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John Crane Inc. Found Liable for Engineman’s Illness
Attorney Blogs | 2010/06/16 17:00

A Philadelphia court has awarded more than $4.5 million to a mesothelioma plaintiff and his wife of 57 years. Few mesothelioma plaintiffs live long enough to hear a final verdict in their cases, making the outcome of this reverse bifurcated trial especially significant.

Waters & Kraus, LLP, and the Shein Law Center, LTD, served as plaintiff’s counsel for former U.S. Navy engineman John Koeberle. The plaintiff was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma in April 2009. Under the reverse bifurcated system, Phase I requires a jury to first determine whether the plaintiff’s illness was caused by asbestos exposure. Neither the names of the manufacturers nor a suggested dollar amount for damages may be mentioned to the jury during this phase. According to Waters & Kraus attorney Demetrios Zacharopoulos, the team’s first order of business was to support the diagnosis of mesothelioma. Typically, the diagnosis is based on hard tissue samples, but Mr. Koeberle’s doctors advised that the physical risks associated with obtaining tissue samples from his lung were not in the plaintiff’s best interest. As a result, the diagnosis was made based on cytological examinations of fluids taken from Mr. Koeberle’s chest cavity — a diagnosis which was made by Mr. Koeberle’s treating physician and confirmed by Plaintiff’s medical expert Gordon Yu, M.D.

According to Mr. Koeberle’s testimony, his Naval duties from 1948 to 1957 included maintenance work on diesel engines, valves, and pumps requiring the replacement of asbestos-containing gasket and packing materials. Frequently, the removal of these materials involved scraping and wire-brushing, which generated conditions he described as “very dusty.” In addition, the process of inserting new gaskets and packing often involved cutting sheet material to fabricate a custom fit.

After a nine-day trial, the jury concluded that Mr. Koeberle’s exposure to asbestos was indeed a contributing cause of his mesothelioma. Mr. Koeberle was awarded $3 million under the Survival Act, and Mrs. Koeberle was awarded $1.5 million for loss of consortium, or deprivation of the benefits of a family relationship due to illness or injury.

The Phase II liability proceeding was a bench trial in which the court found John Crane Inc., the lone remaining defendant of seven original manufacturers in the case, liable for Mr. Koeberle’s illness under Section 402A’s strict liability rule. The plaintiff recalled seeing the name of the defendant and manufacturer, John Crane Inc., on the boxes he used while maintaining and repairing equipment for the Navy.

The judge ruled that Mr. Koeberle’s exposure to John Crane asbestos-containing gaskets and packing was a factual cause in the development of Mr. Koeberle’s mesothelioma. As a result, John Crane is liable for one-seventh of the amount of damages rendered by the Jury in Phase I.

Although Mr. Koeberle was too ill to be in the courtroom when the final decision was announced on June 3, WK attorney Demetrios Zacharopoulos said the plaintiff and his family are both pleased and relieved.

“These cases are never easy,” explained Mr. Zacharopoulos. “As with all of our cases, we pushed to expedite proceedings — and in this instance, Mr. Koeberle and his family were able to witness justice being rendered and having John Crane held accountable for its actions. They’re very pleased with the result, and they’re relieved that they can now move on and experience some closure.”

About Waters & Kraus, LLP
Waters & Kraus, LLP, is a plaintiffs’ firm concentrating on complex product liability and personal injury/wrongful death cases. The firm’s diverse practice includes toxic tort (asbestos and mesothelioma) litigation, pharmaceutical product liability, negligence, and consumer product liability, as well as qui tam (whistle-blower), and commercial litigation. With offices in Maryland, Texas, California, and Waters & Kraus has litigated cases in jurisdictions across the United States on behalf of individuals from all 50 states, as well as foreign governments.

Arnold Law Office, LLC - Oregon Criminal Defense
Attorney Blogs | 2009/12/17 09:23
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Imagining a Public Law Firm’s Earnings Report
Attorney Blogs | 2008/04/23 12:39

Nearly a year after an Australian law firm went public, many in the legal profession are still tittering over whether any American players would follow suit.

By necessity, law firms are fairly tight-lipped about much of the work they do. That would have to change if any were to become a publicly traded company, what with the disclosure requirements and the probing questions of shareholders.

In the midst of earnings season, Above the Law’s David Lat pens a mostly tongue-in-cheek piece for The New York Observer speculating on what a quarterly earnings report by an American firm would look like. (A hint: It wouldn’t say much.)

