By Emily Jackoway | September 29, 2022 | News & Features
(Left to Right): Brent Ceryes, Jim Cardea, Philip Federico and Chase Brockstedt. Photo by Erika Sneeringer
Philip Federico and Chase Brockstedt Discuss Newly Named Baird Mandalas Brockstedt Federico & Cardea
One day in 2009, Philip Federico received a call from a colleague in Delaware. The colleague had worked with the firm on a one-off medical malpractice suit in his state and was now reaching out about a client who alleged that their child had been sexually abused by a physician. “It’s not covered under insurance, so we won’t get paid,” he explained, “But it’s a kid. You interested?”
Federico was already a well-established medical malpractice lawyer; he had been for more than 25 years. He didn’t need to take on this case. It was risky, out of his comfort zone and not necessarily profitable. Federico deliberated. Was it worth it? Was there more to the case than met the eye? In the end, the stakes of the matter were such that Federico knew he had to get to work. He was in.
After doing some digging, the case grew far beyond what Federico initially realized. One client grew to 150. In the end, Federico and the other lawyers on the case estimated that the physician, Earl Bradley, abused more than 1,200 children over his nearly 20 years as a pediatrician.
With his practice in Maryland, Federicio was an outsider to the Delaware area – and therefore not necessarily well known. So, unbeknownst to him, Chase Brockstedt, a Delaware personal injury attorney, was assigned to be his intermediary. The pair worked together nearly every day for the next five years, quickly realizing that their working styles complemented each other. “Having Chase ‘assigned’ to me was the best thing that ever could have happened for that case, and probably one of the best things that ever happened to me professionally,” says Federico.
Their hard work paid off. The Bradley case settled for a staggering $123M, making national headlines. The success propelled Federico into the mass tort world in earnest and laid the groundwork for a close working and personal relationship between Federico and Brockstedt.
Making a move
Finally, more than 10 years after the Bradley case, the pair have now joined forces. This year, Federico took the leap to Brockstedt’s firm, now called Baird Mandalas Brockstedt Federico & Cardea (BMBFC). He didn’t go alone: When Federico joined the firm, he brought a sizable group of colleagues with him, including Brent Ceryes, his close partner in mass tort litigation at their previous firm.
Though Federico had spent decades as a renowned medical malpractice attorney, since the Bradley case he has focused much of his time on mass torts, a practice he intends to expand upon at BMBFC. Now, Brockstedt, Federico and Ceryes lead a mighty mass tort team, delving into matters that affect thousands.
Also joining the firm is named partner Jim Cardea and his team. Cardea brings an exceptional depth of medical malpractice experience to the firm, with notable seven-figure jury verdicts and settlements.
Though the formal shift is new, Federico and Brockstedt have worked together nearly every day since 2017, when they dove into their first environmental case together. The pair had kept in close contact after the Bradley case: Because their two states, Delaware and Maryland, are neighbors, their two firms would often act as local or co-counsel for medical malpractice cases in the other’s home state. So, when Brockstedt had the opportunity to become involved in his first foray into environmental law, he knew who to call.
I know we're doing good things. That makes it easy to jump out of bed in the morning and start the day.”
The chance came when a client reached out to Brockstedt about an incident with a chicken production company in his town. The company had dropped off a dozen cases of bottled water at his door, along with a letter informing him that he shouldn’t drink his tap water. After hearing the story, Brockstedt knew what he had to do next. “My first phone call – my only phone call, frankly – was to Phil,” he says. “[Phil] said, ‘Let’s investigate this. I think that there may be something here,’ and the rest is history.”
That call developed into the pivotal 2017 environmental litigation against chicken processing manufacturer Mountaire, who, it was revealed, had been polluting the groundwater in Millsboro, Del., for two decades. Their environmental violations and contamination caused property damage and tragic health ailments in the community, including cancer and miscarriages. Federico was right: This was far from a single-plaintiff case.
Knowing this was a new practice area, Federico, Brockstedt, Ceryes and their colleagues amassed a team of the foremost experts in environmental litigation, including bringing on lawyers formerly employed by top environmental defense firms. They acted as co-lead counsel for the litigation and led a high-profile negotiation with Mountaire. After four years of litigation, last year they reached a settlement of a staggering $205M, believed to be the largest settlement on record for a nitrate groundwater pollution case.
A natural fit
Though the pair are newly under the same roof, due to the intensity of the Mountaire litigation, it doesn’t feel like much has changed. Brockstedt says, “For us, working together and working together under the same firm seems very natural.”
Brockstedt believes that the expertise in mass torts and medical malpractice that Federico, Cardea and their team bring over will be a boon to expanding the firm’s depth and breadth of expertise. “I think it takes our firm up a notch, bringing over lawyers like Phil, Jim Cardea and everyone else on their team, with their reputation and caliber of experience,” he says. “For us, it's a huge step in the direction of a more advanced medical malpractice practice.”
Though BMBFC has experience in broader medical malpractice, Brockstedt’s focus has, until recently, been on nursing home abuse litigation. After an early nursing home verdict won him a $13M jury verdict and a $22M recovery – which stands as the highest nursing home verdict in the state – he quickly built a world-class practice representing those whose loved ones had been harmed by nursing home abuse and neglect.
