Settlement of $10.6 million for trucker who lost legs in unloading tragedy

Dominic Guerrini and Patrick Fitzgerald achieved a nearly $10.6 million settlement for a truck driver whose legs were crushed when a 5,000-pound steel pipe rolled off his truck during unloading. The incident occurred on Christmas Eve 2013 at the Dura-Bond Coating Inc. pipe yard facility in Duquesne, Pa. Robert “Rick” Ryder, 53 at the time, of Mercer, Pa., a father of five, had to have both legs amputated, one above the knee and one below. In his lawsuit, Dura-Bond was blamed for failing to properly inspect the cargo or secure the eight 42-foot long steel pipes after receiving shipment and that it failed to cease the unloading once the hazard was discovered. Ryder also should have been moved away from the truck and into a safe position during the unloading process. The day before the tragedy, Ryder, a truck driver since 1988, had arrived in Camden, N.J., where the heavy steel pipes were loaded onto his trailer bed for shipment to Dura-Bond some 300 miles away. The pipes were stacked in two rows of four with wooden separators placed horizontally across the trailer bed and in between the rows, then secured by several straps. When Ryder arrived at Dura-Bond, an employee there was supposed to have inspected the cargo before it was allowed onto the company’s property to ensure it was stable. But no such inspection was performed, according to the lawsuit. If it had been, it would have been revealed that the load was off-center and unstable and should have been rejected. The case, venued in Allegheny County, was halfway through depositions when the settlement was reached. “This settlement demonstrates that rigorous workplace safety policies and practices are not optional,” Guerrini told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review after the settlement. (Read the story)

Trunk and Zakeosian get $4.2M settlement in “egregious” case

The case read more like a mystery novel than civil litigation. Over a period of some five years, Michael Trunk and Gary Zakeosian, one of the firm’s five doctor/lawyers, investigated how a woman fell into a coma during routine neck surgery and died two months later. What they discovered was shocking: A doctor who was supposed to have been monitoring the procedure from a remote location was instead out driving his car and talking on the phone. Had he been watching, he would have seen concerning and diminishing signals occurring about 40 minutes into the spinal disc and fusion procedure performed in 2013 on Margaret Mary Niedzwiadek, 59, of Southampton, N.J. The doctor supposedly doing the “neuromonitoring,” Craig J. Anmuth, D.O., said there must have been problems with his internet connection that caused his monitor to freeze up. But evidence showed that Anmuth had been driving his car when the surgery started. Further, even though he said he hadn’t been on the phone, cell phone tower records showed he made or received seven phone calls during the surgery, including to “Tom the Plumber.” Forensic analysis of Anmuth’s computer and subpoenaed records from his Virtual Private Network (VPN) provider showed that he was not logged into the surgery until nearly 50 minutes after it had begun. Also, a forensics expert determined that Anmuth had tried to cover his tracks by using anti-forensic software multiple times to purge his computer of all evidence from that day. The case resulted in a $4.2 million settlement, including $3 million from Anmuth and his employer, $1.1 million from the procedure’s neuromonitoring technician and $100,000 from the hospital. Trunk told The Philadelphia Inquirer the case was “the most egregious case of malpractice I’ve seen in my nearly two decades of practicing law.” (Read article)

Firm taking Roundup cases, many claiming weed killer caused their cancer

Kline & Specter is taking potential cases against Monsanto over its weed killer Roundup that is suspected to be linked to cancer. Previous cases have resulted in massive verdicts — $2 billion, $289 million and $80 million — against Bayer AG, which owns Monsanto. Recent news reports said the German manufacturer is considering paying as much as $8 billion to settle current and future lawsuits, though even that huge sum may not be enough to satisfy all the complaints. One report had the number of lawsuits at 18,400 across the United States by July 23. And the number is growing every day. The largest Roundup verdict came this past May for a California couple who claimed their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was caused from their use of Roundup — whose active ingredient is glyphosate — between 1975 and 2011. Two months before that verdict, a California jury awarded $80 million to a man who said he got non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma from using Roundup. And in August 2018, attorneys won a $289 million verdict for a former California groundskeeper who blamed his terminal cancer on Monsanto's weed killer, though the verdict was reduced by the judge in the case to $78.5 million. Symptoms of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma include swollen lymph nodes, fever, stomach pain, chest pain, anemia, fatigue, loss of appetite and night sweats. Said Tom Kline: “Kline & Specter, with its vast experience in representing clients and obtaining jury verdicts and settlements on behalf of individuals injured by defective products, its team of five physician-lawyers and its leadership in federal and state consolidated litigation is bringing all of this to the representation of clients injured by Roundup.”

