Andrew Yaffa, Neal Roth, Stuart Grossman and Gary Cohen
In a Florida courtroom in the 1970s, two young lawyers stood opposite each other: a burgeoning medical malpractice attorney and an insurance defense lawyer soon to be on the other side. They recognized in each other something of the same stuff – an unyielding commitment to their clients and an expectation for meticulous excellence.
Those two lawyers, Stuart Grossman and Neal Roth, would go on to become two of the most celebrated personal injury attorneys in Florida, both winning accolades including the Al J. Cone Lifetime Achievement Award and the Perry Nichols Award. Together, they’d also form one of Florida’s preeminent trial and medical malpractice firms: Grossman Roth Yaffa Cohen.
Grossman and Roth came to the law from different backgrounds. Grossman entered bootcamp during the Vietnam War and spent two years in the Coast Guard. Toward the end of his service, he worked from midnight until 8 AM so he could take classes at the University of Miami Law School during the day. Eventually, he began working under trial legend JB Spence, who himself was a protégé of Perry Nichols.
Roth’s entry to the law came after a leg-crushing injury when he was 15. “I had tremendous respect for all the doctors who took care of me,” he reflects. “I felt that if that level of care could be given to me, why couldn’t there be more of that – and, I wondered, why was there less?” So, though he started briefly as an insurance defense lawyer – where he met Grossman – Roth soon found his home in plaintiffs’ medical malpractice. Like Grossman, Roth also worked with a legal legend: Stanley Rosenblatt, who took on a historic headline-making Big Tobacco case and other prominent lawsuits.
By the mid-1980s, Roth had already started his own firm and was looking for a partner. Grossman was also looking for someone to strike out with. So, in 1988, they created what is now Grossman Roth Yaffa Cohen. The firm has grown to 11 lawyers, eight full-time medical investigators and a number of other vital team members, with offices in Miami and Boca Raton. While the firm has always served and will continue to serve the South Florida community, the attorneys are sought after for cases nationwide.
In every case, the firm’s attorneys strive to not only achieve financial compensation for their clients, but to institute tangible policy changes that will save lives going forward. Andrew Yaffa explains the philosophy by imagining a hole in a water bucket. “We don’t put our finger in the hole,” he says. “We get a new bucket. We want to make sure that we are fixing problems in our society.”
Over the last 35 years, those small changes have added up to seismic shifts – one case at a time.
A MISSING DIAGNOSIS: THE CHANTEL BERMAN CASE
Chantel Berman was born with a congenital heart abnormality – a hole in her heart that shunted blood to her lungs. Unfortunately, her doctors didn’t see that.
“As the saying goes, ‘babies are not little adults,’” says Roth, who took on Chantel’s case just before he set up shop with Grossman. Because Chantel’s doctors didn’t appreciate that fact, a simple mistake by an adult cardiologists led to irreversible damage; at three months old, her EKG was read upside down. “Had the cardiologist appreciated that and turned it around, he would have seen the EKG findings were consistent with a congenital heart abnormality,” explains Roth, “which could have been treated had it been picked up when it should have been.” Instead, the diagnosis wasn’t made until Chantel was six years old. When she was just on the cusp of her teen years, she passed away.
Just before jury selection, the hospital finally agreed to settlement terms. In addition to compensating Chantelle’s family, the hospital agreed to a policy change: All EKGs performed on children 12 and under would be read by a pediatric cardiologist. “I don’t know how many lives have been changed by that policy, but even if it’s just one, that’s meaningful to me,” says Roth.
EXPANDING: THE EDWARDS CHOKEHOLD CASE AND FLORIDA POWER & LIGHT
The initial vision for GRYC was small and selective – focusing on medical malpractice cases, specifically. “I told Stuart, ‘If we build it, they will come,’” remembers Roth, “And we did. And they did.”
By 1993, five years into the firm’s life, the attorneys had already made a name for themselves in the medical malpractice world. But, in that year, things started to shift.
The story will sound familiar. On a January day in 1992, a 24-year-old Black man named Antonio Edwards was eating lunch outside his car. The police approached Edwards and a physical altercation ensued. An officer claimed he saw Edwards reach for a gun in the car and put him in a chokehold. Then, the officer slammed Edwards into the pavement and continued the chokehold until Edwards suffered a heart attack and severe brain damage. Edwards lived in a coma for 10 years before passing away. No weapon was ever found in his car, and the officer was never charged.
Until that point, the firm had taken on almost exclusively medical malpractice work. But the attorneys’ passion for helping victims wouldn’t be confined to one practice area: Grossman took on Edwards’ case.