Mr. Lat, a former corporate lawyer himself, gently jabs the pampered-partners culture of Big Law, which may take a hit as corporate profits slide. Niceties like $160,000 starting salaries for first-year associates, 18 weeks of paid parental leave and Friday Swedish massages, he imagines, would go out the window.

And how would the firm describe secrecy-shrouded practices like mergers and acquisitions work or criminal defense? Perhaps thusly:

The M&A department spent a significant amount of time on several potential transactions for a client in the energy sector that were never consummated. Unfortunately, the firm was unable to bill for most of this time …

The firm cannot provide additional details about this representation, due to client confidentiality rules.

As a point of comparison, consider the semiannual disclosures of Slater & Gordon, the personal injuries firm that now resides on the Australian stock exchange. Its recent annual report (PDF) resembles virtually any other public firm’s, with general income statements and descriptions of its business.

Which is not to say that public law firms would ever fully open their kimonos, much as representatives of another industry tend to play their cards close to the vest. Alternative asset managers — including private equity firm Blackstone Group, buyout- and hedge-fund manager Fortress Investment Group and hedge fund Och-Ziff Capital Management — have been criticized by some analysts and investors as presenting opaque looks into their businesses.

Same-sex marriage on court docket
Attorney Blogs | 2008/03/03 16:57

As gay-rights groups call for marital equality and opponents warn of a public backlash, societal decay and religious conflict, the California Supreme Court is prepared for an epic three-hour hearing Tuesday on the constitutionality of the state law defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. It shapes up as the most momentous case the court has heard in decades - comparable to the 1981 ruling that guaranteed Medi-Cal abortions for poor women, the 1972 ruling that briefly overturned the state's death penalty law, and the 1948 decision, cited repeatedly in the voluminous filings before the court, that struck down California's ban on interracial marriage. The arguments on both sides are weighty.

Supporters of same-sex marriage invoke the state's commitment to equality regardless of gender or sexual orientation, the needs of the children of gay and lesbian couples, the persistence of societal discrimination, and legal rights such as freedom of expression, association and privacy.

In defense of its law, the state cites a cultural tradition far older than statehood, the will of the people as expressed in a 2000 initiative, the steps California has already taken toward equal rights for gays and lesbians, and the power of lawmakers and voters to determine state policy.

Beyond those arguments, groups opposing same-sex marriage want the court to justify the state law on moral or scientific grounds, as an affirmation that limiting matrimony to a man and a woman is best for children and society.

A ruling is due within 90 days. The case combines four lawsuits - three by nearly two dozen couples who want to marry and the fourth by the city of San Francisco, which entered the dispute after the court overturned Mayor Gavin Newsom's order that cleared the way for nearly 4,000 same-sex weddings in February and March 2004.

The suits rely on the California Constitution, which state courts have long interpreted as more protective of individual rights than the U.S. Constitution. The plaintiffs invoke a passage in the 1948 ruling on interracial marriage - the first of its kind by any state's high court - in which the justices recognized a "right to join in marriage with the person of one's choice."

Judge Richard Kramer of San Francisco Superior Court echoed that language in March 2005, when he ruled that the state's ban on same-sex marriage violated "the basic human right to marry a person of one's choice." He also said the marriage law constitutes sex discrimination - prohibited by another groundbreaking California Supreme Court ruling in 1971 - because it is based on the gender of one's partner.

But a state appeals court upheld the law in October 2006. In a 2-1 decision, the court rejected Kramer's findings of discrimination and said California was entitled to preserve the historic definition of marriage while taking steps to protect the rights of same-sex couples who register as domestic partners.

Advocates crowd in

As the case reached the state's high court, the participants and the arguments multiplied. Conservative religious organizations, including sponsors of the 2000 ballot measure that reinforced the opposite-sex-only marriage law, accused the state of making a half-hearted defense of its law and sought to justify it as a pro-family measure. Marriage is for procreation, and children fare best with married fathers and mothers, they argued. They also said the definition of marriage is so deeply engrained in the law that judges have no power to change it.

The coalition of conservative religious groups warned that a ruling against the state law would "fracture the centuries-old consensus about the meaning of marriage."

An opposing assortment of liberal denominations counseled the court against a state endorsement of "the religious orthodoxy of some sects concerning who may marry."

