August 4, 2014
By Robert A. Clifford
As thousands of 1L’s begin their journey through law school, I pause to reflect on my own career over nearly four decades and the cases that have changed me, my clients and sometimes even the community. Of course, every client is special in his or her own way. I have taken pride in having the ability to select cases that I think can make a difference in someone’s life in a positive or very profound way. In looking back over my many years of litigation, 10 cases come to mind:
*Liaison counsel for 9/11 property damage clients (January, 2009): Aside from the $1.2 billion subrogation settlements for a group of insurance companies, the real mark of that case is that we were able to change the law on the federal court’s subpoena power that previously extended to only 100 miles from the court to a national subpoena power. This change in the law allowed us to take the deposition of a key person – the ticket agent who let one of the terrorists through airport security – which was critical in demonstrating that checkpoint screenings at airports was decreasing while terrorism was on the rise.
*Rachel Barton v. Chicago and North Western Transportation, et al. (Feb. 1999) – Although the case received the most comprehensive coverage of a civil trial in Cook County history, I was virtually oblivious to the media frenzy in preparing for the day-to-day events in court. That case really stands to me as the template for how one teaches a jury about the theory of a case. We were able to present evidence of 17 people who had experienced previous “near misses” of being caught in Metra doors, demonstrating that the train company was aware of this risk yet chose to do nothing. It was Rachel’s horrific case that clearly demonstrated the need for the “second look” – where a conductor must allow all passengers to get on board, close all doors but his own and then take a second look before closing his own door. That simple procedure would have changed Rachel’s life. It probably now has saved countless others from harm or death.
*Dr. James York v. Rush Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center et al. (June, 2002) – Dr. York, a vibrant physician who traveled to faraway places to help those in need, suffered paralysis in his right leg after an anesthesiologist injured his spinal cord. That case went all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court and now is the seminal case in Illinois on the doctrine of apparent agency in medical malpractice cases. Dr. York and his wife received $13.5 million.
*Oakley Lowe, minor v. Estate of Adam Riechert, deceased, et al. (Aug. 1990) – I secured a $14.2 million verdict for a young Boy Scout who was seriously injured in a car crash on a scouting trip. The young brain damaged boy will be taken care of for the rest of his life.
*John W. Jentz, Robert Schmidt and Justice Becker v. ConAgra Foods Inc. And West Side Salvage Inc. (June, 2012) – This $180 million verdict, of which our two clients received $112 million, set a record in many ways. Most importantly, the jury sent a message to a large food producer of the need to be more careful. It is still in post-trial phases.
*Advocate Medical class action – As tort law has changed to affecting the masses, so, too, has my law practice, as I have been called to help thousands who have been victimized by data breaches and other mass torts. In Advocate Medical, it is claimed that four unencrypted computers that contained confidential information of patients was stolen from its Park Ridge office, including Social Security numbers and patients’ diagnoses. Four million people were notified that their information had been compromised when a simple encryption of the computers would have prevented such a catastrophe. More than a thousand people have contacted my office and we are in the midst of class certification motions.
*Target class action – This story became national headlines after it was revealed that what may be 110 million customers of the large chain had their credit card information and other private data compromised by a hacker in Europe. Just what is being done with all of this information is unknown, but it has made millions of people nervous about fraudulent or potential unauthorized activity on their accounts or that their personal identities might be stolen. That case continues to be litigated in federal district court in Minneapolis.
*General Motors class action – The negligence of one of America’s largest car manufacturers has reached unbelievable proportions, especially when it is reported that 11 people have died as a result of a faulty ignition switch of which GM was aware and chose to do nothing about for years. Many lawyers from around the country are involved in this complex action that is sure to go on for years before a resolution will be reached.
*Food mislabeling – Many suffer from food allergies. It is important that they know exactly what is contained in what they ingest, yet food producers are allowed to call products fruit-filled, when in fact there is none. They are allowed to say the food is healthy, when it may contain disproportional amounts of sugar. Never has it been more important for labels to be accurate and the Food and Drug Administration needs to keep on top of this. Obviously, it can’t do so alone, and that’s where lawyers are stepping in. That case, too, will be determined down the road in federal court in California.
*Circus performers – The circus came to town in Rhode Island and eight beautiful women entertained thousands of all ages, including children, who sat in the audience and were horrified when the “human chandelier” act collapsed in front of their eyes. The performers were rushed to area hospitals and some of them remain in wheelchairs as they try to recover. Seven of them contacted my office. Sorting through the safety measures that were taken or not taken will unfold in the years to come.
All of these cases are the stories of people’s lives. They also all represent a fight for justice. I have been blessed that they also have legal significance and have been recognized by the public as worthy of its attention. And, who knows, maybe my biggest case is yet to come.
About Robert A. Clifford
Robert A. Clifford was named by Chicago Magazine as one of the top 100 Most Powerful Chicagoans in 2013 and 2014. Crain’s Chicago Business named Clifford as one of the “most influential people in Chicago” in 2013. Clifford remains committed to raising the quality of the practice of law in the state of Illinois and promoting civility. He was named the 2012 Chicago Lawyer Person of the Year. Based upon his trial accomplishments, and his contributions to the legal community and the Chicago area, his colleagues nominated him for the prestigious honor given to one person each year. He is the founder of Clifford Law Offices, a nationally recognized personal injury law firm in Chicago concentrating in aviation, transportation, personal injury, medical negligence, and product liability law. To learn more about Robert Clifford, click here.