By the time the case was settled in 1993, the City of Miami paid $7.5M, along with footing the bill for Edwards’ medical care for the rest of his life – at the time, one of the largest settlements to come out of a police brutality case.
Grossman continues to be shocked by persisting police violence. “They’re dispensing justice on the street corner,” he says. “It makes you wonder who’s watching out for us.”
As the Chantel Berman case changed pediatric cardiology, the Edwards case changed policing in Miami: The chokehold was officially banned. To this day, Grossman says a photo of his face hangs in the Miami-Dade police precinct: “Administer the chokehold, and you’ve got to answer to this guy,” the photo implies.
“I don’t know how many lives have been changed by that policy, but even if it’s just one, that’s meaningful to me."
The desire to expand outside of medical malpractice work to help as many victims as possible only grew from there. In 1997, Grossman took on an even larger case: Goldberg v. Florida Power and Light – going up against the largest utility company in the state for the first time.
The incident seemed simple: a downed power line left a six-inch scorch on a woman’s lawn, and the power company came to fix the fallen wire, cutting power in the area – including streetlights at a busy intersection. The police offered help managing traffic, but the power company declined.
At the same time, two mothers and their daughters were crossing at that intersection. A storm was raging, and because the streetlights were out, the cars crashed. Due to the power company’s negligence, one of the young daughters died.
In the end, Grossman steered the case through trial and to victory: The result was the largest verdict for the wrongful death of a child in the country at that time. And, yet again, the result helped ensure that the tragedy would not be repeated: Florida Power and Light is now required to have police present at their construction sites.
The case would continue a trend of taking on major corporations who harmed everyday people – leading to defective product cases and construction cases, like the recent Champlain Towers South collapse in Surfside, Fla.
“TOMATOLAND”: THE CARLITOS CANDELARIO-HERRERA CASE
In 1993, the same year as the Edwards case, Grossman took a first-year law student under his wing: Andy Yaffa. The son of a doctor, Yaffa intended to work at the firm to learn how to defend medical malpractice cases. Instead, he fell in love with the practice. “Until I started working here, I never saw the truth, which is that there are many people harmed or worse as a result of horrific medical errors,” he says.
Yaffa was just the fourth lawyer to join the firm; two years later, Gary Cohen came along. Cohen’s career has been 100 percent focused on medical malpractice from the start, spending ten years working with trial legend Sheldon Schlesinger before coming to GRYC.
Of the partners, Cohen and Roth both focus almost exclusively on advocating for victims of medical malpractice – Yaffa, however, began following in Grossman’s footsteps and adding other cases to his roster. “I don’t think there’s any case out there that we are not equipped and able to do at the highest of levels,” he says.
One day, Yaffa received a call about a case involving a tomato farm worker whose child had been born with no limbs. Through the discovery process, Yaffa learned that the company had provided no personal protective equipment to the farm workers who were being sent into fields freshly sprayed with a “witch’s brew” of pesticides known to cause birth defects – including Carlitos’. In the end, Yaffa successfully proved Carlitos’ condition was the direct result of his mother’s exposure to these chemicals. Yaffa also testified before Congress regarding the case, and the company agreed to make changes to their safety procedures as a result. The case was featured in the book “Tomatoland,” which covers atrocities like these that farm workers face.
Yaffa attributes his success on the case to the full backing of everyone at the firm. The firm’s supportive environment is one of its hallmarks – the attorneys say they treat each other like family. “[The partners] are selfless, they are caring, they are warriors,” says Yaffa. “Absent blood relatives, we don’t get any closer.”
The team works to ensure that family dynamic also carries over into their attorneys’ home lives, prioritizing personal well-being over hitting billable hours. Having that kind of support to spend time with family, says Cohen, makes the team better lawyers. “It makes you more empathetic with other people’s issues because you really know their problems. It’s not just a client walking in and telling you a story – you’re living a lot of it yourself,” he says. The partners have often supported their staff outside of work, paying hospital bills and funeral expenses.
Roth feels that level of unquestioning support fosters trust. “Loyalty doesn’t just show up on your doorstep,” he adds. “It’s earned.”
MAJOR TRAGEDIES OF TODAY: SURFSIDE CONDO COLLAPSE AND THE PARKLAND MASSACRE
The firm continues to aid individual victims, but in recent years they’ve also taken on large-scale tragedies that have drawn national attention.
