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Trial Lawyers, Their Clients Under Attack, New Chief Of Phila. Organization Says For Robert Mongeluzzi, trial law is more than a job. It’s personal. His great-grandfather was killed in an accident at a railroad yard and his grandfather suffered a debilitating injury working at a sugar factory. Both cases were handled by local attorneys. Both faced the best lawyers the railroad and sugar industries could find. Both lost. Compensation for injuries “is not some abstract thing,” said Mongeluzzi, a partner at Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky, whose practice specializes in construction accidents and products liability. “It happened to me, to my family. And I certainly think that has had an impact on me.” Mongeluzzi assumed the role of president of the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association yesterday in front of a crowd of about 150 fellow trial lawyers. As president, he hopes to help preserve, among other things, the rights of individuals to win compensation from negligent corporations. The way to maintain those rights, he said, is through the trial lawyer. “Our No. 1 goal is to preserve justice in Pennsylvania. . . . Trial lawyers are under attack both in Pennsylvania and nationally, and the rights of our clients are being attacked both in Pennsylvania and nationally,” Mongeluzzi said. “Mongo” – a nickname familiar to his friends that he has monogrammed on his dress shirts because “it’s easier to keep them straight at the dry cleaners,” he said – is not assuming the presidency in the easiest of times for his profession. Just two days ago, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow for caps on damages in most tort lawsuits. After noting that this was but the first of an eight-step legislative process to adopt a constitutional amendment necessary for the caps, Mongeluzzi scoffs at the idea of limits on damages. “Are they going to put a limit on pain and suffering?” Mongeluzzi asked. “Do you think if there are lower rates, the insurance companies are going to give that money back? You’ve got to be kidding me.” In an interview, Mongeluzzi said he hopes to advance an image of trial lawyers as consumer advocates instead of ambulance chasers. Ironically, for the self-described lifelong jock, one of his most memorable products safety trials involved sports. A high school baseball player in Delaware was hit in the head with a pitch in the late 1980s. The padding in the helmet was an eighth of an inch thick, which was five-eighths inch too thin to prevent brain damage and partial paralysis. Following litigation, helmets with three-fourths inch of padding were produced. “After that case, they put in the correct amount of padding,” Mongeluzzi said. “And because of that case . . . every kid playing baseball in the United States – millions of kids – are protected. “Trial lawyers do a lot of great things.” While tort reform bills will, by necessity, be the focus of his term, Mongeluzzi also hopes to build upon the legacy of community service left by his predecessor, Steven Wigrizer, who raised $100,000 to help place a defibrillator in every Philadelphia high school. It is this legacy that led Mongeluzzi in his acceptance speech to say that he feels like the guy “following Hendrix at Woodstock.” Mongeluzzi has served on the board of officers for the past four years, beginning with his term as secretary in 1999. Besides Mongeluzzi, the incoming board consists of James J. McEldrew, president-elect; Samuel H. Pond, vice president; Mark J. LeWinter, secretary; Frank G. Canty, assistant secretary; Mark W. Tanner, treasurer; Nancy J. Winkler, assistant treasurer; and Ronald A. Kolver, parliamentarian. The time commitment as president is a significant one, and as such, Mongeluzzi intends to bring in some extra help for his practice in the next year. “No case is getting pushed to the back burner because of this commitment,” Mongeluzzi said, noting that in the coming months, he would try the case of an Army cadet injured in a 1998 fall at Veterans Stadium. Mongeluzzi does catch himself peeking forward to a return to normal life, or at least his version of a normal life. “I could use the time off. I’d rather mountain-bike and coach lacrosse and ski,” Mongeluzzi said. “I stopped trying to keep up with him years ago after several trips to the doctor’s office,” Wigrizer said. Sports have always served as more than a distraction for Mongeluzzi. When attending Penn as an undergraduate, he played lacrosse and lightweight football. “I’ve been a jock my whole life,” he said. “I’m a lacrosse player. I’ve been involved playing and coaching since I was 6 years old. What I learned there in terms of competition and teamwork are lessons that have served me well as a trial lawyer.” Athletics is not the only area in which Mongeluzzi has excelled. Wigrizer, in a speech yesterday, also noted the significant success that Mongeluzzi’s practice has had. “He’s won more multimillion-dollar settlements and verdicts than anyone I know,” he said. Mongeluzzi attributed part of that success to a master’s degree in trial advocacy he received from Temple in 1994. Before beginning the program, he needed to give a speech as to why he wanted the degree. Before giving it, he met with one of his clients, a woman with two children whose father had been killed. That meeting changed the speech, he said, and it’s still affecting his view of trial law. “I realized that the course of their life would be affected by what I did in the courtroom,” Mongeluzzi said. “It’s an awesome responsibility and one we as trial lawyers take very seriously. . . . It’s a powerful and overwhelming responsibility. As president of the trial lawyers, I’m not just fighting for my client, but for everybody else’s.”

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