Guerrini, Polin win record $47M medical malpractice verdict

Dominic Guerrini and Mark Polin won a $47 million verdict for a little girl who suffers with permanent and disfiguring injuries to her scalp due to medical malpractice. The verdict, delivered in Johnstown, Pa., is believed to be the largest medical malpractice award on record in U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania. The incident occurred almost five and a half years ago when a doctor at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown wrapped the child’s head with ACE Bandages to treat swelling after she was born prematurely. The procedure left the child, who was unidentified in the lawsuit, with a deformed head and unable to grow hair on much of her scalp. Dr. John O. Chan, who performed the procedure acknowledged in testimony during the four-day trial that the wrapping technique is not normal practice in the United States and that he learned it during his medical training in the Philippines. A plaintiff’s expert testified that there is no known medical literature that recommends using bandaging on an infant to treat swelling. The expert faulted not only the doctor but also the hospital for failing to have rules in place to address the use of uncommon procedures. In an emotion-charged closing speech to the jury, Guerrini pleaded on the girl’s behalf. “This isn’t just some cosmetic thing that we throw a hat or a wig on. This is this little girl’s being. This is her childhood, her self-esteem,” he said. The verdict came on the heels of another major victory by Guerrini and Polin in Johnstown, last year’s $14.5 million verdict in a birth injury case.(See news coverage)

Bezar, Marks secure $5M settlement with placement agencies

Nadeem Bezar and Emily Marks achieved a $5 million settlement with two child placement agencies over a 2016 incident in which a 10-year-old boy was neglected to the point at which he died due to an intestinal blockage. Ethan Okula’s foster mother had been called by a nurse at his North Philadelphia elementary school to report that he was sick, vomiting and unable to walk. But the child was not picked up until some four hours later and then, instead of being taken to a doctor or emergency room, was brought home and placed on a couch. By the time 911 was called and an ambulance arrived, it was too late. The civil lawsuit claimed Northeast Treatment Centers, known as NET, failed to be sure the foster mother was aware of the child’s needs. Also a defendant in the case was Turning Points for Children, another Philadelphia placement agency. “It hurts my heart to think about how Ethan spent his last few hours in pain before he died alone,” said Bezar. “I pray that the tragedy of Ethan’s death continues to inspire those who work in child welfare to continue to protect this vulnerable population.” Following the highly publicized tragedy, Bezar was praised in The Philadelphia Inquirer for his career’s work on behalf of abused and neglected children. The account read in part: “He’s seen the worst cases, the ones where he feels he’s ‘looking into the eye of a monster.’ Repeated sexual and physical abuse. Cases where children were being sexually assaulted and were then returned to the home where it happened. ‘Imagine having to get out of that car, if you were that kid,’” said Bezar. (Read the article.)

Firm named best by The Legal Intelligencer for product liability/mass torts

Kline & Specter was selected as the winner of The Legal Intelligencer’s Product Liability/Mass Tort Litigation Department of the Year. The nation’s oldest legal newspaper conferred the award after reviewing information about the firm, most notably its efforts in two major product liability/mass tort litigations currently docketed in the Philadelphia courts. These involve Risperdal, the anti-psychotic drug found to be linked to gynecomastia, or the growth of female-like breasts in boys and young men, and vaginal mesh, the plastic-like product surgically implanted to treat organ prolapse and urinary incontinence that has later eroded, causing many thousands of women lifelong and severe pain. Kline & Specter has represented victims from as far away as Alabama and Indiana as well as many from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The cases demonstrate the law firm’s continued willingness to do battle against a major corporation, in these cases Johnson & Johnson. The results have been spectacular. In Risperdal cases, the firm has won several verdicts and, most recently, a court decision to allow punitive damages. In vaginal mesh cases, the firm’s attorneys have won five verdicts totaling more than $100 million plus an important recent appellate decision over venue allowing cases to remain in Philadelphia.

