It can cause even the most ruthless corporate CEO to tug nervously at his shirt collar and gulp hard when told that squaring off against him in court will be the brawny, knock-out-king of a law firm co-founded in 1986 by super attorney Perry Weitz, Esq.
Mr. Weitz – bold and resolute, relentlessly so – is a clenched-jaw champion of justice for the little guy. Always has been, always will be.
No surprise to learn then, that, early in his career, he gained a reputation as the kind of plaintiffs’ attorney capable of convincing corporations prone to digging-in their heels to instead put a case to rest quickly by settling out of court (and, in so doing, spare themselves a devastating confrontation with him in front of a jury).
After launching Weitz & Luxenberg, Mr. Weitz took care to populate the firm with attorneys who shared not only his impassioned views about the price corporations and wealthy individuals must pay for their negligent or willful acts committed against the innocent, but who also shared his energy, his enthusiasm and – above all – his extraordinary depth of understanding about what is possible under the law and along the outermost edges of its continually shifting contours.
U.S. presidents have sought his advice. Likewise legislators, academicians, nonprofit business managers, association leaders, charity directors and many others. The reason is simple: Perry Weitz is a man of ideas, with the clarity of vision that makes his a voice much sought-after – and sought-after in particular by those who lack a voice of their own.
Case in point: 36 shipyard workers dying or dead of the terrifying, aggressive cancer known as mesothelioma, which each of them contracted after being exposed on the job to the toxic mineral asbestos. Outraged over the story of unconscionable suffering and loss told by each victim at their first meeting with him, Mr. Weitz lost no time building a powerful case against the operators of the Brooklyn, N.Y., shipyard where the injuries occurred. So determined was he to win this for the workers that he put practically everything on the line – including his own home, mortgaged to raise money to cover the costs of legal research and evidence gathering. He proceeded despite the snickering of some veteran members of the personal-injury establishment, who believed the case hopeless and were sure Mr. Weitz would find only ruin in the end.
Instead, what Mr. Weitz found was victory – and a stunning $75-million award for the shipyard workers to compensate them for their massive medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.
Mr. Weitz remembers the case as physically and emotionally exhausting, in part because it was tried simultaneously in two different courts – one at the state level, the other at the federal. He also remembers it as worth every last drop of sweat and tears, for it delivered justice far beyond the expectations of the victims. However, the case accomplished something more. It made plain that Perry Weitz and his young firm were together a force with which to be reckoned.
More paths to victory
After having played a direct role in obtaining verdicts that, combined, grew to be worth a half-billion dollars, Perry Weitz decided it was time to hand off the job of engaging in courtroom combat to his team of extraordinary litigators while he focused on other, equally productive avenues of justice.
Settlement negotiations, for instance. Mr. Weitz is a masterful negotiator who has over and over persuaded defendants that it is in their own best interests to agree, out-of-court, to do the right thing and pay the plaintiffs a generous sum in settlement. The firm’s principal negotiator, Mr. Weitz has in this way wrested from defendant companies hundreds of millions of settlement dollars to end litigations involving asbestos, but also pharmaceuticals (such as DES, Vioxx, Baycol, Zyprexa, Rezulin, Seroquel and others), medical devices (silicone breast-implants, chiefly), and environmental pollution (his part in securing a $425-million settlement in a case where gasoline additive was alleged responsible for contaminating groundwater supplies earned him nomination as “Trial Lawyer of the Year” by the Public Justice Foundation). Mr. Weitz over the span of his career has been involved in settlements of more than 1,000 individual cases.
His negotiating skills also prove invaluable in the realm of asbestos bankruptcy trusts where he serves on numerous trust advisory committees that oversee the process by which asbestos defendants, emerging from bankruptcy, are able to set aside funds for victims. Mr. Weitz helped fashion agreements to create asbestos bankruptcy trusts bearing the names of companies including W.R. Grace, Kaiser Aluminum, Harbison Walker, Armstrong World Industries, Pittsburgh Corning, Babcock & Wilcox, Owens Corning, Burns & Roe, AC&S, U.S. Gypsum, U.S. Mineral. North American Refractories. A.P. Green, and Kentile Floors.
With success has come wide recognition. Not only is the law firm that Mr. Weitz jointly built now among the biggest names on the planet when it comes to mass-tort personal-injury litigation, but he himself is celebrated as one who harnessed courage and conviction to make something so great from so little.
Understandably, then, beginning in 2005, Mr. Weitz’s name has appeared annually without fail on the pages of New York Magazine to announce his selection as one of the area’s “Best Lawyers.” He also has repeatedly and consistently earned the title of “Super Lawyer” from a prestige organization that gauges the performance of attorneys across the nation. In 2011, the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice proclaimed him the recipient of its “Champion of Justice” award. In 2012, he was New York City “Lawyer of the Year” in the category of mass-torts litigation and class-action lawsuits on the plaintiffs’ side.
His smashing legal triumphs naturally make him a much-in-demand lecturer and a fixture of national trial-law associations. He serves on the boards of the New York State Trial Lawyers Assn., Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, Legal Aid Society, and Jewish Lawyer Guild. Additionally, Mr. Weitz chairs the Tort and General Negligence sections of the New York County Lawyers Assn., and is a member of the Mass Tort Committee of the American Association for Justice. For Hofstra University – his law school alma mater – Mr. Weitz acts as dean's counsel.
