Trial Lawyers and Trial Teams of the Year to be honored at 2019 Trial Lawyers Summit

Recent Personal Injury Jury Awards and SettlementsThe National Law Journal and The Trial Lawyer, the official magazine of The National Trial Lawyers, have announced the 2018 Trial Lawyers and Trial Team of the Year. The lawyers and team were chosen from nominations from The Trial Lawyer magazine’s readers and reflect those which have shaped the legal profession through leadership, innovation and success in the practice of civil plaintiff or criminal defense law. Each of these outstanding lawyers and team members were chosen for their professional achievements, trial results and effective impact in the legal community.

The Mass Tort Trial Team of the Year is Brent Wisner, David Dickens and Mark Burton for Johnson v. Monsanto, et al. DeWayne “Lee” Johnson brought his claim in California against Monsanto concerning Roundup and Ranger Pro products containing glyphosate.  The jury awarded $289M consisting of $39M in compensatory damages and $250M in punitive damages.

The Products Liability Trial Team of the Year is Frank Branson, Chip Brooker, Debbie Branson and Eric Stahl of Dallas for Reavis v. Toyota, et al. A rear-end accident left two children with skull fractures and brain injuries. The Texas jury awarded $242M consisting of $99M in compensatory damages and $143M in punitive damages. Chip Brooker is now with Brooker Law, PLLC, Dallas. Frank Branson, Debbie Branson and Eric Stahl are with The Law Offices of Frank L. Branson, PC, Dallas.

The Class Action Trial Lawyer of the Year is Bob Clifford of Chicago for Hale v. State Farm, et al. State Farm agreed to pay $250 million on the brink of trial to policyholders who claimed the company tried to rig the Illinois justice system to wipe out a $1.06 billion jury verdict from 19 years prior.

The Medical Malpractice Trial Lawyers of the Year are Brian McKeen of Detroit for Tran v. William Beaumont Hospital, et al, and NTL member Kennan Dandar of Tampa for Carter v. University of South Florida Health, et al. In McKeen’s case, hospital employees negligently attempted to insert an IV into a 2-year-old prior to a kidney scan.  This resulted in breathing episode and loss of oxygen for and ultimately causing permanent and severe brain damage and cerebral palsy.  After the three-week trial, the Michigan jury deliberated for six hours before returning a $130M verdict. In Dandar’s case, during laparoscopic surgery to remove an ovarian cyst, the surgeon transected completely through the bowel.  Surgeries were eventually performed to correct the perforation, but infection ultimately led to gangrene in the plaintiff’s hands and feet requiring amputations below her elbows and knees. After the three trials and two hung juries this jury awarded $109 million.

The Trucking Trial Lawyer of the Year is NTL member Brent Goudarzi of Gilmer, TX for Patterson v. FTS International, et al and McPherson v. Jefferson Trucking, et al.   In the first case, a Texas jury awarded $101M consisting of $26M in compensatory damages and $75M in punitive damages after rear-ending the plaintiff while driving impaired.  In the second case, a Texas jury awarded $260M to the plaintiffs as compensation for mental anguish for a tractor-trailer collision.

The Criminal Defense Trial Lawyer of the Year is Benjamin Brafman of Manhattan. He has represented a wide range of high-profile celebrities, business leaders, lawyers and medical professionals in major criminal cases throughout the country, Canada, Europe, Israel, and South Africa including Jay Z, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Plaxico Burress, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Martin Shkreli and currently Harvey Weinstein.

The Civil Plaintiff Trial Lawyer of the Year is National Trial Lawyers President Mark Lanier of Houston for Ingham, et al v. J&J et al.  In this case 22 women (six of whom had died prior to trial) brought claims in Missouri against Johnson &Johnson concerning cancer resulting from their long-term use of J&J’s talcum products containing asbestos.  The jury awarded $4.69B consisting of $550M in compensatory damages and $4.14B in punitive damages.

The National Trial Lawyers will honor the lawyers and firms of the year at the upcoming Trial Lawyers Summit being held in South Beach, Florida January 20-23, 2019 at the Loews Miami Beach hotel. The lawyers and law firms will be recognized at the Trial Lawyers Award Luncheon on Monday, January 21st at noon. University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban will be the keynote speaker.