Merson files lawsuits under NY’s sexual abuse “window”

Jordan Merson, head of the firm’s New York office, was widely quoted by that city’s news media about lawsuits filed as New York state opens a one-year opportunity for victims of child sexual abuse to file lawsuits against those responsible no matter how long ago the abuse occurred. The so-called “lookback windows” temporarily suspend New York’s statute of limitation laws and let child sex abuse survivors of any age sue not only their abusers but also the responsible institutions. Lawsuits are expected, including many against the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America. Merson began filing lawsuits when the Child Victims Act officially took effect at midnight on Aug. 14. “These institutions are going to have to answer for why they did not take action to prevent the sexual abuse and in many instances we are going to be uncovering efforts to cover up and bury the sexual assault,” he told the New York Post. New York is the first state to suspend its statute of limitations for child sexual abuse but other states are considering similar measures, including Pennsylvania, while New Jersey will open in its own, two-year window in December.  The New York law also allows child sexual abuse victims to file a lawsuit until they turn 55 years of age

Risperdal case appeal ends with win for plaintiff 

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a $2.5 million verdict for a young man who suffered gynecomastia, a condition in which males grow enlarged breasts, after taking the anti-psychotic drug Risperdal. The verdict, for Austin Pledger, an autistic man from Alabama, was decided in 2014 and was the first won in Philadelphia court – among more than 5,000 pending cases – against manufacturer Janssen, a subsidiary of pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson. Following the high court’s denial of allocator, Tom Kline, who has represented Pledger, said: “With the compensatory jury verdict affirmed with finality, we look forward to a punitive damages trial on behalf of an autistic child who was terribly injured by the misconduct of Johnson and Johnson.” Pledger began taking Risperdal as a child and began growing female-like breasts when he was eight years old. In a previous ruling, the Pennsylvania Superior Court enabled punitive damages trials, including the Pledger Risperdal case. The trial in the bellwether case lasted five weeks, with the jury finding that Janssen failed to warn of the potential for Risperdal to cause gynecomastia. The court’s order represents the culmination of a years-long effort by Chip Becker and Andra Laidacker to hold the verdict against Janssen’s multiple efforts to secure post-trial or appellate relief.

Merson named a finalist for Trial Lawyer of the Year award

Jordan Merson, head of the firm’s New York office, was selected as a finalist for Public Justice’s  Trial Lawyer of the Year award. The national organization, founded in 1982, recognizes “high-impact lawsuits” that, among other things, combat social and economic injustice, including taking stands against harassment and bullying. Merson was selected as a finalist for his $28 million jury verdict last year in Westchester County, N.Y., against the Mount Vernon School District for failing to properly supervise a special education student who was led off campus and raped. The verdict is 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. After the sexual assault the girl returned to school only to be bullied and physically assaulted much of the rest of the year by other students.

Baldwin elected VP of Pennsylvania Association for Justice

Kila Baldwin was elected vice president of the 18,000-member Pennsylvania Association for Justice. Founded in 1968 as the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association, the organization seeks to preserve civil justice and the rights of people injured in the commonwealth. PAJ notes: “Our mission is to promote a fair and effective justice system – and to support attorneys as they work to ensure that any person who is injured by the misconduct or negligence of others can obtain justice in Pennsylvania’s courtrooms, even when taking on the most powerful interests.” In defending a robust civil justice system in Pennsylvania, including trial by jury, the association has spearheaded landmark efforts to fight tort reform and other legislative programs targeted at weakening or eliminating the constitutional rights of citizens. PAJ has created specialty practice sections through which members can network and discuss issues relating to specific areas of law, including sections for automobile law, future leaders, insurance bad faith, medical malpractice and workers’ compensation. PAJ provides platforms where members can share information, publishes legal manuals and texts and fosters public awareness of the role of trial attorneys. Baldwin has been a career-long PAJ member and has served previously as chair of the New Lawyer’s Division, then as parliamentarian, secretary and treasurer before being elected vice president. She is scheduled to become PAJ president in July 2021

CNN show on hazing nominated for Emmy

The CNN special report “Deadly Haze: Inside the Fraternity Crisis” about fraternity hazing in which Jim and Evelyn Piazza and Tom Kline were featured has now been nominated for an Emmy. The piece chronicled the death of 19-year-old Timothy Piazza following a night of hazing at the now-shuttered Beta Theta Pi fraternity at Penn State University. Several former Penn State fraternity brothers were sentenced criminally in connection with the tragedy. The outcry following the incident resulted in systematic changes at the university concerning Greek life and student safety. Piazza’s parents, Jim and Evelyn, often with Tom Kline at their side, have become national crusaders against hazing, prompting not only a change in collegiate policy but also in state law. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed an anti-hazing bill that requires Pennsylvania schools to have policies and reporting procedures in place to stop hazing. The measure also makes hazing a felony when it results in serious injury or death. Tim Piazza consumed 18 drinks in 82 minutes as part of a hazing ritual, then he fell down a flight of stairs into the fraternity house basement. Fraternity members waited 12 hours before calling for an ambulance, while Piazza died of a traumatic brain injury. The News & Documentary Emmy Awards will be presented on Sept. 24 at a ceremony at Lincoln Center in New York City. More than 1,000 television and news media industry executives, news and documentary producers and journalists are expected to attend. (Watch the report)

