Edward Ruffo’s dedication to justice began in elementary school. He witnessed kids being bullied by students and teachers and was incensed by how power imbalances could be wielded against the most vulnerable. He knew that he had to do his part to prevent injustices like those as an adult – so, he became a lawyer.
In nearly 30 years as a medical malpractice and personal injury lawyer, Ruffo has upheld his original mission. Ruffo’s early product liability practice saw him litigate significant cases against major companies like Toyota, Ford and GM. In medical malpractice matters, he has achieved a string of multimillion-dollar verdicts and settlements. Two prominent cases involved representing injured children: In one, he secured $12M for a child who suffered brain damage at birth, and in another, he negotiated a $9M settlement for a child who sustained injuries following poor emergency care.
Ruffo practices across a range of personal injury matters, all with the goal of obtaining justice for people like the children he saw targeted on the schoolyard. “Our practice uses the law – the great equalizer – to render justice in those circumstances where wealthy institutions, corporations or powerful individuals have sacrificed the safety and well-being of others for financial gain,” he explains. “I feel that my cases and results help even an uneven playing field.”
Lawdragon: Tell me a bit about the mix of work that you do at Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo & Plotkin.
Edward Ruffo: I manage a successful personal injury law practice in New York City. We handle any case where harm has been caused by the negligence of others.
Negligence is most frequently found in cases of motor vehicle, construction and premises accidents, as well as poor medical practice. Our firm also handles cases against major drug and medical device manufacturers who have injured others with defective products with dangers that were concealed during the pre-marketing. Our office also litigates claims of abuse, harassment and workplace discrimination.
LD: Looking back on the early stages of your career, how is your career now similar or different to what you imagined? What’s been most surprising?
ER: The early years were 100 percent devoted to learning how to practice law. That learning included writing briefs, taking and defending depositions and trying cases.
The learning certainly continues, but more recent years have been filled with the business side of the law. Learning how to manage individuals and focusing on the intangibles that will allow a practice to succeed are now elements of my career that I never imagined in law school or while working as a young associate.
LD: What about within the industry – what’s changed in personal injury law?
ER: The most surprising development in the evolution of personal injury law is that it now encompasses a consumer-based approach to litigation. For example, the last decade has seen a shift from single-event cases to cases of systemic harm, such as the industry-wide sale of addictive drugs or the contamination of water sources in a community. The victims can now be large population subsets or even local, city, county and state governments whose medical insurance reimbursement programs were forced to pay for treatment of harm that could and should have been avoided.
LD: You were originally a product liability lawyer. What inspired your shift to medical malpractice and personal injury?
The last decade has seen a shift from single-event cases to cases of systemic harm, such as the industry-wide sale of addictive drugs or the contamination of water sources in a community.
ER: I was initially assigned to handle products liability work out of law school and worked on matters against major automotive and machinery manufacturers. As those products became safer, those claims reduced and out of employment necessity I transitioned to handling claims of general negligence and medical malpractice.
Medical malpractice was especially challenging. I learned the language of medicine without the benefit of the internet, relying solely on a medical dictionary that soon became my most trusted desk book. I feel that the personal injury lawyer who has learned how to litigate a medical malpractice case is a most highly valued commodity for any firm. That expertise sets you apart in so many ways.
LD: Do you have any advice for current law school students?
ER: Law school does not always deliver a career in the law. Many of my classmates went on to have successful careers in real estate, finance, corporate governance and several other non-legal positions of distinction. Law school training does, however, deliver a critical and logical thought process allowing you to analyze and solve most every situation. Earning a law degree is truly a special accomplishment that can be parlayed into great career achievement both within and outside the industry of law.
LD: Which cases in your career stand out as particularly memorable?
ER: Ironically, the most memorable cases don’t necessarily include those with the highest awards or settlements. In large part, if you represent someone with a significant injury with obvious liability, the case speaks for itself, and a lucrative result will be certain.
