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Peter C. Grenier is a plaintiffs’ lawyer who has won multiple million-dollar verdicts. But he fell into the plaintiffs’ trade by accident. In late 1994, Grenier was working as a real estate and commercial litigator at Washington, D.C.’s Ginsburg, Feldman & Bress when, as he recalls, “a senior tax partner walked into my office and told me his brother had been punched by a garbageman.” The partner was looking for a personal injury lawyer for his brother, who wanted to sue the garbage collector. “I said I don’t do personal injury, but I started calling some friends.” He began asking questions about how to proceed, then determined he could handle the lawsuit himself. But he expanded the reach significantly beyond the garbageman. “I stayed up for 14 hours on Westlaw, researching on vicarious liability. I decided I could sue the garbage company.” He tried the case in Montgomery County, Md., in September 1996. “I bumbled my way through it and the jury awarded us $1.5 million. It was the largest verdict in the county that year.” From there it snowballed. Grenier tried to protest that he was not a personal injury lawyer, but, he says, “I kept getting more and more calls.” In March 1998, he was contacted by the mother of a man who had been killed in December 1997 while working as an undercover informant for the D.C. police. The ensuing lawsuit would become a career maker for Grenier. The dead man was Eric Butera, a long-time crack addict who had contacted the police with a tip about a triple murder that had occurred at the Georgetown Starbucks coffee shop. Butera had been buying crack when he overheard two men discussing the crime. The police asked Butera to make a buy from a drug house to establish probable cause for a search warrant. In the courtyard, Butera was beaten to death. He had been promised police protection, Grenier says, but the police never came to his rescue. His mother sued the District of Columbia, charging violations of her son’s civil rights by exhibiting a “deliberate indifference” to reasonable efforts to protect him from harm. The trial ended in a $98.1 million jury verdict for the plaintiff. It was the largest-ever verdict against the District of Columbia. But the award set off shock waves far beyond the large numbers. Grenier discovered that Johnny St. Valentine Brown Jr., a police drug expert, had falsified his credentials, and he had Brown disqualified as an expert. Since Brown had made identical claims in numerous criminal drug trials, this sent criminal defense attorneys scurrying to request new trials. Brown ultimately pleaded guilty to perjury, Grenier says. The Butera verdict was reduced significantly, then settled. But the publicity led to more clients. Today, as a name partner at D.C.’s Bode & Grenier, he has 60 to 70 active cases and has had several more significant victories over police agencies, including a $5 million settlement against a New Jersey police department for the family of a young man who committed suicide while in police custody. But he has branched out. In 2000, he won the largest-ever verdict in a synthetic stucco case, for $1.4 million. His next trial represents the estate of a teen-ager killed by a driver using a cellphone; his client is suing the law firm that hired the driver, claiming she was on company business when she hit the girl. Grenier also represents the family of teacher Dave Sanders, who was killed during the Columbine school shootings. The family has sued Jefferson County, Colo., individual police officials and the police department, charging that Sanders was left to bleed to death. The suit is in the deposition stage. No trial date has yet been scheduled.

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