Corporate America and irresponsible government officials put down trial lawyers who are constantly fighting for the deserved rights of their clients time and time again. This is because when these corporations break the law or behave recklessly, someone needs to hold them accountable for their actions, and trial lawyers are the ones who do so. See for yourself who is actually in the wrong based on the five finalists for Public Justice’s 2015 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award, as summarized by our summer intern below:
David v. Signal International
Back in 2005, a large contractor in Alabama and Mississippi known as Signal International was hired to rebuild the Gulf Coast after the damage caused by Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. Almost 500 pipefitters and welders were recruited from India, and promised quality jobs, along with permanent U.S residency. After paying $10,000 to $25,000 to merely get considered for the job, Signal brought them over to America on guest worker visas, without the slightest possibility of gaining residency. They were forced to live in a trailer with only one bathroom, and up to two-dozen men living in it. $1,050 a month was deducted from their pay, in order to live in those terrible conditions. A group of workers who wanted a take a stand against this madness were caught by Signal. They were locked in a trailer, and the leaders of this uprising were terminated; Signal even tried to have them deported. One of these men became so terrified that he attempted suicide.
A team of public interest and private attorneys fought alongside the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for seven years and counting, in order to claim justice for those victimized by Signal. The judge did not want to allow this case to proceed as a class action; therefore, the SPLC brought on a group of outstanding lawyers to represent hundreds of these workers. The first case to go to trial was David v. Signal International, led by Alan Bruce of Crowell & Morning in New York, including several other attorneys from numerous different locations. There were several challenges, including explaining complicated immigration laws to jurors, and bringing in translators for those who did not speak English. Despite these challenges, they won a $14 million jury verdict for five workers, over the course of a four-week long trial. This case made history, being the largest labor trafficking litigation in U.S history with many more to come.
Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania v. Wetzell
Living in solitary confinement can be an excruciating experience for any person; however, those living in solitary confinement and suffering from mental illness have it even worse. These people are required to spend 23 hours a day with no contact from any other person, in a tiny cell space, which causes those with mental illness utter destruction of oneself. An investigation conducted by the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania found that out of 2400 prisoners living in solitary confinement in the state, one third of them suffer from mental issues. Those suffering from mental illness could not sleep, experienced hallucinations, paranoia, banged their heads against the cell, would not leave their cell, declined medical treatment, harmed themselves and staff members, and the list goes on, all the way to attempted suicide. When DRN tried to speak directly with officials at the State Department of Corrections, they did not comply, so the DRN rounded up a team of lawyers, and sued.
The group of lawyers, led by Robert M. Week, Kelly L. Darr, and Jeffrey M. Skakalski, made a case so favourable that within a few weeks of filing, the DOC agreed to negotiate. The strides for those with mental illness were outstanding. The settlement ensures thorough mental health evaluations performed regularly, puts an end to solitary confinement to those who are mentally ill (with a few exceptions), and puts limits on disciplinary measures for those with mental illness. It also establishes three new types of treatment units. When there were no options left, this settlement won a statewide reform of mental health treatment for 52,000 prisoners in Pennsylvania, including 4,000 with serious mental health issues. This reform was a great stride toward the proper way of treating those who suffer from mental illness.
Elwin vs. NS Home for Colored Children & Province of Nova Scotia
In 1921, The Halifax Home for Colored Children was established to help care for African-Canadian orphans living within the province. Unfortunately, this facility did nothing near what it claimed to do. For a period of almost 70 years, children there were physically, emotionally, psychologically, and sexually abused. One example of this abuse is Deanna Smith who was placed there for four years, beginning at the age of ten, by social services when her mother passed away. She was told that she was “stupid”, “useless”, and “would amount to nothing”. Staff members would fondle her and force her to perform “sex shows”, with the other girls and boys for the sake of the staff’s sickening idea of entertainment.
Wagners, a personal injury law firm based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, filed 60 individual lawsuits for the victims of this abuse. Between 2000 and 2003, when the lawsuits were filed, the provincial government refused to take any responsibility for the children placed in this home, and would not even acknowledge the truth about what had occurred there. Because of this, in 2011, the Wagners’ team of lawyers filed the Elwin case, which finally ended a 14-year battle. Both the government and the orphanage came out and admitted to these horrifying incidents, and entered into two different settlements, totalling $34 million. Since the verdict of this trial, over 300 children who previously lived in the Halifax Home for Colored Children have received monetary compensation, medical care, and financial counselling. After openly issuing an apology, the home is not a short-term residency facility that provides care for people of all colors.
In re McCray, Richardson, Santana, Wise and Salaam Litigation
In 1989, when a jogger in New York City’s Central Park was beaten and raped, the story made headlines. Those convicted were five young boys between 14 and 16, and all of them went to jail for 7 to 13 years on the basis of coerced confessions. When they were released from jail, they were all required to register as sex offenders. Despite these lives of these men having been ruined, in 2002, a convicted serial rapist came forward and claimed responsibility. After the District Attorney’s Office investigated, the confession proves to be true, based on a DNA match, and the “Central Park Five” were let off to go rebuild their already ruined lives. For the next 13 years, a group of attorneys fought for the justice of these five wrongfully accused men. After hundreds of depositions and a whopping hundreds of thousands of pages of discovery, there was finally a settlement; a record $41 million, or just over $1 million per year of jail time was paid to the men by New York City. Now, these men who were wrongfully accused are speaking out to young people, and teaching them how to learn from this avoidable life changing accident.
Navajo Nation vs. U.S
The Navajo Nation, which is the largest Native American tribe in the country, owns 14 million acres in land, by which the United States government holds trust in. The two have an agreement that allows the U.S government to lease out parts of the land for farming, housing, timber operations, and oil and coal exploration. Over the last seventy years, the government has failed to conduct its operations with any accurate record of monetary accumulation, did not obtain a market value for what it leased, and it never recorded the natural resources that were extracted from the Navajo’s land, giving them no true royalties that they were owed.
This case, led by Samuel J. Buffone of Buckley Sandler in Washington D.C, lasted a span of eight years. The lawyers collected an innumerable amount of evidence of governmental misconduct over the decades. In a “landmark revolution”, the United States paid the Navajo Nation $554 million, which is the greatest settlement ever obtained by a Native American tribe by the federal government.
Bryant, Arthur. “This Year’s Five Most ‘Frivolous’ Lawsuits by ‘Greedy’ Trial Lawyers.” Business Press Release Service Submit 123PR. N.p., 14 June 2015. Web. 29 June 2015