Nearly three years after Toyota Motor Corp. recalled more than 10 million vehicles for defects associated with sudden acceleration, a team of three plaintiffs’ attorneys in December reached a $1.3 billion settlement to resolve economic damages claims by consumers. One of those attorneys was Frank Pitre, a name partner at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, who was in charge of claims brought by independent auto dealers, rental car companies and other commercial plaintiffs who bought Toyota vehicles.

You might call it a high-water mark for the 27-attorney firm in Burlingame, Calif., south of San Francisco. "We had some great verdicts, but nothing near $1 billion," said name partner Joseph Cotchett, a veteran trial attorney, whose previous successes include a $3.3 billion verdict against Charles Keating Jr., a prime mover in the savings-and-loan scandal of the late 1980s. In addition to Pitre and Cotchett, the firm has 24 principals and one associate and offices in Sacramento, Calif., and New York.

Pitre, Cotchett said, spent half his time on the Toyota case, in which the plaintiffs seek $200 million in fees. The other half he spent bringing individual cases against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. over a 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno, Calif., that killed eight people, injured dozens and destroyed 38 homes. Cotchett Pitre has settled half of its 60 explosion-related lawsuits, Cotchett said. The settlements have been filed under seal, but PG&E has acknowledged it could face more than $1 billion in state regulatory fines and legal settlements.

Cotchett Pitre also reached settlements in continuing price-fixing litigation against a group of freight forwarders; so far, the firm has amassed $120 million in agreements, including $28 million from Kuehne + Nagel Inc., Cotchett said. Many of the defendants, including Kuehne + Nagel, have paid criminal fines in related actions brought by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Firm principal Mark Molumphy spearheaded a derivative shareholder action accusing Oracle Corp. of overbilling the U.S. government in which the firm obtained a "huge settlement," filed under seal, Cotchett said. In a securities action against the trustees of Medical Capital Holdings Inc., a Ponzi scheme whose business was purportedly to purchase medical receivables, Molumphy settled in December with one of the bank defendants, The Bank of New York Mellon Corp., for $114 million. Wells Fargo & Co. faces trial in April. In June, both banks paid $106 million to settle related claims as part of a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission action.

TRIAL TIPS
You have to think outside the box of conventional legal thinking. You have to have passion and belief in the litigation. You win by getting back up after a hit — an old sports adage.
— Joseph Cotchett, Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy