FindLaw Newsmaker Profiles - John Edwards
JOHN EDWARDS
Democratic Candidate for President, 2008

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Legal Professionals, see
The Thomson Legal Record for John R. Edwards
Providing the complete litigation record for John Edwards
Born: June 10, 1953, Seneca, South Carolina
Occupation: Director of the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Prior Occupation: U.S. Senator, North Carolina
Trial Lawyer
Education: B.S., North Carolina State University, 1974
J.D., University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1977
Newsmaker Profile:

      As a veteran trial lawyer, John Edwards brings to his Vice Presidential candidacy years of legal experience honed in personal injury cases in state and federal courts. Until he graduated law school at the University of North Carolina, he explains in his autobiography The Four Trials, "[t]here were no lawyers in my extended family. There were millworkers, grocery clerks, ministers, Marines, boxers - but not lawyers." When he was eleven years old, Edwards wrote that he wanted to be a lawyer "to protect innocent people from blind justice the best I can." Edwards pursed this vision trying to live his life by righting wrongs, captivated by television shows like The Fugitive and Perry Mason. Twenty-seven years after he passed the bar exam, Edwards' track record as a litigator remains remarkable: according to North Carolina Lawyers Weekly, he obtained verdicts and settlements for his clients totaling more than $175 million over his career.

      Republicans and Democrats continue their debate over malpractice awards medical costs, and corporate liability during the 2004 presidential election campaigns, but even conservative publications like The National Review bestow a healthy respect of Edwards, acknowledging that he "brings real strengths to the Democratic ticket." His twenty years of success as a trial lawyer, followed by his election to the U.S. Senate, are surely a key factor for such respect.

      Edwards' successful track record as a trial lawyer is intimately connected to his skill at communicating his clients' cases to juries. He is a master of breaking down sophisticated medical terms into layman's language, and known for his meticulous trial preparation.

      The wide variety of personal injury cases that Edwards accepted (some of which are detailed in his Thomson Legal Record and on Westlaw) were generally complex, and typically involved life-altering tragedies. He obtained multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements for catastrophic birth injuries to newborns. In the 1988 case of a couple whose daughter suffered cerebral palsy when a doctor and hospital staff failed to timely respond to fetal distress, Edwards' and his legal team won a $1.5 million pre-trial settlement against the obstetrician, and $6.5 million trial verdict against the hospital (later reduced to $4.25 million). In another case involving birth-related injuries, including cerebral palsy, he secured a jury verdict of more than $23 million.

      Edwards' first big damages award involved the medical malpractice case of E.G. Sawyer, a salesman who sought medical help for his drinking problem. Instead of help, however, he received a debilitating overdose of Antabuse, the drug used to control alcoholism. Edwards showed the jury that the doctor and hospital gave his client three times the maximum daily recommended drug dosage, resulting in permanent brain and nerve damage. A judge warned him that local "juries down here don't award more than a hundred thousand dollars." Since the plaintiff was an alcoholic, the judge added, he said Edwards' client would lose the case. The jury's disagreed, awarding Mr. Sawyer damages of $3.7 million. Injuries and wrongful death lawsuits from motor vehicle accidents involving cars and trucks were also a staple of Edwards' law practice. Reported settlements for some of these included damage awards of $3 - $5.89 million. Settlements in some of his other, similar cases remain confidential, but may have been even higher.

      Perhaps no trial victory was greater in the eyes of Edwards's fellow lawyers than his record-setting product liability award for the Lakey family, parents of a five-year-old girl whose daughter was disemboweled after she became caught in a wading-pool drain, and lived. The manufacturer, Sta-Rite Industries, knew about similar drain cover injury lawsuits involving its products, but still failed to include a warning on the drain's cover. The company initially offered Edwards' $100,000 to settle his clients' case, The jury rendered a verdict of $25 million. Under North Carolina law at the time, punitive damages could have tripled that award, but Edwards' clients settled. For that case, Edwards and his law partner were honored with a public service award from the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.

      In January 2004, an obscure conservative web site charge that Edwards' trial record was based upon “junk science”, alleging that cerebral palsy and brain damage may not be birth-related injuries. GOP supporters and talk show hosts have repeated this “junk science” label, but retired North Carolina Superior Court Judge Robert Farmer, who presided over a landmark $25M product liability case that Edwards successfully litigated, rebuked such claims in an interview on Fox News.

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