Specter interviewed on CNN on how to question Robert Mueller

Shanin Specter appeared on the Smerconish program on CNN on the topic of "How to Ask a Question" prior to a House committee’s questioning of Robert Mueller on his report concerning collusion and obstruction of justice surrounding the 2016 presidential election. Specter, who teaches courses on that very subject at four law schools – Penn and Hastings, Stanford and Berkeley in California – advised that House members first know the facts contained in the report. He also said they should know the rules of the congressional hearing and suggested that with a format allowing each member just five minutes – not enough to get into any subject with much depth – that some yield their time to their colleagues and divide the key questions among several members. As for the questions themselves, Specter advised they be brief and narrowly focused, requiring either a yes-or-no response or brief answers. Specter suggested that questions use short words and be easily understandable, bypassing legalese. Also:  “Observe the witness and the answers closely, both the body language and the words spoken. Let the answer and the witness’s demeanor help guide your next question, instead of being reflexively stuck on asking the next question on your list. If he [Mueller] doesn't answer the question, politely ask it again.” Among questions he recommended were (1) Should a president be indictable? (2) But for the policy against indictment, would you have sought to indict the president? Did House members take Specter’s advice? Not so much, with many preferring to use their time to state their own opinions rather than asking questions and with Mueller deflecting some of the more pointed questions posed to him. (See clip from the show)

Bezar prominent in newspaper series on combating sex trafficking

Nadeem Bezar was featured in a series by The Legal Intelligencer on the legal fight against sex trafficking. The series by reporter Max Mitchell chronicles the increase in civil action since 2007 against purveyors and protectors of the criminal activity. It pointed to high-profile lawsuits filed from Philadelphia to Portland, Oregon, over alleged sex trafficking, including those against individuals to complaints against Facebook for allegedly allowing its site to be used as a grooming tool for traffickers. The article noted Bezar’s novel actions targeting Philadelphia hotels for allegedly turning a blind eye to victims, notably teenagers, being trafficked on their properties. Bezar was the first to file suit using a 2014 Pennsylvania statute that allows lawsuits against establishments where sex trafficking occurs. As a result of more and more civil suits, the public is increasingly viewing sex trafficking for what it is – a crime. And they are seeing the women forced into selling themselves for sex not as willing participants but as victims. This growing awareness has resulted in legislative action on the state and federal levels, most notably the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which targeted those using force, fraud or coercion for the "recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting" of a person for commercial sex and defined traffickers as those using "force, fraud or coercion." Suing third parties, such as hotels, is a way for attorneys to not only gain monetary compensation for victims but also to pressure various entities to be vigilant in the fight against trafficking. Bezar said he was not deterred by a judge’s ruling last year that a hotel’s insurance carriers would not have to cover the litigation. He told the Intelligencer: "If people think the lack of insurance is going to be a deterrent to me, please think again. I’ll find coverage, or we’ll move into the hotel. It’s to bring awareness." (Read Parts I and II from the series)

Stern opines on Boeing’s promise of $100 million fund

Andy Stern was quoted in The Legal Intelligencer among attorneys questioning Boeing’s promise in the wake of two 737 Max 8 plane crashes to provide $100 million to the families and communities affected by the disasters.  Stern and other attorneys are concerned that, for one, details of the pledge are vague and that it may signal an attempt by the company to evade paying full and fair compensation to the families of the 346 people killed in the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. The fund being promised by Boeing would amount to less than $290,000 per victim. Lawsuits have been filed claiming that the planes were defectively designed and that Boeing failed to address clear dangers relating to the design flaws of the computer stall warning system. Stern and Liz Crawford have filed suit on behalf of the family of two women, one a citizen of India and lawful United States resident who was practicing medicine at East Tennessee State University and another woman from India who was a dedicated environmentalist on her way to Nairobi to be part of an annual conference at the United Nations Environment Assembly. Beyond adequate monetary compensation and claims for punitive damages, attorneys for plaintiffs expressed concerns that creating a compensation fund does not address other important issues, including safe and effective improvements and answers to how the Max 8 received FAA certification.  “It’s more than just money,” Stern told the Intelligencer. “They want information and they want answers. The public, and quite frankly the citizens of the world at large, need to understand how and why this happened so it never happens again.” (Read article)

