John ("Fitz") Fitzpatrick is the epitome of a trial lawyer's trial lawyer. For more than 30 years, he has been in the trenches, steadily trying in excess of 220 cases to verdict in over 40 states, and obtaining defense verdicts in the vast majority of those cases. Fitz has truly developed a reputation as the go-to, bet-the-company trial attorney for high-exposure, catastrophic matters. His cases have involved allegations of injury attributable to medical devices, pharmaceuticals, asbestos, infant car seats, and even stray power-line voltage.
Fitz has experience with everything from class action lawsuits involving both consumer products and employment issues to bad faith insurance claims. He is an accomplished medical malpractice defense attorney, having obtained defense verdicts in highly charged cases involving birth trauma, brain injury, spinal injury resulting in paralysis, and death. His ability to quickly assess a case, tell a story, and charm a jury contributes to his exemplary record of success and has resulted in his being retained as lead trial lawyer in high-exposure class action cases involving nationally recognized companies.
Just since joining WTO in 2007, Fitz has tried over 30 cases to verdict in 10 states and many of the so-called judicial "hellholes" for corporate America, including Philadelphia, Baltimore, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Madison County, Illinois. He is national trial counsel to top companies such as General Electric, AT&T, Foster Wheeler, Yum! Brands, Allstate, Family Dollar, and Evenflo; national trial counsel for some of the top medical malpractice groups such as MedStar Health, UHS, and Premier Insurance; and national trial counsel for several major insurance companies such as Swiss Re, CNA, and AIG in defending product liability, toxic tort, medical malpractice, and personal injury claims.
Fitz lectures frequently to corporate counsel around the country on how to select experienced trial lawyers for high-exposure cases. He has been known to parachute into a trial two to three weeks before jury selection and get up to speed—if not set the pace—very quickly. Recent evidence of this includes a two-week asbestos wrongful death trial in Philadelphia in the fall of 2013, in which he was called in three weeks before trial and, after all the arguments were heard, obtained a complete defense verdict from the jury following just 15 minutes of deliberations.
A former concert pianist and Army Airborne Ranger, Fitz began his legal career in 1981 with the U.S. Army JAG Corps as a prosecutor trying criminal cases in Colorado. He became the Eighth Army Division's Chief Prosecutor in South Korea in 1983 before being selected as the senior medical malpractice attorney for the U.S. Army Tort Branch at the Pentagon in 1986. There he tried 12 civil cases to verdict in federal courts across the country before entering private practice in Richmond, Virginia in 1988.
Fitz's civilian trial career started when he was selected as the youngest national trial counsel for Owens-Corning's asbestos trial team in 1989. He currently serves as national trial counsel for GE, Foster Wheeler, Velan, Evenflo, and Dana Corporation. Below is a sample of his recent case activity:
- Dana LLC (November 2013, Philadelphia, PA) – Brought in just three weeks before jury selection, Fitz obtained a defense verdict in a two-week asbestos trial that involved the death of a 59-year-old policeman who alleged exposure to automotive gaskets while being a "shade tree" mechanic. Fitz used two key documents uncovered in discovery to implicate an alternate source of asbestos at the factory where the plaintiff had worked in the early 1970s. The client, the sole remaining defendant in the case after the other defendants had settled, was thrilled when the jury delivered a complete defense verdict following just 15 minutes of deliberations.
- Evenflo Company (November 2012, Denver, CO) – Fitz obtained a complete defense verdict in U.S.D.C. of Colorado on behalf of a manufacturer of infant car seats in a two-week product liability trial. The plaintiff sought $20 million for a permanent brain injury sustained by a child after the child's car seat detached from its base in a high-impact crash. The jury agreed with Fitz's argument that Evenflo's car seat actually saved the child's life rather than being responsible for any injury.