Perry Weitz holds that no greater source of joy exists in the world than the privilege of providing help to those who lack the means of helping themselves. Thus, volunteerism and its close-cousin, philanthropy, are for him potent spurs to action. He occupies a seat on the board of trustees of North Shore University Hospital, and is a member of the men’s division executive committees for both the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation and the Children's Medical Fund (the latter affiliated with Schneider Children's Hospital).
Early sensitivity to injustice
Perry Weitz was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. Blessed with nurturing parents, they instilled in him at a tender age the importance of resisting wrongdoers, of never standing idly by or looking the other way when the strong use their muscle or positions of privilege to bend and ultimately break the innocent weak.
As a teen-ager, young Perry Weitz – by then with a well-refined sensitivity to injustice – often felt his hands balling up into fists after discovering that someone, somewhere had been cheated, threatened, roughed up, made to feel fear, or injured.
In his freshman year of studies at Hillyer College, Mr. Weitz decided he could most effectively challenge the cold-hearted, uncaring predators of his immediate world – and those remote to it – by becoming a trial lawyer. The spark that set his mind ablaze for the study of the law was his hearing about the travesty of Love Canal, a community in upstate New York where townsfolk young and old mysteriously took ill with cancer – mysteriously until, that is, investigators put two and two together and realized the residents of Love Canal had been exposed over the span of decades to toxic chemicals wantonly dumped into their water supply by nearby profit-lusting industries. Outrage welled up in Mr. Weitz who then and there vowed to go to law school to learn how to go to court to fight this sort of mendacity.
He fulfilled that pledge to himself when, in 1983, he graduated from Hofstra University School of Law with a juris doctor degree in hand. (He came to Hofstra by way of George Washington University, completing its bachelor of arts program in 1981.) In 1985, Mr. Weitz was admitted to practice law in the state of New York; the following year his privileges were extended to include the Southern and Eastern New York jurisdictions of U.S. District Court.
Lengthy list of reported cases
Owing to their importance or significance, quite a few of the court cases he tried were immortalized in law books, periodicals and other specialized publications. One example: the matter of George vs. Celotex Corp., reported in 914 F.2d 26, 31 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 30, Prod. Liab. Rep. (CCH)P. 12,644 (2nd Cir. (N.Y.), Sep 13, 1990) (NO. 90-7144, 1339). The George in this case was Marion George. She was the widow of one Stuart George, who worked more than a half-century for a New York-based asbestos-insulation contractor and distributor. During that time, Mr. George was almost daily exposed to asbestos dust in the company’s warehouse. A substantial portion of the dust emanated from products manufactured by a company later known as Celotex. In 1976, Mr. George died of mesothelioma. Some years passed before Mrs. George decided to sue as executrix of her husband’s estate. Accordingly, she retained Mr. Weitz to represent her in that action. Celotex and 15 others were named as defendants. Stirred by Mr. Weitz’s compelling arguments during the court proceedings and again by his summation, the jury found Celotex 90-percent responsible for the death of Mr. George and awarded to Mrs. George nearly one-quarter of a million dollars in damages. Celotex – accustomed to never losing these kinds of cases thanks to the small army of corporate lawyers it could afford to hire – appealed, contending in part that the jury should never have been permitted to consider a particularly damning piece of evidence introduced by Mr. Weitz. In the end, the appeals court ruled against Celotex and allowed the lower court’s judgement to stand. Mrs. George received the justice she sought, and Mr. Weitz acquired recognition as the first New York attorney to have obtained punitive damages against the seemingly Teflon-coated Celotex Corp.
Had Mr. Weitz chosen, he could have kept private his exhaustive knowledge of victory-producing courtroom strategies. Instead, he opted to openly share those insights with others in his profession. In so doing, he helped build not only a law firm but also an entire field of practice within the plaintiffs’ bar. The list of presentations given by Mr. Weitz in important forums – as a lecturer, as a panelist, as a moderator – is quite lengthy. A random sampling: in 2011 and 2012, he co-chaired and moderated a roundtable discussion featuring prominent jurists and their cutting-edge insights from the bench regarding asbestos litigation; in 2008, he co-chaired a symposium and lectured on the topic of emerging trends in asbestos litigation; in 1996, he guided attendees of an American Conference Institute lecture through the intricacies of the then-newest innovative techniques to resolve complex tort litigation.
In a similar vein, Mr. Weitz from time to time shares his knowledge with consumers via appearances in the media. He has been an interview guest on network newscasts, morning shows, public-affairs programs, and more. One of his earliest appearances occurred in 1993 when he was tapped to shed light for viewers of Court TV on the ramifications of a lawsuit alleging dangerous defects in so-called sidesaddle gas-tanks manufactured and marketed by General Motors Corp. Topics on which Mr. Weitz has been interviewed include tobacco lawsuits, silicone breast-implant failures, motor-vehicle accidents and gun control.
Perry Weitz today has every reason to be proud of the law firm that bears his name, and to be proud of the enormous good work it has accomplished – good work now worth more than $7 billion in the form of verdicts and settlements obtained for clients. Seven billion. That translates into an abundance of justice for those ordinary people who put their faith in Mr. Weitz and Weitz & Luxenberg to deliver justice.
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