Merson wins $28M verdict for special ed student who was raped, beaten

Jordan Merson, head of the firm’s New York office, won a $28 million jury verdict in Westchester County  against the Mount Vernon School District for failing to properly supervise a special education student who was led off campus and raped. The verdict was believed to be the largest-ever physical and sexual assault verdict in New York State. It was handed down following a monthlong trial in Westchester Supreme Court and involved a 14-year-old girl who was in the special education program at Mount Vernon High School when the sexual assault occurred. Merson claimed that in 2011 the girl was allowed to get on a public bus instead of a school bus and that mistake led to her being raped by an older boy who took her to his home. The victim, now 20, has never been able to identify her attacker and no one was ever apprehended for the crime. To make matters even worse, after the sexual assault the girl was bullied and physically assaulted much of the rest of the year by other students when she returned to school. She eventually left the high school and was taught at home. “This is a wonderful family that deserves every penny that the jury awarded,” Merson told the news media following the verdict. “This young girl has endured unimaginable horror due to the negligence of the school district.” Merson added that the claim was believed to be fully insured. He noted that the insurance carrier had refused to make a reasonable settlement offer in advance of a verdict. (Read news story)

Bezar, Marks win $4.5 million verdict in twins abuse case

Nadeem Bezar and Emily Marks obtained $4.5 million verdict against the Defender Association of Philadelphia, a foster care agency and the foster parents who abused a twin brother and sister. The lawsuit claimed that the public defenders, as advocates who were supposed to look out for the best interests of children, failed to remove the twins from the home in which they were abused even after discovering there had been possible instances of physical and sexual abuse. As a result, the small children remained at the home about a year longer than if the Defender Association had acted. A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury agreed, finding the Defender Association liable for the lion’s share, or 55 percent. The foster agency, Bethanna, which had placed the Philadelphia children in the home in Lancaster, Pa., was found 20 percent at fault but had reached a pre-trial settlement in the case. The foster father was found 20 percent liable and the foster mother, five percent. The children, described only by initials – Z1 and Z2 – were on numerous occasions taken by their foster parents to the basement, made to pull down their clothing and beaten. They resided at the home for three and a half years before being removed in 2015. They are now eight years old and live with their biological father. Following the verdict, Bezar told The Legal Intelligencer: “As a general rule when we fail to monitor our kids carefully and we fail to treat them like individuals and understand what they are experiencing, bad things are going to happen.” (Read news story

Waldenberger wins $800,000 verdict in rehab center negligence case

James Waldenberger won an $800,000 verdict in the case of an elderly woman who fell after she was neglected at the Willowcrest Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Philadelphia. Barbara Hall, of Philadelphia, was 72 when the incident occurred on Nov. 17, 2014. She had been admitted to the center 11 days earlier and had been experiencing confusion and disorientation, yet she was left unsupervised in a bathroom and her signals for help went unanswered. When she tried to get up from a toilet on her own, she fell and suffered a leg fracture that entrapped the tibial artery. Six weeks later, as a result of that injury, she developed gangrene and was forced to undergo an amputation below her knee. Waldenberger said that not only was the verdict a victory for Hall but “hopefully this verdict will cause similar institutions to take notice and be more observant of residents who are unable to fully care for themselves.” The jury assessed damages at $800,000 but also found Barbara Hall 49 percent negligent, reducing the amount she was awarded to $408,000.