Kline, Williams work with Piazzas to bring about change in laws, at colleges

Tom Kline has worked closely with Jim and Evelyn Piazza as they continue their grass roots effort to affect change in the nation’s college fraternity system with appearances at a number of live events and television shows at which they spoke about the death of their son, Timothy Piazza, at a fraternity hazing at Penn State University. Kline and David Williams have accompanied the parents at court appearances for those criminally accused in the tragic incident and in media events from University Park to New York City, where they appeared together on Good Morning America and on ABC News. The Piazzas have joined with other parents, including Stephen and Rae Ann Gruver, whose son Max was a freshman at Louisiana State University when he died last year following an alleged fraternity hazing incident. Beyond helping each other cope, the families have sought to bring about change, including policy improvements at the university level and statutory change from state legislatures. One measure was passed by the Pennsylvania Senate that has been called the most comprehensive anti-hazing legislation in the nation. Titled the “Timothy J. Piazza Antihazing Law,” it would create a tiered system for grading hazing offenses, increase penalties for offenses and enact new requirements for enforcement and reporting by colleges. Senate Bill 1090 would, for one thing, upgrade from a misdemeanor to a third-degree felony any hazing that results in serious bodily injury or death. (Watch the Good Morning America interview)

Sterns author case study to teach students, lawyers

Andy Stern, together with his wife, Gwen Stern, a professor at the Kline School of Law at Drexel University, and third-year Kline Law student Philip Pasquarello, authored a case study book for the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA). Titled “Avila v. Nita City Hospital,” the 130-page publication depicts events based on a hotly contested medical malpractice case litigated by Andy Stern and Liz Crawford, resulting in a $10.1 million jury verdict that was appealed all the way to the State Supreme Court and affirmed. Names of the actual participants in the case were changed to preserve confidentiality. The detailed fact pattern and supporting illustrative exhibits give law students and other trial lawyers an opportunity to study the litigation and apply its lessons for teaching trial advocacy techniques on liability and/or damages. The publication is complete with exhibits including diagrams, medical records, witness qualifications and reports and even phone texts and Facebook entries. The “Avila” case revolves around the alleged delay in diagnosis and treatment of severe bacterial meningitis in a young boy that resulted in permanent, profound hearing loss. “Our goal,” the authors note in their preface, “was to create a case file that teaches realistic trial advocacy techniques to students but would also challenge trial lawyers who seek the thrill of perfecting their craft …” 

Specter featured on Ralph Nader Radio Hour

Shanin Specter was a featured guest on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour on the topic of “The Myth of the Litigious Society." Specter stressed the need for trial attorneys to seek not only monetary compensation for their clients but also to obtain structural reforms and remedies from hospitals, corporations and governmental agencies. Asked about an attack of tort law in recent years, Specter responded: “It’s an awful problem. The truth of the matter is that we trial lawyers have done a terrible job of convincing Americans about the importance of what we do. In the blather of the insurance industry and the Business Roundtable about ‘jackpot justice’ and lawsuits being a ‘lottery’ and the like have permeated the consciousness of many prospective jurors. And what we need to do as trial lawyers is we need to vigorously and assiduously educate the public on what we do.” How to do that? Specter suggested insisting that reforms achieved as part of settlements not be kept confidential but that they be aired widely. “We will overcome,” said Specter, “because we are so plainly and clearly right. So I feel the future is bright. I’m optimistic.” Nader, a legendary consumer advocate and protector, complimented Specter on having what he termed a “360-degree law firm” because it covers a wide range of efforts -- bringing suit against large corporations, alerting people of product hazards, seeking action by regulatory agencies and then teaching young students about the tort system as an agent for change.

New book “Supreme Leadership” features Specter

Shanin Specter was featured in a new book titled “Supreme Leadership” written by Alinka Rutkowska and containing profiles of 34 successful business leaders from throughout the United States. The seven-page chapter on Specter notes that he was chosen because of his success in the legal profession, specifically that he has obtained more than 200 verdicts and settlements in excess of $1 million, including 50 greater than $10 million. Rutkowska, a best-selling author who has written several other books, noted that Specter’s legal victories are about more than money but also “about the satisfaction of remedying the situation that caused the problem in the first place.” Her mention of a case that produced a huge monetary verdict against a power company for a woman killed by a fallen power line doesn’t even mention the amount of the damages award. Instead, it notes that Specter was able to get the power company to inspect and fix all 26,000 miles of its power lines and that as a result of the case the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission established a new investigative unit and change its procedures for probing similar electrical fatalities. Rutkowska asked how Kline & Specter, opened in 1995, has grown to be the largest plaintiffs firm in Pennsylvania. Specter’s response: “I would attribute our success to old-fashioned values and principles, those being preparation, hard work, integrity, loyalty, kindness, responsiveness, attention to detail, flexibility and a strong interest in continual improvement.”(Read the Specter chapter)

