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Ryan Zehl
A headshot of Ryan Zehl

Ryan Zehl

Zehl & Associates
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About Ryan Zehl

1. What was the first job you had?
I worked the “cheese gun” at—what at the time was –a popular fast food (hot dog) chain in Houston called “James Coney Island.” While it wasn’t the most glamorous job, it taught me that hard work doesn’t always result in a big pay check.
2. What’s your proudest moment as a trial lawyer?
I’m honestly just proud to be one in the first place. It’s a lot of work and responsibility, but there’s nothing more fulfilling than knowing that you’ve made someone else’s life better by correcting a wrong and providing them with the financial security to care for themselves and their families. I’d say one of my proudest moments was when we recovered a $4.5 million verdict after a grueling five-week trial against R&L Carriers, a large privately owned trucking company. One of their drivers rear-ended our client on the highway, while she was moving back home to Mississippi. The impact caused her small pickup to roll over several times. Her two dogs, which—to her—were her children (because she wasn’t able to have her own) were killed, and she sustained a mild TBI, as well as a herniation in her cervical and lumbar spine. R&L and its lawyers were as obstructive and uncooperative as they come. We finally got to trial after 20+ motions to compel, at least 30 depositions, and too many hearings to count. R&L had 12 experts—many of whom were doctors disputing our client’s TBI—and averaged over a day with each of ours, so the trial lasted much longer than the ordinary truck wreck. When the jury started deliberating, my paralegal, associate, local counsel, co-counsel, and I each wrote down what we thought the verdict would be on a piece of paper, then shared them with each other while we waited for the jurors to come back with their verdict. I was the only one who had a seven-figure number, which made me pretty nervous (and think that I had been drinking too much of my own Kool-Aid), because I had put so much time and money into the case. Thankfully, I was the closest: not only did the jury come back with over $4 million, but they also ended up awarding punitive damages. Little did I know at the time, that was just the beginning: R&L ended up appealing the case to the Texas court of appeals, which affirmed the verdict (including the punitives), then the Texas Supreme Court. After requesting Briefing on the Merits, the Texas Supreme Court denied review in June 2018; R&L ended up paying the verdict, as well as an additional $1 million + in pre and post-judgment interest.
3. I attribute my success to….
A supportive family, an incredibly smart and hardworking staff, lots and lots of late nights, and luck.
4. What is your most notable verdict or settlement?
This is a tough one. I don’t want to seem self-aggrandizing, but we’ve had quite a few unusually large verdicts and settlements (ergo, one of the reasons I listed “luck” in my response to the preceding question). Here’s one of each: • Verdict: we got an $18.7 million verdict for two bus passengers (one broke her femur, the other herniated a disc in her lower back, and neither had any lost wages) when a Greyhound bus rolled after the driver lost control on icy roads. $8.4 million was punitives, $300,000 was for our clients’ (combined) past and future medical expenses, and all of the remaining $10 million was non-economic damages. I mention this one because it’s the most I’ve ever recovered in a case with no surgeries and such (relatively) low economic damages. • Settlement: we settled a case for $23.5 million earlier this year (March 2019) for a client who lost his wife and sustained a mild to moderate traumatic brain injury, as well as a fractured jaw, clavicle, scapula, sternum, and right femur, after being hit head-on by a commercial truck.
5. What is your fantasy job?
I’m doing it. Until I got to college, however, it was music producer, which probably wouldn’t have worked out so well, given that I don’t play an instrument or know much about music.
6. What is your guilty pleasure?
I drink a lot of Diet Dr. Pepper. I actually don’t feel guilty about it, but, according to my wife, mom, and one of our paralegals, I should.
7. What do you like to do in your time off?
Spend time with my family, watch movies, and go to Astros and Rockets games.
8. What’s your favorite hobby?
Surfing.
9. What’s one word that describes you?
Intense (according to my wife and friends)
10. What keeps you awake at night?
If we’re in trial, it’s trial, since I barely sleep (see also No. 6); otherwise, I try to resolve—or come up with a plan to resolve—anything that’s worrying or bothering me before I go to bed, so that I don’t have to think about it once I do.
11. What newspaper do you generally read daily?
I don’t actually read or subscribe to a “newspaper” anymore; I do, however, read CNN.com and chron.com almost every morning.
12. What advice would you give a young attorney?
Always be yourself, work harder than the other side, make time for your family and friends, and remember that if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else.
13. How do you relax?
Another hard one. I think most people who know me well would say “I don’t” (see also No. 9). I feel the most relaxed when I’m with my kids or at a movie, because I won’t typically answer my phone or read or respond to emails.
14. What’s your most embarrassing moment in life?
When I was in 6th grade, I went whitewater rafting with a friend in New Mexico. We were in a raft with eight strangers going through freezing cold rapids. When we got to a fork in the river, our guide must have made a mistake, because the raft started to capsize. Somehow, one of the people sitting across from me started to fall out – and ended up taking me with them along the way. I was underwater for what seemed like a couple of minutes before the rapids finally spit me out—without my shorts (which had an elastic band that obviously wasn’t tight enough). I climbed back on the raft naked, freezing cold, and totally humiliated. I haven’t been whitewater rafting since.
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