In 2018, the firm began representing victims and families of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which killed 17 and sent shockwaves through the nation. Roth and Grossman, along with partner Alex Arteaga-Gomez and other firms, have worked on those cases. They represented three families whose children were killed and two students who were shot and suffered serious injuries in litigation against the Department of Justice which, in 2021, resulted in a $127.5M settlement. The firm also took part in a suit against the School Board of Broward County, which settled all claims for $25M. The litigation continues now against the Broward County Sherriff’s Office, as well as several individuals responsible for safety at the school.
“Loyalty doesn’t just show up on your doorstep,” he adds. “It’s earned.”
Then, in 2021, the Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside, Fla., collapsed – killing 98, injuring many others, and leaving every resident without a home. Grossman Roth attorneys led key aspects of the litigation; attorney Rachel Furst (who has since left the firm) was appointed co-chair lead counsel, and Grossman served as Wrongful Death Damage Claim Liaison Counsel.
The personal stories of the victims touched Grossman profoundly – both those who were killed and those who were rendered homeless. “Those who survived had nowhere to go, and they lost everything,” he says. He imagines the questions they had to ask themselves: “Where do I sleep? Where’s my passport? Where’s my wristwatch? Where are my car keys?”
Last summer, the final settlement reached nearly $1.1B and included more than 30 settling defendants. “I was proud of the legal community. There were a lot of great lawyers getting together and doing their part. I was proud of Judge Michael Hanzman, Bruce Greer and the Miami Bar,” he says.
CONTINUING WHAT THEY STARTED: THE DR. BERTO LOPEZ CASES
Though the firm’s practice has expanded since its early days focusing exclusively on medical malpractice, their expertise and presence in the area has not waned: Malpractice cases still make up a sizeable percentage of the firm’s cases.
In the last couple of years, Cohen has litigated multiple cases against repeat offender OB/GYN Berto Lopez. In 2021, Cohen says, “Lopez killed my client. And when I say killed, I mean killed.”
Cohen’s client, Onystei Castillo-Lopez, died of postpartum hemorrhage as Lopez’s patient. While working on the case, Cohen learned that Lopez had been reported for medical malpractice repeatedly over the last 20 years: Six women had died under his care, multiple injuries to babies he birthed and two babies suffered bungled circumcisions and multiple tragic injuries were reported. Yet, Lopez continued operating. While in the process of finishing the case, Lopez performed yet another botched circumcision, after learning that his license to practice medicine in Florida was permanently revoked, leading Cohen to take on a second client.
Luckily, Cohen’s advocacy prevailed. For the first time in his 43-year medical malpractice career, Cohen saw a doctor’s license permanently removed, saving future parents and babies from similar fates to Cohen’s clients’.
Cohen adds that the substandard oversight that allowed Lopez to continue practicing is exacerbated by an increasing pattern: major corporations buying up hospitals in Florida. “They come in and they slash budgets, the number of nurses and quality assurance,” he says. In multiple of Berto Lopez’s reported malpractice incidents, he was working in hospitals owned by Tenet Healthcare Corporation: “The Tenet hospital wanted his admissions,” Cohen says. “They just didn’t care.”
The attorneys say they’re also seeing a rise in aggressive tort reform – and the team has always fought, and continues to fight, to ensure the courts stay accessible to all. In the Parkland cases, Arteaga-Gomez recently spoke at the House Subcommittee on Civil Justice in opposition of House Bill 837, which, among other measures, would make it more difficult to collect damages to the benefit of insurance companies.
THE COURTROOM AND BEYOND
The firm continues to advocate for better healthcare outside of the office. Grossman knows the necessity of quality healthcare all too well; he lost his daughter at the age of 15 to a rare form of cancer, Ewing sarcoma. She received excellent care at Sloan Kettering, the only hospital that had previously treated patients with the disease. Grossman started Margaux’s Miracle Foundation in her memory, which provides funding to Sloan Kettering to defeat Ewing’s sarcoma and other childhood cancers.
The firm has grown in the last 35 years, and the attorneys show no signs of slowing down: “None of us want to stop. We love each other, we love the practice, and we love the people we represent,” says Yaffa.
Thinking back over the last three and a half decades, Grossman is grateful to everyone who helped build the firm and continues to practice alongside him: “I would like to thank everyone for adopting the spirit of what we’re trying to accomplish and what we have accomplished, and for standing by me and my other partners,” he says. Roth adds, “Don’t forget where you came from. The respect you have achieved is both earned and deserved. Look only to make things better.”
Cohen agrees: “I am so proud to be a member of this firm and to practice with these people,” he says. “Keep doing what we’re doing. Don’t stop the work ethic or the basics of what we do. Nobody does it better.”