Brafman reportedly wants out of Weinstein criminal case

Harvey WeinsteinBenjamin Brafman, the attorney who’s defending former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, no longer wants to represent the accused sexual predator, a source with direct knowledge tells NBC News. Rumors have been circulating recently about Weinstein seeking other attorneys as his May 6 court date on rape charges draws closer. A spokesman for Weinstein confirms that he has been meeting with other attorneys to build a team with expertise on different aspects of the case. Brafman and Weinstein have reportedly been clashing over defense strategy.  Weinstein denies charges that he raped a woman in a hotel room in 2016 and forced another into a sex act in 2006. The next pretrial hearing in the case is set for March 7. Brafman will need the approval of the judge overseeing the case to drop Weinstein as a client, and changing attorneys could delay the upcoming trial.

Brafman will be honored as the Criminal Defense Trial Lawyer of the Year at the 2019 Trial Lawyers Summit, which starts this Sunday in South Beach.

Video: NTL member Gloria Allred says R. Kelly threatened her client

gloria allread, legal news, law news, verdict, settlementNational Trial Lawyers member Gloria Allred says singer R. Kelly threatened to reveal details of an accuser’s sex life in retaliation for a lawsuit accusing him of sexual abuse. The Associated Press reports a person identifying himself as Kelly sent a letter containing the threats to one of Faith Rodgers’ attorneys in New York. Rodgers is in the recently aired Lifetime documentary Surviving R. Kelly, which explores years of accusations against the singer. Kelly denies any wrongdoing, and one of his lawyers in Chicago denied the letter’s authenticity.

Podcast: How to use tech to get paid faster

Of the many ways that technology can help lawyers become more efficient, perhaps one of the most important is using it in accounts receivable. In this episode of the Legal Toolkit podcast from the Legal Talk Network, host Jared Correia talks to Sarah Schaaf, the CEO of Headnote, about how lawyers and law firms can optimize their payment processes. They also discuss how software can help lawyers give their clients a more professional payment experience.

NTL member Jeff Harris sues Boy Scouts over death

Courtney Knight, Elijah KnightNational Trial Lawyers member Jeff Harris is representing the parents of Elijah Knight – the 14-year-old Boy Scout who was killed when a tree fell on his tent during a thunderstorm at the Bert Adams Scout Camp in Covington, Ga. on June 25, 2018. Harris has filed a civil lawsuit in the State Court of Cobb County against the Boy Scouts of America and the Atlanta Area Council, Inc. Boy Scouts of America on behalf of the scout’s parents.

Stephen and Courtney Knight, who live in Cypress, Texas, want to improve safety standards for all Boy Scouts.

“Having joined the horrible club of parents who have lost a child, and especially the community of parents whose child died in a scouting event, we hope to make systemic safety improvements that will preserve and protect the lives of many other children in the future,” said Elijah’s father Stephen Knight, an Eagle Scout. “We hope to see a new level of safety standards, so no other family has to go through the same anguish.”

National Trial Lawyers member Jeff Harris, a trial attorney at Harris Lowry Manton LLP who has been retained by Stephen and Courtney Knight, filed the wrongful death claim earlier today. The complaint charges the defendants with vicarious liability, negligence and premises liability and seeks damages for funeral expenses and pain and suffering as well as punitive damages.

“Sadly, this is not the first time a death has occurred at the Bert Adams Scout Camp,” said Harris, citing the 1999 death of a Cobb County father and his son as well as the 2017 death of a Cobb County teenager at the camp. “We believe the Boy Scouts do not have adequate policies in place to keep kids safe and that Elijah Knight’s tragic death could have been prevented by following simple weather-related procedures.”

The Boy Scouts of America ignored weather advisories issued by the National Weather Service, including a Severe Thunderstorm Warning which was in effect at the time of Elijah’s death. Because the Boy Scouts did not evacuate all campers to a nearby building, Elijah Knight was left outdoors in a canvas tent during a hazardous storm with strong winds, lightning and hail.

The complaint holds the Boy Scouts of America and Atlanta Area Council, Inc. accountable for breaching the duty of ordinary care by failing to follow Boy Scouts of America policies and practices, failing to monitor local weather forecasts and conditions, failing to communicate significant weather advisories to all scouts and failing to follow weather advisories for the area issued by the National Weather Service.

A Distinguished Honor Roll student and Boy Scout Troop Instructor, Elijah Knight was born on January 21, 2004. He earned the prestigious Spartan Mark of Excellence Award and Distinguished Achievement Award at Spillane Middle School in Cypress, Texas, where he was enrolled in the Horizons Gifted and Talented Program.

