Success at Last
The day of oral arguments was surreal. We had been through so much already, from the trial, to the court of appeals, to getting the Florida Supreme Court to grant our writ. Now it was time for us to present our case to the state’s highest court. Each side had a grand total of 30 minutes to orally argue their case.
It was very difficult to tell from the oral argument how the court would rule. All the justices were active during the process; asking in-depth questions on the critical issues. It was clear that the court had great interest in our case. Unlike the Third District Court of Appeals which was clearly biased for DuPont, the Supreme Court was very neutral. This was a breath of fresh air after what we had been through in our last appeal, and gave us some level of optimism.
The normal wait to get a decision from the Florida Supreme Court after oral argument is typically six to nine months. Unfortunately for the Castillos, our wait time was not the norm. One year passed, then two, without a peep. It wasn’t until 2½ years after the oral argument that we finally got the decision. In total, we were at the Supreme Court for nearly five years!
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I vividly remember the day I got the decision, because I was on my way back from one of my trips to the U.K. to visit the Scottish families involved in the 29 cases still pending in Delaware. I was riding in the back of a black London cab with two of my kids, who had traveled with me on this particular trip, when I received a call from Lynn Holtzman, one of my associates, telling me the Supreme Court had ruled. At first I couldn’t understand what she was saying because of her absolute jubilance. “Lynn, calm down. I can’t make out what you’re saying.”
“We won?” I asked.
“Yes, we won!” she shouted into the phone.
I asked her if she had read through the entire document to be certain that the decision was what it appeared to be. Sometimes—though not often—the opinion isn’t what it appears to be on the surface. I wanted definitive confirmation.
“Yes, Jim. I’ve read it and it’s over. You did it. We won on all issues.”
I was elated and relieved. Against great odds, the Supreme Court had reinstated our verdict in its entirety.
This win at the Florida Supreme Court was a landmark decision that would shape how trial courts admitted scientific evidence for years to come.
The decision was over 40 pages long, and, page by page, it completely undressed and dismantled DuPont. The decision was not simply of great public importance. It was monumental!
I could hardly wait to call the Castillos to share this great news. I was so excited I could barely dial the phone. It had been just over 10 years and this grueling marathon had finally come to a victorious end. I felt a whirlwind of emotions—for the Castillos, for myself, for the trial judge who had been overturned, and for the good that will come from this decision for so many people going forward. Probably the greatest satisfaction I got from the entire case was hearing Donna cry when I told her we had finally won, once and for all.
“Donna, I’ve got some very good news . . .”
“Don’t tell me we won,” she said, sounding somewhat scared.
“Then I won’t tell you, but we did,” I said, trying to bring levity to this very emotional moment for both of us.
And as the news sank in, as she tried to catch her breath and between sobs, all Donna could ask was “Oh my God, I can’t believe it. Is it really over?”
After I broke the news to the Castillos, I got onto the plane back to Miami feeling higher than the aircraft was flying.
I thought about Clem Glynn and wondered whether I should return the call he’d made when DuPont won the appeal at the Third District Court of Appeals almost five years earlier. Donna Castillo had walked into my office for the first time in June 1993. It wasn’t until July 10, 2003, that we finally got word from the Supreme Court of Florida. For a brief moment I thought I’d give Clem a ring as if no time had passed at all and say, “Hi, Clem. Just returning your call from a few years back,” and then revel a little over our win.
I poured myself a scotch as I watched the clouds float by at 39,000 feet and thought to myself, “Why bother?” There was far more dignity and grace in simply saying nothing and allowing the court’s decision to do my talking.
This was the end of the Castillo case for DuPont.
They would finally have to pay, and by this time enough interest had accrued during all the appeals that the payment was for just under $7 million. When all was said and done, the family received more than $4 million.
It wasn’t the $25 million we almost got at trial. But it was enough money for the Castillos to live as happily as possible and to send their son to Perkins or a similar school for the blind. After the trial, the Castillos moved to Massachusetts, where Juan continued his career as an accountant and Donna continued to care for their son.
Our success paid dividends for the Castillo family in other ways, too, as Johnny was able to fine-tune his other senses and become a gifted singer and musician. Ten years after the trial, the Boston Red Sox invited him to sing the national anthem on Easter Sunday at a Red Sox home game. One of my only regrets is not finding out about him singing until after it happened.
Our case was the first jury verdict in history affirmed on appeal against a chemical company for causing a birth defect where the plaintiff actually won. However, the real rewards for my team and me in winning the Castillo case came when DuPont finally took Benlate off the market in 2000 and in knowing the Castillos would finally be able to get on with their lives.
Having a hand in both outcomes was extremely humbling and gratifying.
In my next post, I write about the results of this, and of the continuing suits against DuPont.
You’ll find details of this, and of the trial, as well as my personal and professional background, in my book, Blindsided, from which I’ve adapted this post.