“My mother wanted me to be a doctor,” chuckles Christopher Geldmacher, personal injury attorney and partner at the Sauter Sullivan law firm. “We have lots of people in our family in the medical profession. Mom’s been in nursing for over 40 years. My father wanted me to be a business man. But I ended up going into law because I found it much more exciting, with more action, and I like the idea of helping people solve their problems.”
Chris graduated from the St. Louis University School of Law in 1998, and immediately began his law career. He started at the Neuman Law Firm, and spent a little over 2 years doing almost exclusively workers compensation cases. From there, he landed at the law firm of Reed and Bruhn, where he did more workers compensation cases, and also personal injury work. In January of 2004, he came to Deeba, Sauter and Herd, a “precursor” of the Sauter Sullivan law firm. The head of that firm, Jim Sauter, was nearing retirement, so attorneys Matthew Sauter and Kevin Sullivan formed a new firm, and Chris became of part of what is now the Sauter Sullivan law firm. In 2012, he was made a partner.
“I enjoy helping people.” Geldmacher tells us. “People come to me with their problems asking me for help, and together we talk about what can be done.” Some people come to Chris with personal injury claims, and he will help them navigate through the bureaucratic details of their medical care, medical bills, lost wages, and issues like pain and suffering. Chris always tells people right up front, “It’s your case. Not mine.” The way he sees it, “A big part of my job is to educate my clients about the process and how things work, what they can expect and so on…that way they understand enough to make all of the important decisions in their case. It’s important to me that they make the decisions. I’m here to work behind the scenes and then to give them the information they need to decide what’s best for their case.”
Geldmacher explains who his typical clients are: “My clients come from all walks of life. I’ve helped hard working folks who have on the job injuries or other types of claims. Often these individuals are thrust into a workers’ compensation system that’s almost impossible to understand or navigate without assistance. I’ve represented folks who are unemployed, for one reason or another, with slip and fall cases or car accident claims. We represent anyone who has an injury claim and needs help.”
Settlement of a claim is always Chris’s preference. He does his best to work out a settlement between his client and the other party, but never forces his client to accept anything they don’t want to. “I try my best to get cases resolved through settlement, but if a case needs a lawsuit, I don’t back down. Once I sign someone up, I believe that it is my obligation to that person to take the case a far as it needs to go to get the proper resolution.”
Geldmacher has experience handling all different forms of injury claims, from dog attack cases, people injured on the job, truck crash victims, premises liability cases where the owner of a property was at fault and someone was injured because of their negligence, wrongful death cases, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries…and of course a lot of auto accident injuries. The list goes on. There’s one common denominator in almost all of the cases Chris has handled: “My client was injured and their life was disrupted because of the accident. Maybe they missed a couple weeks of work, or maybe they’ve been critically injured and facing a life of permanent disability…or worse, someone has died and left loved ones behind who now have to face life without them. In all of my personal injury cases someone’s life has been changed for the worse, even if just slightly, through no fault of their own, and they’re due compensation from the party whose actions or neglect caused their injury.”
With so many cases handled, it’s tough to pick a most memorable one. But when pressed, Chris remembers one particular case that was a challenge, interesting, and rewarding. “I remember I had this gentleman who fell off a forklift at work and fractured his hip, a workers’ compensation case. He’d been turned down by several other attorneys before he came to me, because his employer was denying his claim. I still listened to what had happened and immediately was angry that this man wasn’t getting the help he needed. I learned that after he’d fallen at work, he was taken to the hospital and his employer made him take breath alcohol test when the doctors at the hospital were trying to give this man the care he needed. The test came back showing .014 blood alcohol level, which is well below the legal limit. Despite the fact that this man could have driven himself home, his employer used the test to deny his claim completely. They wouldn’t pay for his medical treatment. They wouldn’t pay for his time off of work.”
Chris took the facts of the case to a toxicology expert for a review of the procedures used in the hospital’s alcohol test. Immediately, the expert informed Chris that the test was not valid. The expert ended up testifying on behalf of the injured employee that the test result the employer was attempting to use to deny the claim was only a screening test according to the machine’s protocols. Since the screening test came back with a reading of less than .02 percent blood alcohol, the real test was not performed. If the test would have come back at .02 or higher, the operator is supposed to run air through the breathalyzer for five minutes to clean the system of all residual substances that may affect the test. Then the real test would have been run.
When the toxicology expert’s testimony was shown to the judge the employer had no choice but to change their stance and do a complete 180. All of the man’s medical bills and past due lost wages were paid. 100%. Later, Chris also was able to get this man a fair settlement which compensated him for the disability he sustained. No trial was required. Chris told us that “the most satisfying part was that several other attorneys turned this man down, because they assumed his case was a loser or that it would be too hard. He was on the verge of giving up when he came to me. Those are the cases I love the most. The ones where I make something happen for someone who has nowhere else to turn.”
A lot of law firms do advertising on TV or radio, but not the Sauter Sullivan law firm. “We’ve never done that,” Geldmacher tells us, “and we probably will never do that. Our goal for each and every person that walks into the office is to do such a good job for that person that they want their family and friends to get the same level of representation that they received. If someone refers another person to me, that tells me that I did my job with their case.” He’s proud of the fact that the firm is busier than ever, but also says that they are never too busy to speak with anyone about their injury, see if they have a case, and then help them if they do.
One of the things that Geldmacher says is unique about Sauter Sullivan is that injured people deal with their attorney directly. “You meet with your attorney at the beginning of the case, you speak to your attorney during the case, and you meet with your attorney at the end of the case. Many well known firms sign up their clients with investigators or assistants. I cannot imagine someone being OK with not meeting and speaking face to face with their attorney at the very beginning. At the initial appointment, we give you the direct phone line to your attorney. That means that when a client wants to talk to me, the phone call rings at my desk and I pick it up and speak to them.” At other law firms, you start with a receptionist and then bounce around several times before maybe being allowed to talk to your attorney. That’s not how it’s done at Sauter Sullivan. “Whenever a client wants to know what’s going on with his or her claim, all they do is call the direct line to my desk and we talk about their case. Seems simple, but we may be one of the few, if not only, law firms doing that.”