Firm has 10 large verdicts in 2017, most in PA

Kline & Specter has won 10 large verdicts so far in 2017, more than any other Pennsylvania law firm, and some that set noteworthy records. One, achieved by Andy Stern and Elizabeth Crawford, came at the end of a 17-week trial in Philadelphia in which a jury found several parties causally negligent, including the Salvation Army, in a Center City building collapse that killed seven people and injured 12 others. Following the liability verdict, the client, a double amputee, was awarded $95.6 million – the largest personal injury recovery ever received by a single plaintiff in Pennsylvania history.  In another case, Kila Baldwin, Tracie Palmer and Elia Robertson won a $57.1 million jury verdict, including $50 million in punitive damages, for a Pennsylvania woman injured by a defective vaginal mesh device made by a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary. Chris Gomez, assisting lawyers from Ohio and Florida, won a $20 million verdict against J&J in another vaginal mesh case. Also in 2017, Regan Safier won the largest-ever medical malpractice award in federal court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, a nearly $42 million jury verdict, including periodic payments, for a child who suffered a forceps injury at birth that resulted in severe brain damage. The verdict was the biggest recorded in a medical malpractice case by a female attorney in Pennsylvania. Dominic Guerrini scored two major jury verdicts, one for $14.5 million in a birth injury case and $11 million for a man who was shot and injured by an escapee from a juvenile behavioral rehabilitation facility. His co-counsel in those cases were Mark Polin and Colin Burke, respectively. Most recently, Nadeem Bezar and Emily Marks won an $11 million jury verdict for a girl who was physically and sexually abused by her adoptive parents. (See next item) Other verdicts included a $2.16 million jury award by Tom Kline and Kila Baldwin in another vaginal mesh case, a $1.16 million bench verdict by Nadeem Bezar for a Delaware bus crash victim and an $870,000 jury verdict by Braden Lepisto in tiny, conservative Huntingdon County, Pa., in a wrong-site surgery case, the largest verdict in that rural county in at least 25 years.

Bezar, Marks win $11 million in sexual abuse case

Nadeem Bezar and Emily Marks won an $11 million jury verdict against a child placement agency and the adoptive parents of a girl who was physically and sexually abused while in their home. The two-week trial in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court concluded with a verdict against the agency, Bethanna, which has offices in Philadelphia and in other communities, and Walter and Debra Scott. The verdict included $10 million in compensatory and $1 million in punitive damages. The case came to light in 2015 when the girl came forward about being abused by Walter Scott after he was criminally charged with abusing two other children in the same Philadelphia home. Scott was later convicted and is now serving a 20-year prison sentence. The girl had been placed with the Scotts when she was six years old and she was abused over a period of four years. The lawsuit claimed that Bethanna was aware of tension between the child and her foster mother and also that events occurred that required investigation, including the use of physical punishment. The girl asked on several occasions to be moved from the home but her requests were denied. Bezar, who has filed suit in a number of high-profile child abuse and sex trafficking cases, told the news media: “This verdict sends a clear message that crimes and abuse perpetuated upon our children will not be tolerated. Our client’s voice was finally heard.” (See news coverage)

Inscho achieves settlement in prison death:
$7 million, safety improvements

David Inscho and Michael Cavaliere reached a $7 million settlement in addition to required safety improvements at George W. Hill Correctional Facility in Delaware County in the case of a mentally ill woman who committed suicide after she was placed in solitary confinement for 52 days. Janene Wallace, 35, of Upper Darby, hung herself in her cell after a guard demeaned her and taunted her to kill herself. As part of the settlement, the prison’s board agreed to revised policies on both suicide prevention and restricted housing. For one, inmates with serious mental illnesses will no longer be placed in restrictive housing due to symptoms related to mental illness; if such a placement is required for security reasons, the inmate must be evaluated by a psychologist within 24 hours. No prisoner can be placed in restricted housing without approval of the shift supervisor and without a medical evaluation, with a written evaluation by a psychologist within seven days and every 30 days thereafter. The warden must also play a role, approving solitary placements for mentally ill inmates within 24 hours, followed by a committee review every seven days. (See news coverage) The case is further testament to Kline & Specter’s commitment to societal change and improvement, following litigation that has brought advancements in medical care, police procedures, transportation, building inspections, utilities and manufacturing. (See Our Safety Improvements website page)

Kline team prepares for trial

Kline & Specter is a perpetual trial machine. The firm has lawyers in courtrooms across Pennsylvania daily. Much of the hard work of Kline & Specter lawyers does not make the headlines. For example, recently Tom Kline, along with a team of lawyers, successfully tried a medical malpractice case for two weeks in Lancaster County. According to Kline: “The case lasted deep into the defense case, before a settlement was reached securing the lifetime needs of our client.” A late night photo from the “war room” provides a glimpse into preparation by the team of lawyers committed to the cause, including Kline, physician/lawyer Barry Magen, Kristen Sipala and Tom Bosworth. In the photo, Kline and Magen discuss medical literature for the next day’s cross-examination while Sipala and Bosworth prepare documents and background research in their home base at the Lancaster Marriott.