Kline, Inscho, Jimenez file suit vs. archdiocese in toddler sex abuse case

Tom Kline, David Inscho and Priscilla Jimenez filed suit against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the St. Francis Learning Center over a lay teacher’s abuse of three very young children at the Norristown pre-school. The teacher, Michael Barbee, now 34, worked at the Norristown daycare center from 2016-2017 and abused the children when they were two and three years old. Barbee was later arrested, pleaded guilty to several charges and is serving four to eight years in prison. The lawsuit claims that Barbee was hired despite having no specific experience or qualifications to be a pre-school teacher and without being adequately vetted for the position. It claims the archdiocese “knew or should have known” that he was a risk to children and had a history of sexually abusing youngsters. At St. Francis, he used his fingers to rectally assault the three children, two girls and a boy. According to the lawsuit, the center did not disclose the sexual abuse to other parents at the pre-school center even in letters sent out after Barbee’s arrest in early 2017. Said Kline: “This lawsuit is aimed at holding the Archdiocese of Philadelphia accountable for the horrific injury to these innocent children.” In another case, Kline and Inscho worked together earlier this year to secure the largest-ever settlement with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in a child sexual abuse case involving a priest who abused an altar boy at Resurrection of Our Lord Parish in Northeast Philadelphia.

Specter, Robertson file additional suits v. CHOP in baby infection deaths


Shanin Specter and Elia Robertson filed second and third lawsuits in the deaths of infants after they contracted viral infections following eye exams in the intensive-care unit at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. The three fatalities occurred amid an outbreak that affected 23 babies in August 2016 that has been attributed to a lack of standard equipment cleaning practices and some hospital staff failing to wear gloves. The two latest lawsuits follow the civil action filed on behalf of the family of Melanie Sanders, who was born prematurely and died as a result of the infection. In an interview with The Inquirer Specter described the hospital's use of contaminated equipment as particularly "shocking" because the patients were very young, generally in their first month of life. "By definition, they are vulnerable to serious injury or death from getting an infection, and then you don't wear gloves when you do an eye exam, and you don't clean the ophthalmoscope?" Specter asked. The hospital issued a case study in which it noted that all 23 patients suffered respiratory symptoms and five developed pneumonia, while 11 also suffered eye infections. The authors of the study wrote: "Observations revealed lack of standard cleaning practices of bedside ophthalmologic equipment and limited glove use … Environmental sampling of two hand-held lenses and two ophthalmoscopes revealed adenovirus DNA on each device." According to one report, as a result of the outbreak, CHOP has furloughed staff members and reinforced the importance of washing hands and cleaning equipment. (Read article)

First Philadelphia Risperdal verdict upheld on appeal

Kline & Specter won a major appellate victory with the decision by Pennsylvania Superior Court to uphold the $2.5 million jury finding that the anti-psychotic drug Risperdal caused an autistic Alabama boy to grow female-like breasts, an irreversible condition known as gynecomastia. The three-judge panel returned the case to the trial court to enable a punitive damages trial. The appellate court rejected arguments by Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. to overturn the verdict for Austin Pledger, now 20, following a monthlong trial led by Tom Kline and Chris Gomez in 2015. “We are pleased that the Superior Court has affirmed the jury verdict in favor of Austin Pledger, whose case was the first bellwether Risperdal trial. This is now the third plaintiffs’ verdict in which the sufficiency of the evidence has been affirmed by the Superior Court and the case remanded for punitive damages proceedings …” Kline told Law 360 in a joint statement with Charles “Chip” Becker, head of Kline & Specter’s Appellate Division, who handled the appeal with Andra Laidacker. The Superior Court further reversed the trial court’s decision that had dismissed all Risperdal plaintiffs’ punitive damages claims, including that of Pledger.  Thousands of young men have filed Risperdal lawsuits, reportedly 6,700 in the Philadelphia mass tort program alone. Since the Pledger case was the first of the Philadelphia Risperdal trials, the affirmance and remand for punitive damages were particularly significant and pivotal in the litigation.

