Fighting on Behalf of the Little Guy
In my previous post, I looked at the difficulty that a lawyer and a plaintiff faces when taking on a case against a formidable corporate opponent. I was deciding whether or not to represent the Castillo family, whose son was born blind through his pregnant mother’s exposure to a toxic fungicide.
I knew this case could potentially take years to win. I also knew it would cost my firm hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, to prepare—money I was likely never to see again. One thing was for sure: it would definitely be a long, uphill climb.
Still, something inside told me I had to say yes. I liked taking on new cases that would be interesting, stimulating, and different. It made my job a lot more exhilarating. Also, I liked the competitive challenge of entering groundbreaking territory, especially when I took on cases that everybody else said no to.
Where’s the glory in taking on another case exactly like the last one you won? To me, there is none. That kind of path creates complacency and laziness. There was no precedent here, no road map to follow for a case like the one the Castillo family presented. No one had ever taken on a case like it and won before me, and, frankly, no one’s been able to repeat that success since.
The Castillo family finally had someone who would fight on their behalf.
Yeah, I was their guy.
“Here’s what we’re going to do,” I said. “I’ll look to see if there’s any science out there to support us. It’s going to be very difficult to make what’s called an actual-knowledge case against DuPont.”
I explained that an “actual-knowledge” case requires us to prove that DuPont actually knew how bad this chemical was, yet still allowed it to be sold and used. They would lie their asses off—they’d cover up and hide any corporate knowledge they had.
There’s another way to build and win a case like this in certain states, however. I’m licensed to practice in several states and, thankfully, Florida is one of those states. Florida allows litigators to argue a “state-of-the art” case. In a state-of-the-art case, companies like DuPont are expected to have expert knowledge of how bad their product is based on the state of the art or science that exists at the time they manufacture, sell, or distribute the product. Since they designed and made their product, the law assumes they have such expert knowledge.
Business had been booming at my firm for a while. I hadn’t been making big money for that long, but it had been long enough to know that despite the potentially massive out-of-pocket costs my firm would incur, I couldn’t think of letting this family walk out of another lawyer’s office without at least looking further at their prospects for success.
Although I still wasn’t completely convinced I should take the case, I didn’t hesitate to tell the Castillos that I was ready to explore the possibilities.
After all, I had access to a medical librarian in Washington, D.C., who could easily help me find whatever studies existed on benomyl and Benlate. I was more than willing to call her to see where this would lead.
The family had surely been through enough over the past three and a half years. What harm could waiting a few more weeks do? “If I find some science out there—anything that supports this claim—I’m totally in,” I said. “Let’s see where this goes.”
In my next post, I will share where my findings led me.
You can find a lot more about my background, and the story of this case, in my book, Blindsided, from which this blog post is adapted.