Specter quoted in Trial on recruiting, perception of trial lawyers

Shanin Specter was featured in an article in Trial magazine on the topic of strengthening the plaintiff bar. The publication of the American Association for Justice, in a Q-and-A format, examined problems plaintiff firms have in recruiting law school students and what can done to improve the situation. “We should be proactive in getting on campus to speak to students about our work and potential job opportunities,” said Specter, who has taught law school for 18 years, including at the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, UC Berkeley and UC Hastings. One way to help recruitment efforts is to inform students of the benefits of becoming a plaintiffs’ attorney, he said, noting: “If they knew about it a lot of law students would love it. Why? For all the reasons we love it. Because we get to represent real people with real problems. We get to pick our cases … because you get to effectuate safety changes in a lot of cases, which is extraordinarily satisfying and contributes to the public good. And because even for a new lawyer with a mountain of debt, a good plaintiff firm may be a place where he or she can competitively pay back that debt.” In the article, Specter also addressed combating negative public perception of plaintiff attorneys. His advice: “We should write about our cases in the press and in books. We should talk to reporters about current events that are related to tort issues and encourage publication of stories about civil wrongs, including our cases. We should insist that defendants reform their behavior as a condition of settlement in appropriate cases, and we should publicize those remedial actions, which would do a tremendous amount to improve the image of trial lawyers.” (Read the complete article)

Trio pens chapter on PA Supreme Court and medical malpractice

Charles Becker, Shanin Specter and Tom Kline authored an article in a new book titled “The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania – Life and Law in the Commonwealth, 1684-2017.” The chapter examines the high court’s role in shaping medical malpractice law over the last 200 years, noting that by the mid-1800s Philadelphia had more medical malpractice cases than any place in the nation save New York City. The chapter deals with the topics of duty, breach, causation and damages and how the Supreme Court’s decisions have defined the scope of a healthcare provider’s duty of care to a patient. In one early decision, for instance, the justices vacated a verdict for a plaintiff whose broken leg was set unevenly. The verdict had been based on the concept of strict liability, meaning the physician could be held liable merely for a bad outcome. But the author’s note the Supreme Court ruled, quoting the chapter, that “a mere bad outcome without corresponding negligence does not constitute malpractice, and a surgeon’s duty is only to provide reasonable skill and diligence.” The 18-page section of the book traces the court’s decisions through the years, also including its 1980 decision in Kaczkowski v. Bolubasz in which it allowed loss of future earning capacity to account for inflation and increases in productivity. The chapter concludes that the area of medical malpractice “continues to be a dynamic area of law, and the court will doubtless continue to play a vital role in defining and developing it.”  (Read the chapter)


Kline & Specter’s Nadeem Bezar (left) and teammate Andrew Driscoll won the U.S. Pro Squash Series C-Level doubles in a tournament played at Germantown Cricket Club. The national title didn’t come easily, with the final match scored 10-15, 15-11, 15-8, 7-15, 15-12. The teammates two weeks later went on to win the Pennsylvania C-Level doubles championship held by the Pennsylvania Squash Racquets Association. The national match can be seen by clicking here. (The Bezar/Driscoll match begins at 2:09 of the recording,)


Trial lawyers Tom Kline and California’s Brian Panish, current vice president of the Inner Circle of Advocates, show off their bitmojis at the recent Inner Circle meeting in Austin, Texas. Kline is a former president of the organization. Both Kline and Shanin Specter are members of the group described by The Washington Post as being composed of the “100 most celebrated trial lawyers in America.” Bitmoji creator in chief is Brittney Schoenbeck

Tom Kline dispenses some advice to L.A. Clippers Coach Doc Rivers and New York Knicks Coach Jeff Hornacek in back-to-back games at the Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers won both contests before heading to the playoffs.

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