This week, your hosts Steve Lowry and Yvonne Godfrey interview John Uusta of Kelley | Uustal (https://kelleyuustal.com/).
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John Uustal, a founding partner of Kelley | Uustal in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, discusses how he refused to accept the findings of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, engineering experts, firefighters and police officers and instead pursued justice for a 3-year-old girl who was badly burned by a defective pressure cooker. On September 14, 2015, toddler Samantha Gonzalez was being bathed by her grandmother in the kitchen sink when a Vasconia Aluminum 8 Quart Pressure Cooker on the nearby stove began to malfunction and opened under pressure, spraying scalding liquid onto the child. Sixty percent of Samantha's body was covered in second and third-degree burns, resulting in the loss of a leg, hand and all her fingers. The manufacturer, Lifetime Brands, denied any defect and instead blamed Samantha's grandmother for the tragic incident. John and his legal team discovered a major corporate cover-up when older models, unlike the newer models that had been used for testing, were found to have a defective lid-locking system that made them unsafe for use on stoves with higher temperatures higher than 2,000 watts. Despite knowledge of the design flaw, Lifetime Brands never issued a recall or a warning to consumers and instead quietly made design adjustments in newer models. On November 6, 2018, a Broward County, Florida Circuit Court Judge approved a $27 million settlement in favor of the plaintiff, resulting in one of the largest recoveries ever obtained in the U.S. for a consumer product design defect.
John Uustal is a founding partner of the Kelley | Uustal law firm in Fort Lauderdale. Uustal leads a team of fourteen elite trial lawyers, who have won some of the largest verdicts in the country. He limits his own practice to a small number of “cases that can’t be won for families that can’t afford to lose.” He has taken on some of the most complex and difficult legal cases of our time. His successes have resulted in safer fuel tanks, safer seat belts, safer medical care, and safer equipment for firefighters. That success has earned him some powerful enemies. A car company promised to bankrupt him, he was attacked and maligned by Big Tobacco, and he was threatened in Argentina after antagonizing government officials who had been complicit in Argentina’s dirty war. He has won every case he has tried against tobacco companies. He has won every one of his cases involving keyless ignition defects. He has been named Product Liability Lawyer of the Year by America’s Best Lawyers, awarded the Most Effective Lawyer for Product Liability by the Daily Business Review, and has been interviewed and chronicled by national newspapers and television news programs.
The day after John Uustal started law school, Hurricane Andrew tore through the University of Miami, destroyed parts of the city, and shut down the school. Once the campus and surrounding areas reopened, his first-year class was forced to complete a full year of law school in much less time. For months they studied law at a ridiculous pace under tremendous pressure while living without electricity or phone service and at the same time struggling to help those still in need. At the end of that school year – with all its impossible demands and incredible responsibility - Mr. Uustal ranked first in the entire student body and had earned the Book Award for the highest grade in the class in every single class that year.
He turned his attention to trial skills and was prosecuting criminals in Miami courtrooms even before he graduated. He earned what was reportedly the highest score in the entire state on the Florida Bar Examination. In his first few years of practice he obtained a $51 million verdict trying a car crash case himself, helped make national news when he discovered a massive corporate scheme to cover-up the real reason that people were burning alive in General Motors vehicles, and tried cases across the country.
Mr. Uustal now handles incredibly complex and difficult cases against the best defense attorneys in the world. His successes have resulted in safer fuel tanks, safer seat belts, safer medical care, and safer equipment for firefighters and paramedics.
His most prominent recent cases have been against companies that knowingly sell dangerously defective products. He represented a young girl who was severely burned when a pressure cooker malfunctioned and won one of the largest recoveries ever in the entire country; and this was on a case that other lawyers rejected. He handled cases involving keyless ignition defects that killed people in their homes and won every case. He was so infuriated by the refusal of automobile companies to fix their vehicles in the ways their own engineers specified that he worked with the
New York Times on a comprehensive story of the defect, which led to hearings in the U.S. Senate. He has won every case he has tried against tobacco manufacturers, who have been selling dangerous products for decades. He has been named Product Liability Lawyer of the Year by America’s Best Lawyers, Awarded the Most Effective Lawyer for Product Liability by the Daily Business Review, and has been interviewed and chronicled by national newspapers and television news programs.
His work has also earned him some powerful enemies. A car company promised to bankrupt him, he was attacked and maligned by Big Tobacco, and he was threatened in Argentina after antagonizing government officials who had been complicit in Argentina’s dirty war. His firm is organized specifically so that it can withstand such intimidation. The words of Clarence Darrow, painted on the walls, create clarity in every decision that requires sacrifice: “I have lived my life, and I have fought my battles, against power. I have asked no odds from them, and I never will.”
Mr. Uustal limits his practice to representing families who have suffered catastrophic injuries or wrongful death, even when other attorneys say the case can’t be won. With truly devastating injuries, the difference between a good recovery and a great recovery may be all the difference in the world. To make that kind of difference he can only handle a few cases at a time. There is no other way.
Clients have called him “the real deal”; “an old-school fighter” who “cared about us as people first.”
Mr. Uustal grew up in Fort Lauderdale. His mother was a teacher, his father was a coach, and he saw the real impact they each had on so many young lives. He coaches competitive soccer for Fort Lauderdale Select, and he finds opportunities to coach in the law as well. He believes that it is important to freely give his time advising, assisting and teaching other attorneys who ask for help. He gives lectures across the country and teaches trial skills.
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