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  • Jim Ferraro

Looking at More Than the Bottom Line to Help People

In my last post, I talked about how difficult it is for the little guy to take on the big guy in a court case, despite the inherent rightness of the cause. I’d been weighing whether to represent the Castillos, I knew that they were wronged – their son Johnny had been born blind because his mother had been exposed to a toxic fungicide, Benlate, while she was pregnant – but I needed to do some research before I could definitely say yes to helping the Castillos.

Here’s what we uncovered in our search:

DuPont created the product Benlate. The active ingredient in Benlate was benomyl. We discovered that benomyl was tested on pregnant rats at the University of California in 1991. The results were really bad. Forty-three percent of the rats’ offspring were born with ocular abnormalities such as having no eyes, blindness, and other related eye conditions. Worse, if the rats were fed a protein-deficient diet—which is common in low-income households such as those of migrant ­workers—the percentage of ocular issues jumped to 61 percent!

Based on this study and the timing of Donna’s exposure, I decided I would take the case. Even though the risks were astronomical, I thought it was worth a shot.

I called the Castillos and asked them to come to my office.

“I won’t make any promises,” I told them. “But if we win, my fee will be a percentage of the money the jury awards you so I’ll be able to make a fee and recoup my costs. If we don’t win, I’ll get no fee at all and won’t recover my costs. This pursuit isn’t going to cost you a thing. How does that sound?” I asked.

Donna couldn’t contain her emotion. She broke down and began to cry again. But this time, they were tears of joy. At least I hoped so. She thanked me over and over again, because not only did someone finally hear her, someone was also finally willing to undertake the fight and fearlessly lead the family through the darkness. I wanted Donna and Juan to know I was in their corner and would act as their advocate for as long as it took to bring DuPont to justice.

As righteous as that may sound, I meant it.

Sometimes you have to look at more than the bottom line. The thing is, in law, as in any profession, you want to do your best to make a difference. At least I do. My father had a need to help people who were down on their luck, whether it involved giving a meal to a homeless man on the street or lending a caring hand to someone who just needed it. Although he could be very tough and demanding, he also had a very big heart. Because he grew up without very much, he knew what it was like to go without or have needs that couldn’t be fulfilled. Seeing my dad’s charitable ways greatly influenced me to act the same way. I share his need to help others, especially those who are less fortunate or who simply can’t do what I can do or have what I have.

In life, when you’re generous with your resources, whether money or time, you eventually learn that you’re not really giving it away, because you always get it back one way or another. It’s that old saying: “What goes around comes around.” A lot of people choose a career for the money, but there are those who also want to add value to others’ lives. They want to be legends, to build a legacy to be proud of, to effect change in the system, and to make good things happen all around them. I admired attorneys like Ron Motley, who was a pioneer in asbestos litigation and the catalyst that ultimately brought Big Tobacco to its knees. I greatly respected his willingness to take on a cause regardless of potentially insurmountable odds. I am inspired by people like Ron, whose purpose was to take down the three-headed monsters—like the “Big Three” tobacco companies—of the world. I strive to be that type of person every day. Some days I may fall short, but on most days, my aim is true.

I said goodbye to Donna and once again reassured her that everything was going to be okay. Later that night, when I looked into my sons’ eyes, I got all the confirmation I needed. There was no doubt about it—I’d made the right decision to help the Castillos. After I shared the story about Daddy’s new case and the little boy who was born with no eyes, my youngest son, Andrew, looked up at me and asked, “What do you mean he has no eyes?”

I could tell he was confused by the notion.

“How could something like that happen?” My older son, James, asked with equal wonderment.

I told them both not to worry. I explained in no uncertain terms that Daddy was going after the bad company that sold the dangerous chemicals that caused this boy’s mother to get very sick while she was pregnant—so sick that when the baby was born, he had no eyes.

“Wow. I’m so lucky that didn’t happen to my mommy,” one of the boys said.

Amen to that.

In my next several posts, I will share with you some of my background, so you can see the steps I took in order to arrive where I was, to the point where I was able to take on such a remarkable (and difficult case).

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. Have you ever decided to take on something because it was right, rather than convenient? And have you been rewarded for your actions? Thank you for sharing.


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