that this had been a pattern at the company.
“The U.S. Department of Transportation audited the company for similar issues,” Tsarnas says. “Drivers had been falsifying their records regarding how much rest and time off they had taken, which was a breach of federal motor carrier safety regulations.”
As part of the settlement, KNR persuaded the company to improve training protocols in hopes of preventing future accidents from occurring. “It won’t bring back the victim back or erase the pain her family feels, but hopefully it will ease their suffering to know that this company’s drivers are compliant and no longer going onto the roads with the risks associated with sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation can be as dangerous as drunk driving or texting and driving. It can be a contributing cause to many car accidents and truck accidents.”
In an effort to raise awareness around safe driving, KNR just announced the creation of a brand new college scholarship, its essay requirements focus on texting and driving. The “Don’t Text & Drive” scholarship launched in May will award $5,000 to eligible high school graduates planning to attend college. Winners will be announced in January 2018.
Joshua Angelotta, a firm partner who came on board in 2011 with a background in the insurance industry, noted that KNR tries to be forward looking about prevention. “Young people are not the only ones who text and drive. But from the data we’ve seen, they tend to be more likely to text and drive than others, and more susceptible to believing they are invincible. We’re pleased to be able to spur some much-needed thinking and reflection about the dangers of this common practice. At the same time, being able to offer significant funds for college at a time when financial aid for young graduates has stalled is something we’re proud of.”
Making a Difference in the Community
KNR finds many ways to raise awareness and give back to the community. Some are directly related to their personal injury legal work. Other causes are close to their heart because they matter deeply to KNR attorneys and employees and have been adopted firmwide throughout the years.
The recipients and benefactors of their efforts include children’s hospitals, area foundations, local food banks, schools, and more. The firm actively looks for ways to support local causes beyond direct fundraising. For example, KNR is sponsoring a 2017 summer concert series held at Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls. The firm now has a standing committee dedicated to reviewing sponsorship requests, considering partnership and fundraising opportunities, and evaluating KNR’s ongoing philanthropic efforts. The existence of such a committee speaks to the priority the firm places on philanthropic and community engagement.
Thomas Vasvari, another of the firm’s partners who began practicing law in 2002 with all three of the firm’s original founders, leads KNR’s Youngstown office. He said, “We are really proud of our charitable footprint. We’ve raised almost half a million dollars for good causes and people in our community.”
One of the annual fundraisers that the majority of KNR staff participate in is a “Walk of Heroes” to raise funds for local rape crisis centers. In April, KNR participated for the sixth year in a row, bringing their total donations to almost $70,000.
“It’s really powerful to watch our employees get involved directly with this cause,” Vasvari says. “It not only raises funds for vital services for victims of sexual assault and abuse, but it raises awareness. Our team is out there raising money, talking about it for weeks and months prior to the event. Promoting the event can help people feel like they’re not alone in this, if it’s something that has happened to them.”
Nearly a fifth of KNR’s charitable giving has gone to organizations that combat sexual violence. Vasvari echoes sentiments of other partners and staff, “It’s similar to our legal work with personal injury victims. I wish we could live in a world where none of this ever occurred, that innocent people didn’t have to go through pain and loss. We’re committed to doing whatever we can to lessen that pain and help others on their path to recovery.”
The firm also looks for ways to directly support families each year at the holidays. Last year, KNR gave away over 80,000 meals and hundreds of coats to families in need, a number that has quadrupled since the firm’s first giveaway. Locally, the firm purchased 1,000 turkeys to give away to families in exchange for gently used coats or canned goods to benefit the Salvation Army or the Akron/Canton Regional Food bank.
“We are really proud of our charitable footprint. We’ve raised almost half a million dollars for good causes and people in our community.”
Starting Small, Thinking Big
Nestico is proud of how KNR has unfolded, and what it’s been able to accomplish for victims of personal injury and accidents as well as the community at large. “I think back to our original founders’ meetings when we pulled KNR together, and the sense of excitement and possibility we had. That optimism is very much still there, and has expanded in so many new directions. After my own accident, I might have imagined myself going into law one day. It was one of those earth-shattering and life-altering experiences. But I could have never envisioned the broad impact our company has had on so many people. It’s humbling and rewarding.”
KNR has achieved notable settlements for victims and a stellar track record, legally speaking – making its impressive reviews on Google and Facebook unsurprising. Its commitment to industry best practices and strict adherence to ethics in an industry that is rife with abuse illustrates a much broader perspective on personal injury law that is also commendable. And its engagement with and support of the local community in dozens of ways each year is bar none.
When asked how his vision had evolved over time, and how the firm got so involved in the Cleveland community as well as cities around the state that KNR calls home, Nestico talked about the first ever event sponsored by KNR.
“It was a bike helmet giveaway for kids,” he says. “We had seen so many cases of children being hit on the head, experiencing brain injuries, and we kept thinking about it as a safety and prevention issue. The answer was clear; we wanted to step up and do our part to prevent terrible accidents like this from occurring. I have three kids of my own, so children have always been at the forefront of how we give back. It’s important for me to live out this value.”
Nestico went on to describe how this commitment plays out not only at KNR but within his immediate family. Upon receiving $1,000 tickets to a show by pop-star Hannah Montana, Nestico’s kids opted to give them away to children at the oncology department at Akron Children’s Hospital. Nestico shares the anecdote matter-of-factly. In speaking with him, one gets the sense that giving back to others is a way of life – it’s just what you do.