The court also heard from hundreds of organizations representing psychologists, anthropologists and other professions, city and county governments, law professors, businesses, civil rights advocates and social institutions.

Judges and limits

Underlying all the arguments is a debate about the proper role of courts in a democracy, particularly on contentious social and political issues. It's the same question - how far, and how fast, judges should move to correct injustices they perceive in the actions of elected officials - that has confronted jurists pondering such issues as segregation, school prayer and abortion.

The subject was raised with unusual frankness in written arguments by Attorney General Jerry Brown's office, which is leading the defense of the marriage law that Brown signed as governor in 1977.

"One unintended and unfortunate consequence of too radical a change is the possibility of backlash," said Deputy Attorney General Christopher Krueger. Same-sex marriage may someday be legalized in California, he said, "but such a change should appropriately come from the people rather than the judiciary as long as constitutional rights are protected."

Brown said last week he wasn't asking the court to sacrifice principles to politics, only observing that rulings that "ride roughshod over the deeply held judgments of society" can have unintended consequences.

He noted that the court majority swung from liberal to conservative after three of his appointees, including Chief Justice Rose Bird, were unseated in a 1986 election that centered on their votes to overturn death sentences.

How to find a good lawyer
Attorney Blogs | 2008/02/29 12:50

Q: I am looking for a lawyer and would like some tips on how to find a good one. Do all Illinois lawyers receive the same training?

A: In order to be licensed to practice law in Illinois, a lawyer must receive a law degree from an accredited law school and pass the state bar exam and an ethics exam. Law school is typically a three-year program after undergraduate school.

Once a lawyer passes the bar and is licensed by the Illinois Supreme Court, the lawyer can practice all types of law - from real estate to estates to divorce to contracts to civil and criminal litigation in the courtroom. There really is no limitation as to the areas of practice except patent law.

As a practical matter, in my experience most lawyers fresh out of law school know little about the practical aspects of practicing law and usually learn how to practice law on the job, often working at a law firm with experienced lawyers or reading how-to books in the law library.

If you have a matter that involves significant dollars or important legal issues, the first question you should determine is the attorney's experience in the applicable area of the law. That is not to say that an inexperienced lawyer will not do a good or adequate job, but it is common sense that, as in most occupations, experience matters.

It is also important to find a lawyer you trust because you will want the lawyer to give you objective and unbiased advice. Practicing law is a business as well as a craft, and some lawyers are more interested in your money than your case.

A good way to start a search for a qualified lawyer is to ask a relative, friend, business associate or someone you trust for a recommendation based on their personal experience. Also, if you have a lawyer whom you trust who does not practice in the area in which you need legal representation, ask the lawyer for a recommendation on a lawyer who is familiar with that area of practice.

When you decide to retain a lawyer, make sure that she carries malpractice insurance. Illinois lawyers are not required to carry malpractice insurance, but they are required to report whether they have such coverage.

You can find out whether a lawyer has malpractice insurance at - the Web site of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, an agency of the state Supreme Court that keeps records for lawyers in Illinois and handles complaints of professional misconduct.

This Web site also can tell you if the lawyer has been disciplined or whether there are any disciplinary actions pending against him. It is a good resource for the public and should be utilized in the process of hiring a lawyer.

Photo Tech Complicates Child-Porn Cases
Attorney Blogs | 2008/02/26 11:49
Each week, about 100,000 sexually explicit images of children arrive on CDs or portable disk drives at Michelle Collins' office.

They are sent by police and prosecutors who hope Collins and her 11 analysts at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children can verify that the graphic pictures are real, not computer-generated. When they can't, officials sometimes turn to outside experts.

All this is being done — at an annual cost in the millions of dollars collectively in child-pornography cases alone — as software like Photoshop makes it easier to fake photos and as juries become more skeptical about what they see.

Although challenges to digital photos come in all types of criminal and civil cases, they are especially pronounced in child-pornography cases because of a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a ban on computer-generated child pornography. Defense attorneys are trying to use the ruling to introduce reasonable doubt in jurors' minds about the images' authenticity.

Prosecutors still generally prevail, but "this has certainly created an additional burden," said Thomas Kerle of the Massachusetts State Police. "I can say that unequivocally, it has made the prosecution of these types of cases more difficult. It takes ... resources I think could be better applied to investigating" more cases.

Drew Oosterbaan, who heads the U.S. Department of Justice's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, said prosecutors sometimes submit only photos they can easily verify because outside experts can be expensive — with travel, hotels and consulting fees, along with possible delays.

"This can affect the sentence the defendant gets," he said. "Before (the 2002 ruling) we would generally charge all the images."

Oosterbaan added that although defense lawyers have the right — and duty — to challenge evidence, they are doing so without "any shred of evidence there are wholly computer-generated images being generally circulated and passed off as real children out there."

And many law-enforcement officials worry that the time and money needed to withstand any challenges will only grow as technology improves and makes it more difficult to tell a computer-generated image from a real one.

"I feel that pretty much we can tell the difference right now," said Karl Youngblood of the Alabama Bureau of Investigation. "How much longer that's going to last, I don't know with the technology going at the rate it's going."

Of course, there's a cost to defendants as well — sometimes more so because federal law limits where and when the defense may review images to restrict their distribution, meaning experts must often travel with expensive equipment to a police lab in another city.

"If something becomes more difficult for the government to prove, so be it. They have the burden of proof," said First Amendment lawyer Louis Sirkin, lead counsel in the challenge that led to the 2002 Supreme Court ruling.

Child pornography is illegal in the United States, but the Supreme Court in 2002 struck down on free-speech grounds a 1996 federal ban on material that "appears to be" a child in a sexually explicit situation. That ruling covers computer-generated images, though morphing — such as the grafting of a child's school picture onto a naked body — remains illegal.

Collins' Child Victim Identification Program in Alexandria, Va., grew out of that ruling. After officials submit seized photos, the center uses software and visual inspections to look for matches. It can usually verify that children in some or all of the images are known and real.

The program, which costs about $1 million a year to run, now has about 1,300 children in its database, up from 20 in 2002. Staff grew from just Collins then to 11 full-time analysts who now work under her. The program reviewed 5 million images last year, up from about 450,000 in 2003, the program's first full year.

Because of the graphic nature of the images, a psychologist visits each week, and analysts must undergo counseling at least quarterly.

"Not everybody can do it," said Raymond Smith, a longtime investigator who oversees child-exploitation cases at the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. "You have to be able to come to grips with seeing children be victimized and abused. It can tear you up, (but) through your efforts you are identifying the people that hurt these children."

When the center cannot make a match, prosecutors can turn to outside experts. Sometimes, it's a pediatrician who can say a real child has characteristics matching those seen in the photo. Other times it's a computer expert who can talk about how difficult it is to produce images and video of that quality.

Hany Farid, a Dartmouth College professor who has testified for the prosecution in some cases, said he has been getting more inquiries about authenticity — not only for child-pornography cases but also civil lawsuits questioning medical images in malpractice cases or signatures in contract disputes. News organizations have also looking for ways to authenticate photos.

"Because so many people get photographic fakes in their (electronic) mailboxes, to the average juror it resonates," he said.

The challenges can be costly, even if a case never goes to trial — the majority end in plea agreements.

Farid said he charges up to $25,000 a year for software he produced to look for signs of tampering, such as inconsistencies in shadows. He also charges as much as tens of thousands of dollars to work on a case.

Even when there is a match and an expert isn't needed, a prosecutor must seek out the detective who initially identified a child for the center. That detective must often be flown in and be ready to testify if the defense raises a challenge. In one case in Portland, Maine, a Russian detective couldn't be reached, so the prosecutor had to spend $5,000 on an expert anyway. Trials get postponed if a key witness has a scheduling conflict.

Sam Guiberson, a defense attorney who specializes in technology and digital evidence, said challenges to evidence are to be expected, digital or not.

"Every good trial lawyer is always going to subject every part of his adversary's exhibits to that sort of scrutiny," Guiberson said.

Kebin Haller, deputy director of the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, said that in most cases, a large quantity of images are seized such that enough hold up.

How much proof a prosecutor needs in child-pornography cases can vary from region to region and even from judge to judge. Recent federal appellate rulings have eased the burden on prosecutors, essentially saying that in lieu of definitive evidence, they can let jurors make up their own minds about whether an image is real or computer-generated.

Many prosecutors, though, don't want to take that chance and would rather submit proof.

"It's difficult to prove these are real children," said Mary Leary, a Catholic University law professor who previously worked on child-abuse and child-pornography cases. "Is the defense exploiting this? Absolutely they are."

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