As a Boy Scout, Elijah was focused on completing his Eagle Scout rank and had been inducted into the Order of the Arrow. An avid inventor, award-winning saxophone player, cross-country runner and dedicated community volunteer, Elijah planned to become an environmental engineer. He leaves behind two younger siblings and a large extended family.

“Elijah was kind, accepting, intelligent and vivacious,” his mother, Courtney Knight, explained. “He was inquisitive and inventive and intended to use these innate talents to improve the world.”

Podcast: Released from prison again thanks to new criminal justice reform law

Matthew Charles, a Tennessee man who was resentenced and sent back to prison two years after his release, is a free man once again, thanks to the federal criminal justice reform bill that became law last year. In this podcast from NPR, Julieta Martinelli of Nashville Public Radio has more on Charles’ odyssey through the federal justice system.

Podcast: Great Trials with NTL members Tommy and Adam Malone

The Great Trials podcast features in-depth conversations with leading trial attorneys from across the country who discuss the courtroom strategies that helped them win landmark cases. Every episode includes one or two lawyers talking about a significant case they successfully tried in front of a judge and jury. The podcast is co-hosted by Steve Lowry and Yvonne Godfrey, two award-winning trial lawyers. Episode one features National Trial Lawyers members Tommy and Adam Malone. 

NTL member Jonathan Perkins adds employment discrimination practice area

Jonathan Perkins Injury Lawyers, an established legal advocate for victims in Connecticut, is expanding its practice to assist not only individuals who have suffered physical injuries, but also employees who suffer emotionally and financially as victims of discrimination in the workplace.

“We understand how serious the impact of employment discrimination can be,” said National Trial Lawyers member Jonathan Perkins, founder of Jonathan Perkins Injury Lawyers.  “We find that many dedicated employees believe that they have been treated unfairly, but they don’t know what legal protections they are entitled to under federal and state law.”

Attorney Perkins explains that employment discrimination can occur in many guises.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) prohibits an employer from treating employees unfairly based on their race, gender, religion, color, pregnancy, national origin, or ethnicity. Connecticut law also prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Both federal and Connecticut law also prohibit retaliation for opposing or complaining about discrimination against a member of a protected class.

Additionally, the Americans with Disability Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) protects qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination in the workplace. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) promotes employment of older persons (over age 40) based on their ability rather than age and to prohibit arbitrary age discrimination in employment.

Employees are also protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if they suffer from serious health conditions; need to care for an immediate family member that has a serious medical condition; the birth and/or subsequent care of the employee’s child; the placement and/or subsequent care of an adopted or foster care child, or a “qualifying exigency” that arises out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, child or parent is on active duty or has been called to active duty for the National Guard or Reserve in support of certain operations.

“Workers can suffer severe emotional distress as a result of discriminatory actions by employers while they are still employed or after they are fired,” said Perkins. “We will utilize our legal expertise to do all that we can to address violations and get an equitable resolution. We urge anyone who has workplace discrimination concerns to contact us.”

NTL member Kathleen Zellner to file appeal in “Making a Murderer” case

National Trial Lawyers member Kathleen Zellner is expected to file an appellate brief this week seeking the release of Steven Avery, the man profiled in the Making a Murderer series on Netflix. Esquire says Zellner will file a 22,000 page brief outlining why Avery deserves to be released from prison.

“The higher court is going to review all of this new evidence,” Zellner said. “After we file, the state will file their response, and then the court will have an oral argument, and then they’ll make a decision. Whatever decision they make, it’s going to go to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. So even if we win, the state will still force it to be decided by the highest court in Wisconsin.”

Zellner reportedly will file the brief on December 20th. Avery is accused of killing Teresa Halbach in 2005. Esquire calls Zellner “one of the most successful appeal lawyers in America and was introduced in Making A Murderer‘s second season, (and she) also says she has enough evidence to convince judges that a third party was involved in Halbach’s death, which would clear Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey.”

Criminal justice reform bill hinges on amendments

CongressA criminal justice reform bill cleared a major hurdle Monday when the Senate voted 82-12 to end debate, clearing the way for senators to try to pass the bill as soon as today, The Hill reports. However, its fate rests on several amendments sought by Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton. Politico says the changes Cotton is pushing along with Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) could derail the “fragile compromise” with Democrats on the bill. Democratic Senators Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii say Cotton’s amendments undo the bill’s provisions and are designed to kill it. Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), a former federal prosecutor, calls the Republican amendments a “poison pill.” President Trump has endorsed the measure, which is designed to reform prisons and sentencing laws.