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  • Jim Ferraro

Giving Back as a Means of Living Right

There are three rules I live by in life.

The first is, “There’s nothing wrong with having fun.”

The second is, “Try not to hurt others.”

And the third is, “Help as many people as you can.”

To me, the third is the real scorecard of my time here on earth.

Whenever I think about the day I’ll finally meet my Maker, I wonder whether I will be leaving the world a better place because of my contributions. If the answer is that the world is the same or worse as when I entered it, well, then I didn’t do enough. At least, not by how I measure things. Then there is the karma.

If I had cashed that $3,000 check from State Farm, there’s no way I would have achieved what came my way after that ultimate defining moment. In many ways, I believe the karma earned by deciding not to cash my client’s check is what gave me the financial wherewithal to later take on the Castillo case. Without those good years in between, I wouldn’t have been able to sustain the costs of such a big case. Moments like that one test your mettle and force you to decide who you are going to be.

The same thing happened the moment I chose to take on the Castillos’ fight. By the time I took the family’s case, I was making more money than I needed. Giving back had become extremely important to me. Anyone can write a check when they have the money in the bank to cover it, but giving your time, energy, and attention requires a different type of commitment. I understood that this type of case would be costly in both money and time.

As a way of covering or hedging our bet, the firm also took on the cases of the 29 Scottish families in the MACS support group for a future fight against DuPont, because we knew the chances of winning the Castillos’ case in the first trial of its kind were, realistically speaking, remote. Taking on the additional families meant even more time and money would be necessary to see this battle through to the bitter end.

At the time, no one had ever won a first-impression toxic tort case, whether it involved asbestos, tobacco, or some other drug or chemical.

A first-impression tort case, as the name implies, involves a new cause of action that has never been brought by anyone in any court anywhere. It typically takes many trials before you can taste victory in a new tort claim.

For instance, asbestos took 10 trials before there was a first win by my friend and legendary trial lawyer Ron Motley, whose work had inspired me for years. Tobacco was even worse, taking more than sixty attempts by multiple attorneys over several decades.

In those cases, the evidence and understanding of what it would take to prove the facts got a little better each time. Every new trial represented an opportunity for those pioneering lawyers to find more documents and testimony and hone and refine their arguments, and therefore create and present a stronger case.

Let’s face it: it was obvious from the start that the Castillos’ case had the potential to lead me into the land of infinity.

Because there had never been such a case before, there was no template we could use or improve upon in our fight against DuPont.

It had corporate lawyers on the payroll, ready to answer calls day and night. Those attorneys were hired to crush guys like me under mounds of paperwork, document searches, filings, and costs. This left us with no choice but to chart our own course and navigate the treacherous terrain on our own as best as we could. I knew I couldn’t let the process go on forever because I had other clients whose needs were equally important, but I was sure there wouldn’t be a quick settlement, either.

I went into the case knowing that DuPont was counting on us eventually backing down. That’s what they plan for. They certainly would try to create as many roadblocks as they possibly could during the discovery process to make this matter go away. To them, we were like an irritating pimple on their ass. To cause them excruciating pain, we would not only have to win on our first try, we’d have to win big.

Of course, both of those prospects were unprecedented, and I knew it.

In my next post, I explore some of the background of the Castillo case.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. What are your personal rules that you live by? Thank you for sharing.


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