Proud and memorable moments occur when you “pull the rabbit out the hat.” For the majority of my career, I worked in firms where I was not the most experienced trial lawyer. If you’re not as experienced, you are often left with trying the cases no one else wants. Every firm has a handful of cases that just can’t settle because the liability you thought existed was effectively explained away during the discovery process. These cases still needed to be concluded and became the kamikaze missions, so I was very often assigned as the pilot.
One case particularly stands out. I was able to obtain a successful jury verdict in a case against a reputable physician using an expert who had been effectively shunned by the medical community. In fact, the expert was found by my client, as our firm’s traditional resources for expert location and retention had turned up no one. I met with the expert, developed a theory and bought him a nice suit to wear to court (as he didn’t have one). Thankfully, the jurors kept an open mind and let common sense dictate their verdict.
LD: What are the most challenging aspects of the cases you work on?
ER: Complexity of the subject matter in a case can be a very daunting aspect of my practice. Medical malpractice cases within subspecialities like ophthalmology, neurosurgery and hematology are challenging. By the time it comes to deposing the defendant, I need to know the medicine of the case inside and out or I will do nothing at deposition to lead to a favorable result.
The same is true in cases with complicated concepts of engineering and product design. Recently, I had to navigate through a failure to diagnosis case where it could be argued the delay in diagnosis made little to no difference in the ultimate outcome. When that happens, even cases of clear liability will be unsuccessful. Through the help of experts and review of the case law I was able to fight off efforts to dismiss the case, which now is postured to resolve favorably for my client.
LD: That’s wonderful. What other kinds of matters are you working on now?
ER: Current matters still include medical malpractice and general negligence case of all specialties and types. My partners have developed lines of work in areas of abuse and harassment and toxic tort litigations. I have had a hand in those litigations to remain well-rounded in my expertise while, at the same time, focusing on business acquisition and firm publicity in the new age of social media advertisement.
Managed healthcare has removed the intimacy that medical care was founded upon, like the “house call.” This lack of personalization will likely give rise to more and more claims of malpractice in the ensuing years.
LD: Can you share a lawyer you have come up against in a negotiation or case that you admire, and why?
ER: I hate to put someone on the spot. Suffice it to say that there are several well-seasoned defense attorneys who I wish would “hang it up” already so I might have an easier path to victory.
On the defense side, I do feel that a very talented generation of trial lawyers is soon to call it quits and I’m not certain if the younger defense attorneys have enjoyed the requisite experience to replace them admirably. On my side of the cases, I would say my partners and young associates are all extremely formidable advocates and I’m glad they are on my team.
LD: Are there any current trends you’re seeing in the medical malpractice, personal injury or wrongful death spaces?
ER: In positive trends in wrongful death cases, the likelihood is that New York will soon allow close survivors emotional damages for losing a loved one due to negligence.
In malpractice cases, managed healthcare has resulted in many claims where the error is quite often not the dispensing of poor care but failure to follow up with test results or a failure to communicate among healthcare professionals treating the same patients. Long gone is the day of the solo practitioner who would leave his or her office and check on their patients admitted to the local hospital. Managed healthcare has removed the intimacy that medical care was founded upon, like the “house call.” This lack of personalization will likely give rise to more and more claims of malpractice in the ensuing years. Doctors need to see 10 times the number of patients today to earn the same dollar one patient encounter would yield years ago. Accordingly, the time spent with each patient has dwindled and attention to detail has suffered.
Personal injury claims have migrated to the consumer-based litigations where the harm is more widespread and causes both personal physical injury and economic injury to institutions.
“Personal” is becoming somewhat of a misnomer as many of the larger and more established firms seek representation by municipal plaintiffs. Abuse cases have also become more prevalent as laws have been enacted to revive statutes of limitations for wrongs occurring in the distant past.
LD: What do you find most fulfilling about your practice?
ER: The most fulfilling parts of the practice are the testimonials of my clients. My clients become like my family. They all have my cell number and an invitation to contact me at any time, even with the least pressing concern. To hear at the end of the case that my efforts made a huge difference in their life, family, profession and well-being is the greatest reward a career can offer. It’s human nature to enjoy feeling appreciated.