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For David Casselman and Michael Piuze, 2001 was a banner year. The two attorneys each brought home two of the biggest verdicts in California last year. Theirs were among 14 California cases to make The National Law Journal‘s 100 biggest verdicts of the year. Only Texas, with 25, had more cases on the list. “It is somewhat breathtaking to learn that two verdicts in the same year were among the top 100 largest verdicts, and the only thing I can say is I hope that my wife and family now agree the effort was worth it,” said Casselman, of Tarzana, Calif.-based Wasserman, Comden, Casselman & Pearson. Five of the California cases were tried in Los Angeles Superior Court, compared with two in Alameda County Superior and none in San Francisco Superior. But Piuze, of the law offices of Michael J. Piuze in Los Angeles, said that’s not surprising because of Los Angeles’ huge population. “A third of the people [in California] live here and a third of the verdicts were here,” he said. Among the California cases were a handful of landmarks, including the biggest verdict ever in a tobacco case, the largest on overtime pay claims, and the largest personal injury jury award in California’s history. Piuze’s victory crowned the national list with a record $3 billion verdict against tobacco giant Philip Morris. The case, Boeken v. Philip Morris Inc., BC 226593, made international headlines in June as Piuze brought home the largest judgment ever against a tobacco company. The case shed an “international light on exactly how bad the conduct of the tobacco industry has been for the past 50 years,” Piuze said. “Though my name is on that particular verdict, it could not have been achieved without the work of lots of other lawyers,” Piuze notes. In an effort to help other lawyers tackle the tobacco giants, Piuze has put the entire trial, including all of the depositions, pleadings and testimony, onto a free disk available to plaintiffs’ attorneys interested in taking on the tobacco industry. There were two personal injury cases on the California list. In Burch v. Children’s Hospital of Orange County Thrift Stores, 00CC00620, an Orange County jury awarded $51.6 million to a woman who now uses a wheelchair and needs 24-hour care after being involved in an accident with a driver from the Children’s Hospital of Orange County Thrift Stores Inc. Rebecca Burch’s attorney, Lawrence Grassini of Grassini & Wrinkle in Woodland Hills, says the verdict shows that a jury can quantify in terms of dollars the loss of a person’s life before an accident. “This particular jury did place a high price on that loss.” There was one employment class action on the California list and it brought in a $90 million verdict — the largest ever on overtime pay claims. ‘ELATED WITH THE RESULT’ In Bell v. Farmers Insurance Exchange, 74013, attorney Steven Zieff of Rudy, Exelrod & Zieff in Oakland represented 2,402 employees who claimed they were illegally classified as managers by Farmers Insurance and therefore exempted from overtime pay. “I was elated with the result,” said Zieff, who tried the case in Alameda County Superior Court. “It’s important that class actions be used and be available as a mechanism � [for] employees who were subjected to illegal pay periods.” The Farmerscase is the record holder in a wave of wage and hour class actions stemming from a disparity between federal and California law. Many national companies that have not adjusted their employment policies in compliance with California requirements have been hit by the suits. Also in Alameda, a jury awarded a $20.5 million verdict in an asbestos case, Hardcastle v. J-M A/C Pipe Corp., 830058-2. The plaintiff, Bill Hardcastle, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2000 caused by asbestos dust at the pipe manufacturing plant where he had worked since 1959. There was one federal case in the Northern District, which involved an airplane company suing an engineering firm over work performed on its planes. In Kalitta Air v. GATX Capital Corp., C 96-2494, Kalitta sued GATX for fraud after its retrofitted 747s were grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration. The company hired a GATX subcontractor to redesign its 747 passenger planes into cargo planes. The lawsuit claimed the company approved the planes for licensing knowing there were defects. In Casselman’s two big wins, one came against a public authority and the other was on behalf of one. In Border Business Park v. City of San Diego, 69279, Casselman won California’s second-largest verdict for 2001. The family that owned a planned business park sued San Diego after it entered into an agreement to develop the park on 312 acres near the border crossing between San Diego and Tijuana. The developers spent millions building public infrastructure for the park, but claimed the city broke its deal and hindered them from going ahead with the project. “This was an important case for the, quote, ‘little guy’ who finds himself fighting city hall,” Casselman said. “Literally the city of San Diego embarked on a campaign to destroy this Hispanic family. After signing contracts and making public promises, they systematically ignored and denied their promises in an effort to destroy the family and take their land.” In the other case, Casselman represented the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Tutor-Saliba-Perini JV v. Los Angeles County MTA, No. BC123559. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority brought Casselman on as a defense lawyer in a $20 million suit it was facing by Tutor Saliba, a general contractor performing subway work for the authority. FERRETING OUT FRAUD The MTA filed a cross-complaint against Tutor Saliba for fraudulent billing and won a $29 million verdict. “The significance of this verdict is substantial,” Casselman said. “This case represented the first time that a public entity incurred the substantial expense necessary to take a major public contractor to trial to demonstrate a violation of the false claims act in California. “Major contractors like Tutor Saliba perform billions of dollars of work across the country. The potential for fraud and abuse in major projects has been the subject of urban legend for decades. … This case is one of the first full-blown trials to ferret out such fraud.” As for Piuze, he won a second product liability case to go along with the Philip Morris win. In Lambert v. General Motors Corp., RCV 19570, the plaintiff sued GM in San Bernardino County Superior Court because the roof on a Chevy Blazer had caved in during an accident, leaving the driver quadriplegic. Piuze first tried the case in 1996, but GM appealed and the judgment was reversed. The second trial resulted in a verdict of $25.7 million — about twice the size of the first, according to Piuze. GM is again appealing. “It’s a crying shame that 11 1/2 years after he was injured they are still dragging this case out through the appellate process the second time,” Piuze said. On top of Piuze’s two cases, there was one other product liability verdict appearing on the California list. The case involved a $55.3 million award to the driver of a car whose tire tread separated, resulting in an accident that left the driver paralyzed. For the remaining top California verdicts, two stemmed from fraud and there was one each for breach of contract and legal malpractice. Related chart: California’s Largest Verdicts of 2001

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