In this column, Verdict features the great work of GTLA lawyers who are making big impacts in their communities whether through client work or contributing to a social cause. Our GTLA members do incredible work outside their normal casework, and we are honored to share their stories here.
Howard Spiva wants to put himself out of work. More specifically, he is on a mission to eliminate traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) among children in America.
Howard has practiced personal injury law in Savannah since 1984. Over the course of his three-decades-long career, Howard has gained a reputation for successfully handling catastrophic injury cases, often involving TBIs among young children.
The walls of Howard’s law office are lined with framed photos of clients whom he has helped over the years. One day in 1999, Howard and his sister realized that all the children featured on the walls had been the victim of a TBI. More specifically, each had suffered a TBI because of a car accident. Howard and his sister asked themselves if they were truly doing everything they could to help these children and the many more who would need the firm’s help in the future.
The facts they found were stark. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), half a million emergency room visits each year occur for brain injuries of children under eighteen years of age. Children under the age of five have the highest brain injury related visits, hospitalizations, and deaths combined. Car wrecks are the leading cause of brain-injury related deaths in America.
Considering what typically happens in a violent car wreck, it’s easy to see why so many children incur TBIs as a result. In a typical scenario, the violent impact of the wreck causes the front seat to collapse. The child sitting in the back seat is simultaneously thrown forward, and her unprotected head impacts with either the collapsed front seat or the head of her seat-belted parent.
But the facts weren’t all bad. After bicycle helmets were mandated for children in the eighties, overall head injuries were reduced by 60 percent and child fatalities dropped by 73 percent. Howard thought, if kids wear helmets while on bikes, skateboards, and motorcycles, and while playing football, baseball, and while sparring in martial arts, why not while riding in automobiles?
Realizing these injuries are preventable, Howard founded the Justice for Children Foundation and its “Heads in Helmets” campaign. The mission: to educate parents, pediatricians, and community members on how preventable car-accident TBIs are for young children and to provide each child with a helmet free of charge.
Since 1999, Howard and the Spiva Law Group have given away tens of thousands of helmets to children. Moreover, they have teamed up with advocates in other states to expand their impact across the country.
Many of these helmets are given away at community festivals and gatherings where Howard’s foundation provides safety courses with local law enforcement, face painting, and helmet decorating stations. Howard’s foundation is able to purchase child helmets in bulk and also provides them to local police departments to pass out when they see children on bicycles or skateboards without proper headgear.
Howard’s tremendous impact has been recognized with more than ten community service awards. The Heads in Helmets campaign was recently honored by the American Justice Association, and Howard received GTLA’s 2018 Community Service Award during our recent Annual Convention.
It’s rare to find a lawyer actively working to put himself out of business, but on this cause, we can all agree. Howard’s work for nearly 20 years to end TBIs in children due to car accidents is the definition of community service, and we highlight it here as an example for us all.
To learn more about the Heads in Helmets campaign, please visit headsinhelmets.com. ●
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matthew Wilson is a partner at Akin & Tate, P.C. where his practice focuses on general litigation and appeals. Matthew was named a 2018 Super Lawyers Rising Star, is a 2016 graduate of the GTLA LEAD Program, and currently serves on the Verdict Editorial Board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.