Two-hundred fourteen years later, Aaron Burr tried for murder


In real life, Aaron Burr never stood trial for the death of Alexander Hamilton in their famous gun duel of 1804. But he wouldn’t get off quite so easy on the frigid morning of Nov. 15, 2018, when a courtroom packed with lawyers (getting substantive CLE credits) would watch as Burr would finally face a judge and jury for Hamilton’s demise. “Some might say that this trial is long overdue,” said Tom Kline, who welcomed those serving as “jurors” in the mock trial of Burr convened at the Thomas R. Kline Institute of Trial Advocacy. Presiding was Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The prosecution was led by Kline & Specter partner Andrew Stern, former U.S. Solicitor General Gregory Garre (now a partner at Latham and Watkins) and 3L Kline Law student Elizabeth Bertolino. The defense was led by Senior Training Adviser Patricia McKinney of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, former acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal (now a partner at Hogan Lovells) and 3L Robert Goggin. Stern produced testimony from several witnesses – including Hamilton’s widow and his second at the duel – who testified that Hamilton had no desire to harm Burr, proving it by motioning his gun toward the sky. But witnesses for Burr testified that the nation’s vice president, knowing of Hamilton’s prowess with a pistol, saw no such resignation and fired his gun. Burr, played by Kline & Specter attorney David Williams, testified: “I saw him wearing his glasses and he was known as an excellent shot, so I fired to save my life. I would not let this man make an orphan of my daughter.” Kline School of Law alumni and other attorneys took part as members of the jury. And the verdict: 25-24 in favor of Burr.

Specter delivers discourse to Brits on U.S. Supreme Court confirmation process

Shanin Specter delivered a lecture at Cambridge University, where he earned his Ll.M., titled "From Clarence Thomas to Brett Kavanaugh: The selection and politics of nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court." He discussed the role of his father, the late Sen. Arlen Specter, in questioning Anita Hill during the confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas 27 years ago. “I’ve never spoken to a group about these hearings … it is very painful for me,” Specter said, noting that when his father questioned Anita Hill, “people [watching] felt as if they were being questioned because they had been victims of sexual harassment. I think my father felt in retrospect that he was tone deaf to that circumstance.” The senator saw his favorable ratings drop as a result and he faced a tough re-election afterwards, though he won. Specter said circumstances were similar to the recent hearings for Judge Kavanaugh except for one big thing: “My father’s experience as a questioner of Professor Hill directly led to the Senate’s abdicaton of their role as a questioner of Professor Blasey-Ford. You saw they brought in a prosecutor from Tucson, Arizona to engage in questioning her." But Specter felt the use of a prosecutor asking questions in five-minute increments did not help in getting at the truth. He concluded: “The Senate is not a place that is amenable to a frank discussion of topics as serious as accusations of sexual harassment or assault. The senators are regrettably motivated by political considerations, by party affiliations, by re-election and that doubtless colors if not overwhelms their judgment on these issues. It’s a regrettable thing for me to say, especially an American speaking to a British audience, but that’s the reality.”  (Watch the lecture)

Kline welcomes student contestants at trial competition

Tom Kline
addressed the assembled group of participants and coaches at the Tournament of Champions from 12 law schools held at the Kline Institute of Trial Advocacy. The competition is a tournament of the premiere law school competitions in the nation. Kline told the group that there is “a special place for advocacy which is the bedrock of our democracy.” The participating schools were from the University of Akron School of Law, University of Alabama School of Law, University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, Baylor Law School, Belmont University College of Law, Berkeley Law, California Western School of Law, Chicago-Kent College of Law, Georgetown University Law School, Harvard Law School, Loyola Law School, Stetson University College of Law, Syracuse University College of Law, UC Hastings College of Law, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law and Wake Forest University School of Law.


Specter a write-in to CNN on election night

Shanin Specter did not appear in person on CNN on election night Nov. 6 but the program did air his message to commentator Michael  Smerconish. Specter was making the point that because Democrat Beto O’Rourke lost his bid to defeat Ted Cruz for election to the Senate from Texas it did not mean he can’t still be a formidable candidate for president in 2020. (Abraham Lincoln lost election to the Senate in 1854, when state legislatures elected U.S. senators, and so did George H.W. Bush, twice in fact.)


Specter pens op-ed on George H.W. Bush

Read Specter’s Dec. 3 opinion piece in The Philadelphia Inquirer following the death of the 41st president of the United States titled “George H.W. Bush, a solid and decent role model, taught me not to gossip” (read article)

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