Though environmental law is newer to Brockstedt, he quickly realized that the skills from his nursing home practice carry over into environmental litigation. “The Mountaire case is, at its core, an environmental case, but it's also a civil class action lawsuit,” he explains. “So, even though the technical subject matter was relatively new to me, it made sense because you get the experts, you get the engineers, you get the scientists. It’s no different than how you get the doctors in a medical malpractice case, or the nursing staff in a nursing home neglect case.”
Guaranteeing safer lives
The success of the Mountaire litigation whetted Federico and Brockstedt’s appetites for more environmental work. With the growing climate crisis, the necessity of environmental cases is undeniable. “The two most important things in the world are not money or oil, but clean air and clean water,” Federico says. “When we run out of those two things, you can have all the oil you want, all the money you want – you're not going to be very happy.”
It takes our firm up a notch, bringing over lawyers like Phil, Jim Cardea and everyone else on their team.
Now, the duo and their team are involved in multiple environmental mass torts. The first followed shortly after Mountaire – a case against New Indy, a paper mill in South Carolina. Though a burgeoning practice is exciting on a legal level, it’s the personal commitment to the citizens of impacted communities that inspires the team. The people who are victims of this environmental negligence are grateful to the attorneys for their efforts. “I tell you, to have a community feel that way about you and what you're doing, you can't put a price on that. That's as good as it gets in our business,” Federico emphasizes.
They also recently filed a groundwater contamination suit against W.L. Gore & Associates, the company that makes waterproof fabric GORE-TEX. The chemicals used to make GORE-TEX, PFAs (also known as “forever chemicals”), don’t dissolve in water and have been found to cause cancer. The case alleges that Gore knew about the cancerous properties of the chemicals for decades and neglected to consider their effect on local groundwater.
Additionally, the group is investigating the cases surrounding the water contamination at Camp Lejeune, a United States Marine Corps Base Camp, and hopes to use their expertise to fight on behalf of affected veterans and their families.
“These cases are fresh, and I know we're doing good things,” Brockstedt says. “That makes it easy to jump out of bed in the morning and start the day.”
An expansive mass tort practice
Though the impact of environmental litigation is undeniable, the team knows that it isn’t the only way to help the public through mass torts. Brockstedt, Federico and Ceryes have all been instrumental to litigations brought against both opioid manufacturers and e-cigarette producer JUUL.
In the JUUL cases, Federico, Brockstedt and their team represent nearly 60 school boards, including some of the top districts in the country. Schools, Federico explains, have been disproportionately left to deal with the fallout of teen addiction to JUUL products – similar to the popularity of tobacco in high schools before the 1990s. In total, the districts they represent hold more than a million students – making them one of the top three firms for client base size in the nationwide litigation.
Ceryes, meanwhile, is helping head up their firm’s work in the opioid litigation. He, alongside his colleagues, has formed a consortium of attorneys that collectively represented more than 40 cities and counties against the malpractice of opioid distributors and manufacturers. Paramount to his approach is organization and communication with clients – skills that Ceryes, as well as Federico and Brockstedt, are particularly adept in thanks to their prolific trial experience.
Many mass tort lawyers, Federico explains, are skilled in business, marketing or administration, but lack the vital trial experience needed once the cases reach that point. Those skills are yet another reason why Federico and Brockstedt feel mass torts of all kinds dovetail with the decades of experience they had already built in the medical malpractice and nursing home practices.
Federico and his team’s shift to BMBFC brings new life to both his and Brockstedt’s career. Both are lawyers who spent decades achieving historic verdicts and changing lives in the medical malpractice field, and now are thrilled to have the chance to do so on an even larger scale in environmental law and mass torts. Brockstedt says that he is excited both on a personal and professional level to dive into this new partnership with Federico, finally united under the same roof to pursue a new common career goal after years of friendship.
Federico, too, finds the new practice exhilarating. “I did everything I dreamed of doing as a medical malpractice lawyer,” he says. “I didn't know I'd get a chance at a second career being a mass tort environmental lawyer, so I want to climb the same ladder in that arena that I climbed in the med mal arena.” The early successes that the pair have had in the practice area show that his goal is achievable; it is possible to build more than one exceptional practice
It's not only their individual goals that are aided by their partnership; the firm as a whole, Brockstedt says, is advanced by the move. “The addition of their medical malpractice group brings us into a new state, and because Maryland and Delaware are so close, the residents go back and forth between the states so much, so it’s a natural way for us to grow and expand,” he explains. “The complement they bring to us in terms of their depth of experience in the medical malpractice world means we see bright things down the road in Delaware.”
Overall, the real winners are the millions of people they now represent in these mass torts. “The idea that we are going to bring about real change is exciting,” Brockstedt says. “We've always said in our firm, we're doing it one client at a time, but in these larger cases you're doing it for thousands of clients at a time.”
Together with Ceryes and the other attorneys in the new mass tort practice, they are able to simultaneously fight for individuals, like child victims of sexual abuse, and for a safer future for the climate – all on a scale of hundreds to thousands of clients at once. United under one roof, Federico, Brockstedt and the rest of the team at BMBFC have the chance to generate real change for more Americans than ever before.