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To Eric Danoff, admiralty law is a throwback. “It’s one of the few areas where you can quote a case with a straight face from the 1800s. And I do,” he says. Admiralty is a small bar that’s regarded as more collegial than most. “You see the same people over and over again, and you have to treat people fairly,” Danoff says. “Very rarely do you get into serious discovery disputes.” The amiable, low-key Danoff seems a perfect fit, even though he fell into the field by chance. Thirty years ago he was all set to join a mid-sized law firm as a litigation associate when, the day before he took the bar exam, the firm disbanded and withdrew its offer. “A position opened up at Graham & James in maritime, and I took it,” Danoff says. “I needed a job, plain and simple.” Today, Danoff is a stalwart of the practice. His name comes up repeatedly when judges, mediators and clients are asked to name the most effective defense lawyers for admiralty personal injury cases. “I’ve worked with him for years and he’d be one of my top picks,” said a client. “Sound, strong, knows his law,” was how a judge familiar with his work put it. Danoff, now of San Francisco’s nine-lawyer Emard, Danoff, Port & Tamulski, even has a successful U.S. Supreme Court case to his credit. In Harbor Tug & Barge v. Papai , 520 U.S. 548, the high court agreed with Danoff that a man hired to do a paint job on a tug boat did not qualify for seaman status under the Jones Act, and therefore was limited to workers’ compensation for his injury. Danoff argued on a busy day at the court — his was the next case on calendar after William Jefferson Clinton v. Paula Jones . “They argue that, and then we get up there with our maritime slip-and-fall,” Danoff says, laughing at the memory. “But everyone was still charged up, so it was a high-energy [argument], which made it a lot of fun.” The 54-year-old Boalt Hall graduate has been involved in some other high-profile cases. He represented the owner of the merchant ship Mayaguez, which was captured and held several days by Khmer Rouge rebels in 1975. Crew members sued the ship owner after the incident, saying it had put them in peril by traveling too close to Cambodia. The case settled. Although personal injury is his bread and butter, Danoff also handles cargo damage, dock damage and other commercial maritime disputes. Admiralty practice is industry-based, he says, rather than subject-based. He handles contract disputes, tort claims, immigration problems and statutory issues that range from U.S. codes to international treaties. “We’re not dealing with the same 10 statutes over and over,” he says. “To me that makes it a more interesting practice.”

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