Lawyer Limelight: Thomas Scolaro

Thomas Scolaro, of Leesfield Scolaro, is an impassioned personal injury attorney with a strong track record in southern Florida. When his brother suffered life-changing injuries in a car accident, Scolaro, a law school student at the time, hired Ira Leesfield to handle the case, after an extensive search for the right advocate. One year later, Scolaro was clerking for Leesfield’s firm. He then moved up the ranks as associate and then junior partner, to his current position as named senior partner. Scolaro fights tirelessly for his clients, having obtained more than $100 million in settlements and verdicts to date, and regularly advocates for better industry standards to prevent future injuries. He is based in Miami.

Lawdragon: Can you describe for our readers the mix of work you do within your practice?

Thomas Scolaro: I am a trial lawyer handling complex and catastrophic injury and death claims. My cases run the gamut from product liability to medical malpractice, including defective firearms, furniture tip overs, electrical receptacle failure and fires, carbon monoxide poisoning, malpractice on cruise ships, jail infirmaries, suicides at psychiatric hospitals, emergency medicine mistakes, sexual assault and abuse against clergy, camps and counselors, interstate trucking accidents and much more.

LD: How did you first become interested in developing this type of practice?

TS: By accident. While I was in law school my brother was seriously injured by a drunk driver who got intoxicated at a company retreat. I was put in charge of finding a lawyer that would hold the defendants financially accountable and provide for my brother for the rest of his life. After interviewing the top firms in Miami, I was most impressed by Ira Leesfield. I hired him and he delivered as promised. A year later I went to clerk for his firm. That was just over 20 years ago. Been here doing this type of work ever since.

LD: What are some aspects about this work that you find professionally satisfying? What keeps you excited about it?

TS: My indoctrination into this area of law was through the eyes of my brother who suffered severe brain injuries. I know the anxiety that accompanies a terrible tragedy. I understand the economic uncertainties that they face. I have been there with my brother. He had his whole life ahead of him and it was taken away. I never forget the purpose that these families hire me for. It is a tremendous responsibility and the relief that I can get the victims and their families is priceless. Watching a client receive the measure of justice that they deserve never gets old.

LD: Out of all the work you’ve done in your career, what would you say is the most interesting matter you’ve handled?

TS: The most interesting matter, for sure, is all my current litigation against Taurus. They made firearms that we allege contain a number of defects that can result in an inadvertent discharge without the trigger being pulled. It is complicated, intricate and they are an extremely formidable and well-financed opponent. However, we believe in our cases and we have the engineering facts on our side.

LD: Are there any trends you are seeing in your practice in terms of the types of matters keeping you busy these days?

TS: All of my cases are referral-based and many attorneys are finding the need to get us involved earlier because quick resolution is a thing of the past. Insurance companies are digging in more and more and that requires extensive and protracted litigation and trial. My team and I are well-equipped and well-financed to handle these matters to the end.

LD: Can you describe a recent matter that you’ve handled?

TS: A two-year-old boy was killed when he tried to climb up his dresser to reach the baby-cam. As he pulled out the drawers to climb to the top, the center of gravity shifted and the dresser tipped over onto him. He asphyxiated to death. He only weighed 30 pounds yet was able to cause the dresser to tip over. We successfully settled the lawsuit with the manufacturer. However, since this dresser was actually compliant with all furniture industry tip-over standards, I felt that we needed to shine a flashlight on the inadequacy of the voluntary furniture tip-over standard and hold them accountable. I am currently suing the furniture industry trade group, American Home Furnishings Alliance and ASTM International for negligently promulgating a known inadequate tip-over standard. A 30-pound, two-year-old boy should never be able to tip over a dresser. If that can happen then the standard used by manufacturers is grossly inept.

LD: What are some of the key challenges of going up against this trade group?

TS: Several. Most notably, the furniture industry claims that it owes no duty to the public and therefore cannot be responsible for recommending that all manufacturers adopt and build their furniture to its specifications. As a voluntary trade association it claims that its standards are advisory only and that manufacturers are free to develop their own tip-over standards irrespective of its claim that they are the voice of the entire furniture industry.

LD: What might be the larger impact on the industry if you’re successful with this case?

TS: If we are successful then families who have lost children will be able to hold the standard-setters responsible. In the end, however, my client is mostly interested in change. She wants the trade group to strengthen the tip-over standard by increasing the testing weight and the testing methodology. Currently, the testing is done by pulling only one drawer out at a time.  That is not how a child does it. They pull out multiple drawers to use as a sort of ladder to get to the top. That has to change or more children will die. It’s that simple.

LD: Aside from your brother’s accident, were there any other influences that led you to a career in the law?

TS: My father was a truck driver and wanted a better life for me than the life he had. He had great respect for lawyers and looked up to them as agents of change. He pushed me toward the law. I just wanted him to be proud of me and think of me in the same way as those lawyers he respected.

LD: Is there a specific reason why you chose University of Miami over another law school?

TS: I grew up in a small town in upstate New York. I was looking to get as far away as possible to a top-tier school and the University of Miami checked that box — plus they had just built the country’s premier student wellness center complete with indoor basketball courts. I was, and still am, a big fitness guy, so that was a must-have.

LD: Is this the type of practice you imagined yourself practicing while in law school?

TS: No. I always imagined that I would be a prosecutor like Jack McCoy from Law & Order. When I thought about being a lawyer that was the only image I ever had.

LD: Was there a course or professor that was particularly memorable or important in what practice you chose?

TS: The day my brother got into his accident, I went to my three favorite professors and asked for recommendations for the best personal injury attorneys in Miami. It was not until I hired Ira Leesfield and later went to clerk at his firm that I said goodbye to Jack McCoy and embraced what I was truly meant to do.

LD: What advice do you have now for current law school students?

TS: You may think you know what you want to do or have a particular plan. However, don’t ignore serendipity and chance. Things happen for a reason. Just be smart enough to see it when it happens.    

LD: It sounds like Ira Leesfield was something of a mentor in your early career.

TS: Absolutey. When I first met him I was a 22-year-old kid in charge of hiring a lawyer to protect my brother. He gave me a chance to clerk in law school and it was through that opportunity that I fell in love with being a trial lawyer. He has helped me see that the law is there to protect the little guy just as much as the corporate interests and insurance companies. You just have to be more tenacious and outwork and outsmart your opponent.

LD: How would you describe your style as a lawyer?

TS: I would like to think that I am unrelenting on my clients’ behalf. My goal is always to be aggressive but civil along the way. There is no need to make things personal. My opposing counsel is not the one that manufactured the defective product or failed to issue the recall, or whatever the case may be. I save my indignation for those that truly deserve it, usually the recalcitrant defendant when I get them in a deposition.

LD: What do you enjoy about your firm in terms of culture or other characteristics?

TS: I am truly blessed to work with a great group of professionals who share our vision and are equally committed to our clients.

LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?

TS: I love spending time with my wife and our two-year-old son. Apart from that I am a CrossFit junkie and have played baseball every Sunday morning for the last 20 years. Baseball has always been my first love and still I cannot give it up. I will likely keep playing until my arm falls off.