Photo provided by the firm.
Miami-based attorney Stuart Grossman is recognized as a leading trial lawyer for his work in personal injury and medial malpractice cases over more than 40 years in practice. The legal battle over the wrongful death of a 10-year-old in a vehicular accident and a high-profile case involving three Cuban shipyard workers suing over poor work conditions are just two of the many successful battles Grossman has waged in his career. In February 2014, the Grossman Roth name partner received the Compassionate Gladiator Award by the Florida Justice Association.
Lawdragon: Congratulations on winning the Compassionate Gladiator Award. What did winning that award mean to you?
Stuart Grossman: First and foremost, it caused me to appreciate how fortunate I was to have received training from JB Spence, Buddy Payne and Dick Masington, who were giants in the trial bar in Miami. While all four of us had very different styles, it at least confirmed to me that my style has worked. By that I mean you don’t have to be overly aggressive and hostile in order to succeed. Having said that, my favorite quote about me was from the president of a national mediation firm: “Whether a street fight or a court battle, Stuart Grossman will prevail – fair and square!”
LD: Prior to your legal career, you spent two years on active duty with the U.S. Coast Guard during the Vietnam War era. When you returned, you enrolled in law school at the University of Miami. Can you tell us about the transition?
SG: At the time I went into the service, I had followed the classic unbroken path of a student. Except for summer vacations, it was all that I ever was. Virtually overnight, I wound up in boot camp and then on active duty in the United States for the next two years. The biggest lesson I learned from this two-year break in student life is that much of our society struggles every day to make ends meet, to raise families, to survive. The cultures, the races, the religions and frankly, the lack of formal education, of the people I spent those two years with were both eye opening and challenging. It was time very well spent.
LD: When did you realize that representing injured plaintiffs was going to be your life’s work and passion?
SG: I was taking a law school class taught by the late Walter Beckham, a legendary trial lawyer, who had been a founding partner of the Perry Nichols law firm, and listening to him connect injury with disability and then to damages was fascinating. I realized this specialty, if practiced well, made a difference in people’s lives.
LD: You’re recognized in the legal industry as an expert on malpractice. Can you tell us what led to your interest in this area of practice?
SG: JB Spence and Bill Colson earned the first million-dollar verdict malpractice case in Florida in the mid-1960s. So the field was not overly populated, but seemed to attract the best and brightest of the plaintiffs’ bar. On a personal basis I had a real epiphany when I went to a small town in Kentucky and walked across an uneven floor to a crib that contained a brain damaged baby, whose birth back in Miami, as I discovered, was mishandled. I was fascinated by the interrelationship of obstetrical negligence and brain damage and the innocence of the victim. I just had to do that work.
LD: You’ve been recognized for your work in a particular case involving the wrongful death of a child. Can you tell us about this legal battle that lasted for eight years?
SG: The case of Goldberg v. Florida Power and Light involved the death of a 10-year-old in a vehicular accident at an intersection where the power company turned off the power to the traffic signal. This was because of a fallen wire that needed to be re-energized in the area, which necessitated the entire power grid being deactivated. The case was fraught with various complications including the child’s mother’s own negligence, another driver’s negligence, and traditional tort immunity for certain actions that inure to the benefit of Florida’s utilities.
The $34 million dollar verdict that we obtained was, at the time, a record for the wrongful death of a child in the United States. It was later affirmed on appeal by the intermediate appellate court. That same appellate court met en banc and reversed the trial court and the jury’s verdict. Then the Florida Supreme Court reinstated the verdict, however, reduced it to $10 million dollars finding that that was the highest sustainable amount that the court could allow.
It was a long, hard-fought battle which was vigorously defended by Florida Power and Light. The most gratifying part of the case was that the child’s mother was found not comparatively at fault in this accident. The case remains a landmark in Florida.
LD: Among your many high-profile cases, you were one of the four attorneys that helped three Cuban shipyard workers win an $80 million dollar verdict on claims of poor work conditions. Can you tell us how your team was able to establish jurisdiction in the U.S. and prevail in court? Were you able to collect the judgment?
SG: This is one of the trickiest matters that we have been called upon to handle because there were threshold jurisdictional issues that we had to overcome by showing that the defendant was actually doing significant business in the United States and had even used mass courts to sue their customers. We then devised a strategy that used both Alien Tort Statute and the Racketeering and Corruption Practices Act in order to further our claims and succeed in the lawsuit. With respect to collecting the judgment, we are utilizing several means to do that, including issuing writs of garnishment against customers of the defendant. Ship repairs typically cost millions of dollars and we are involved in directing payment to our clients.
LD: You formed your own firm in 1988 and grew Grossman Roth to its current stature. What advice would you give to the young attorneys who want to start their own firm in today’s world?
SG: I would say be diversified and learn to apply your skill set to a host of legal cases that sound both in tort and in business law. In order to develop a skill set, however you need to get to trial. There is no substitute for that. So my recommendation would be that before one ventures out to form a firm, you take every opportunity to try as many cases in various areas of law as you possibly can and develop a style and a reputation that even in a crowded legal community, there is a niche and a need for your services.