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In the plaintiffs’ aviation accident firm founded by his father and grandfather, James P. Kreindler has carved out a niche as the go-to guy when criminal activity has led to the crash of an airplane. Kreindler, 45, began his career as a prosecutor in the Brooklyn, N.Y., district attorney’s office and brought years of experience in developing and trying criminal cases when he joined the family firm, New York’s Kreindler & Kreindler, in 1983. Becoming a plaintiffs’ lawyer was an easy switch from prosecuting criminal cases, he believes. “The psychology is the same. You’re trying to right the wrongs, punish the guilty,” he said. Given Kreindler’s expertise, he’ll likely be at center stage in what could be the most high-profile airline disaster case ever. A few days after hijacked airliners crashed in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, Kreindler’s firm was retained by a number of families of the dead. The firm is not rushing to the courthouse. “There’s no need to file a lawsuit yet. It would be obscene to file one now,” he said. The firm is joining in the moratorium on litigation announced by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. In the initial stages, the firm will be doing a lot of handholding with prospective plaintiffs, assuring widows and orphans that they will be compensated, Kreindler says. This includes showing clients “how we can get a meaningful recovery,” even if the airlines go bankrupt or the federal government passes laws limiting liability, he said. The attorneys will also be pointing out the results in their litigation against Pan Am following the 1988 crash of Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The airline went bankrupt, but the claims were still paid. When Pan Am 103 crashed and Kreindler & Kreindler became one of the lead firms for the plaintiffs, James Kreindler was assigned a major role as soon as it became clear that terrorists had planted a bomb on the aircraft. “My dad said, ‘If it’s got sex and violence, you’re the guy,’” Kreindler recalls. In developing the case against Pan Am, he wound up taking 180 depositions and was a member of the team that tried the liability phase of a trial where a jury found the airline committed willful negligence in allowing the bomb to be carried aboard the flight. He also handled one of the few individual plaintiff’s cases to go to trial — winning a $9 million verdict for the death of one passenger. Kreindler is lead counsel in the continuing litigation against Libya for its alleged role in the Pan Am crash and he is also lead attorney in the crash of Egypt Air 990, where, he claims, “a suicidal Egyptian pilot flew the plane into the ocean.” Not all of his cases involve criminal activity; he won a $2.2 million verdict against American Airlines in an air-turbulence case, for instance. Kreindler is following the path set by his father, Lee Kreindler, who is credited with establishing aviation accident litigation as a practice. Lee Kreindler won the first prominent aviation case in the 1950s, involving a propeller plane that crashed into an orphanage. The firm has since grown to 25 lawyers, including 11 partners. About 80 percent of the firm’s work is in aviation accident litigation. On any given day, Kreindler’s work, like that of most litigators, ranges from preparing claims to preparing for or conducting trials. When the firm is retained to represent plaintiffs following a crash, “as a partnership, we get together and talk about what we want to do and who should work in on it.” If the accident has a criminal aspect, he’ll run the litigation. DAMAGE CLAIMS In any aviation case, whether there is a criminal aspect or not, Kreindler spends much of his time working up damage claims for individual plaintiffs. He handles the majority of them himself, he said, “going through the documents, speaking to the key witnesses, talking to the families.” “Whether it’s a jury or an insurance company’s claims representative, they want to see who the person is, what the relationship was and the loss” to the relatives left behind. He doesn’t believe in underplaying a claim before an insurance representative. “Most aviation cases settle,” he said, “but the only way to get a good settlement is to prepare the case for trial.”

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