Tom Kline named to Power 100

The Philadelphia Business Journal included Tom Kline in its “Power 100” list of people who will have “the most impact in shaping the future” of metropolitan Philadelphia. The newspaper said the Power 100 is a compilation of “the true leaders” in the region and was decided by Journal editors based on those who wielded “the most influence … ” It noted that Kline, besides being a founding partner of a “pre-eminent Pennsylvania law firm,” made the largest donation to Drexel University in the school’s history, a $50 million gift to the law school, now the Thomas R. Kline School of Law. It noted that he has won “some of the region’s biggest cases” and pointed out the Amtrak 188 crash litigation. Among others on the Power 100 list: media entrepreneur Gerry Lenfest, Drexel Univerity President John Fry, and the heads of law firms and corporations, including Brian Roberts of Comcast.

Specter gift to help with scholarships, courtroom construction

UC Hastings College of the Law announced a $1 million gift by Shanin Specter, who taught Torts at the school in fall 2017. “We’re so glad that Shanin is here working with our students, and his gift comes at a particularly exciting and busy time for the college,” said Chancellor and Dean David Faigman in an open letter to the school community. In addition to scholarships, the donation will be used to name a trial courtroom in the new 198 McAllister Building. Founded in 1878, Hastings Law is in the midst of construction of an “Academic Village” campus to be completed over the next several years. Faigman said these efforts, aided by Specter’s gift, will mark “a moment of transition between the past and the future.”

Specter elected to American Law Institute

Shanin Specter was elected as a member of the prestigious American Law Institute, the leading independent organization in the United States producing scholarly work to clarify, modernize and improve the law. The ALI, founded in 1923, seeks to "promote the clarification and simplification of the law and its better adaptation to social needs, to secure the better administration of justice, and to encourage and carry on scholarly and scientific legal work." It was created by a group of lawyers, judges and teachers known as the "The Committee on the Establishment of a Permanent Organization for the Improvement of the Law." The committee reported that the two chief defects in American law — its uncertainty and its complexity — had produced a "general dissatisfaction with the administration of justice." The committee recommended that a lawyers' organization be formed to improve the law and its administration, an organization that became the ALI. The group was incorporated by, among others, Chief Justice and former President William Howard Taft, future Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, and former Secretary of State Elihu Root. Among early members were Judges Benjamin N. Cardozo and Learned Hand.

New charges filed in Penn State hazing case

Tom Kline was once again thrust into the national headlines as new charges of involuntary manslaughter were filed against fraternity brothers who had been previously uncharged in the hazing death of Timothy Piazza at Penn State. The charges came after authorities recovered a previously unseen video in the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house from the night of Feb. 2, when Piazza, 19, sustained fatal injuries at a party there. The surveillance footage showed pledges being given a large number of alcoholic drinks in the fraternity’s basement. News media in Pennsylvania and nationally termed the previously unseen video a major break in the case, with ABC’s Good Morning America calling it “potential bombshell evidence.” In an interview with ABC’s Gio Benitez aired on GMA, Kline, who represents the Piazza family, said: “Missing from this case was what really happened downstairs in that dark basement that night. This video is the missing link.” Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller announced the new round of criminal charges. In all, 12 previously uncharged fraternity members were charged, with five facing counts of involuntary manslaughter. Five previously charged members were slapped with additional charges. (Watch TV clip)

Burke picked for alma mater’s board

Colin Burke was elected to the Archbishop Ryan High School Board of Directors. Burke, Ryan Class of ’99, also serves on the school’s Alumni Board. After graduating from Archbishop Ryan, Burke attended Catholic University of America. Before joining Kline & Specter, Burke, among other things, was an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia and a legislative assistant in Washington, D.C., with the International Union of Painter’s and Allied Trades. Among his major cases with the firm, Burke earlier this year was co-counsel at a trial that resulted in an $11 million jury verdict against the Devereux Foundation for a man who was shot and severely injured by an escapee from its juvenile behavioral rehabilitation facility in Glenmoore, Pa.

Letters to the Lawyer

It’s always good to hear back from a satisfied client. In this case, it was Barbara Blaukamp of Zeeland, Michigan, who took time to write to Lee Balefsky, head of the firm’s Mass Tort Department, about the successful conclusion of litigation involving a defective medical device. Details of her settlement were confidential. Blaukamp’s letter read in part:
October 9, 2017
Dear Mr. Balefsky:
… As I looked on the Internet for a legal firm, I found Kline & Specter’s website. Taking a “leap faith,” I dialed your number. After only one or two rings, my call was answered by a person, not a voice and/or number-prompted answering system … (Afterward) All of my questions and concerns were taken care of in a kindly manner. Your staff was familiar with my name and case. The patience and time spent with each call made me feel as though I was your only case … I am sure my case was not one of your biggest cases, but it was very big to me. Never did I dream my case would have the outcome it did. Again, I thank you for the work and the time spent on me.
Barbara Blaukamp

Born to Braden and Alissa Lepisto 

Caleb Porter Lepisto, at 20.5 inches, seven pounds, nine ounces. He joins older brother, Brooks, 2.

Kline & Specter
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