Jaclyn Crittenden hired as firm’s newest attorney

Jaclyn E. Crittenden became the firm’s 44th attorney with her hiring in July. As part of Kline & Specter’s responsive intake and consultation team, Crittenden is the first line of offense in consulting with those who have been injured or suffered the injury or loss of a loved one. Most recently she worked on litigation over a medical device called the Sorin 3T Heating/Cooling Unit used by hospitals during open heart surgeries but believed to have design and manufacturing defects that caused patient deaths. Prior to Kline & Specter, Crittenden worked as an E-data attorney at several large Philadelphia firms working on civil matters such as complex commercial litigation, employment discrimination, product liability (pharmaceuticals & aerospace), and high-profile defamation cases. Crittenden was also of counsel with a Philadelphia bankruptcy firm and before that she performed anti-money laundering compliance work for two large financial institutions. Crittenden has a long record of volunteerism, including as a pro bono attorney for a Philadelphia-based citizenship campaign, mentor for the YMCA Black Achievers Youth in Government program, and as a big sister in the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University, where she graduated magna cum laude, and her law degree from Widener University School of Law.


Sept. 5Kila Baldwin will speak at the Law 360 Advocacy Conference focused on young lawyers. Baldwin’s topic: Maximizing Case Value in Depositions, Wynn Las Vegas Encore, 3131 Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas, 11:15 a.m. – noon.
Sept. 6Shanin Specter will speak at the American Association for Justice’s Advanced Case Framing Seminar – “Bringing the Book to Life: Case Examples, Breakthroughs and Verdicts.” At the Logan Hotel, Philadelphia. Program begins at 8 a.m., breakfast at 7:30 a.m.
Sept. 11David Williams to be installed as president of the Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia, Inc., Ceremonial Courtroom 653, Philadelphia City Hall, 5 p.m.
Sept. 20Kila Baldwin will appear before the AIEG conference on the topic of Use of Trial Graphics to Maximize Damages. Sun Valley Inn, 1 Sun Valley Road, Sun Valley, Idaho, 9:30 a.m.
Oct. 4Tom Kline will give the keynote address at the PBA Minority Bar Committee’s 30th Minority Attorney Conference. The theme for this year’s conference is Communities Under Attack: Leadership Going Forward.  Click here to see the registration brochure.

Charity and Volunteering:


Kline Law offers “Intro to Law School” to Lincoln students

Tom Kline and David Williams participated in the Thomas R. Kline School of Law’s inaugural DiveIN Immersion in Legal Education program, a three-week course in which nine undergraduates from Lincoln University experienced a rigorous introduction to law school. The program provided reading and coursework, insights on the law school admissions process, Q&A sessions with current students and alumni, networking opportunities with Philadelphia attorneys and even a chance to test their advocacy skills in a mock trial. Program participants began each day with Law School 101, an overview of the realities of law school, complete with reading assignments and sample exams. There were lessons on the mechanics of direct and cross-examination of witnesses, a lecture on the death penalty by the law school’s dean, Daniel Filler, meetings with Tom Kline and U.S. District Court Judge Darnell Jones and visits to a large Philadelphia law firm, Ballard Spahr and Reed Smith. Discussions on networking, conducting research and how to complete an accelerated law degree were held by faculty and law school staff as well as past and current law students.

Laidacker among amicus “unsung heroes”

Andra Laidacker received praise as an “unsung hero” as a member of the Amicus Curiae Committee of the Pennsylvania Association of Justice in an article by PAJ outgoing President Joshua P. Geist. In the article, Geist noted the scores of amicus briefs written for plaintiffs’ counsel 48 since 2017 – and other cases for which the committee has provided assistance. So far in 2019, PAJ has received requests for 15 more amicus briefs. Geist lauded the committee for “all the wonderful case law they have helped to shape, benefiting millions of Pennsylvanians.” He said the committee members are “some of the greatest legal minds in the state” and that he penned the article because “rarely do we take a moment to highlight and thank the volunteers who do so much.” Laidacker is a member of Kline & Specter’s Appellate Division that has won a litany of appellate decisions in just the past few years.  

Instead of going to McDonald’s …

Fourteen Kline & Specter staffers volunteered to prepare and serve dinner to about 150 residents of the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald Chestnut Street House. On the menu: sliced eye round with brown gravy, vegetable lasagna, garlic smashed potatoes, roasted carrots, buttered corn, garden salad, carrot cake and water ice. The volunteers in the photo are (bottom row from left) Angela Fattizzo, Jodi DeStefon, Sarah Duffy, Kathleen Yogis, Tracy Leonardis, Jean Thatcher, Rachel Bayer, Franny Stipa and (back row) Antonio Fattizzo, Nate Braveheart, Eric Bowen, Catherine Foley, Kim Kelly and Lashaunda Winston.

“I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands.  You need to be able to throw something back.” – Maya Angelou See our website page on Volunteerism 

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