- General Electric (August 2009, Chicago, IL) - Fitz obtained a defense verdict in a land-based turbine case in Chicago. The first asbestos case to go to trial in Chicago in 10 years, it was also the first case to verdict in Illinois since the Nolen decision. After a two-week trial, the jury deliberated for 30 minutes before returning a defense verdict.
- Leslie Controls (June 2009, Los Angeles, CA) - Fitz obtained a defense verdict in a Navy exposure case for Leslie Valves. After a two-week trial, the jury deliberated for 20 minutes before returning a defense verdict.
- Foster Wheeler (February 2008, Los Angeles, CA; March 2008, Iowa City, IA; December 2008, San Francisco, CA) – Fitz obtained a defense verdict from a Los Angeles judge following a three-week trial. While that jury was deliberating, Fitz flew to Iowa and immediately began cross-examining the plaintiff's expert in a separate case in which he obtained a defense verdict after two weeks of trial.
- Foster Wheeler (June 2007, Boston, MA) – Fitz won a defense verdict after six weeks of trial in a living mesothelioma case, the first case tried to verdict in Boston in 10 years.
- Foster Wheeler (June 2006, Los Angeles, CA) – The same day a settlement was reached during trial in another case, Fitz was asked to take over the defense of a living mesothelioma case already in jury selection. After three weeks of trial, he obtained the first defense verdict for Foster Wheeler in California.
- General Electric (June 2005, Madison County, IL) – Fitz obtained the first defense verdict for GE in an asbestos case tried in one of the top "judicial hellholes" for corporate America. It was the first asbestos case tried to verdict for GE in 15 years.
Fitz has extensive experience trying medical malpractice actions throughout the United States. His first trial in Virginia in 1989 led to the building of the largest medical malpractice team in Virginia over the next 20 years. He generally had three to five of the top defense verdicts in the state in any given year. Fitz's expertise in cases involving babies who had suffered brain damage at birth led CNA Insurance to appoint him its national trial counsel for birth trauma cases in 2002 and then to assist CNA in selecting a national birth-trauma team, which has since evolved into a national catastrophic injury team. In 2005, Fitz was named CNA's 2004 Health Pro Litigator of the Year.
The concept of establishing SWAT lawyers with particular expertise to try cases across the country gained acceptance with many other national companies. Subsequently, Fitz has been chosen to be national trial counsel for Universal Health Services, Premier Insurance, Medical Protective, SwissRe, MedStar, and GE in their high-exposure cases.
Since 2006, Fitz has tried over 30 high-exposure medical malpractice cases to verdict in 16 states and prevailed in 95% of them.
- Psychiatric hospital (May 2012, Philadelphia, PA) – Called in just five days prior to mediation in a seemingly unwinnable case, and after his client offered a multimillion-dollar settlement that was rejected by the plaintiff, Fitz proved in a two-day medical malpractice arbitration that a Philadelphia psychiatric hospital was not liable for a discharged patient's death in a fatal car accident.
- Endurance (January 2012, Vero Beach, FL) – Called in three weeks prior, Fitz spent three weeks in trial defending obstetricians at a Florida hospital where an infant suffered a severe brain injury that led to cerebral palsy due to lack of oxygen after a rare delivery complication of uterine rupture in the mother. The plaintiff alleged the complications could have been avoided had a C-section been performed prior to rupture and demanded seven million dollars. The jury deliberated 30 minutes before returning a verdict for the defense.
- MedStar Health (August 2011, Washington, DC) – Fitz spent two weeks in trial defending obstetricians who discharged a pregnant woman who suffered a catastrophic uterine rupture 16 hours after being released. The plaintiff alleged the woman should never have been discharged and asked for $45 million in closing. The jury returned a defense verdict.
- MedStar Health (March 2011, Washington DC) – Fitz spent two weeks in trial defending a group of neonatologists at a Washington Hospital. A 26-week-old pre-term infant arrested in the NICU. The plaintiff alleged that physicians failed to properly manage blood pressure, which led to the arrest and subsequent brain damage, and asked for $15 million in closing. The jury deliberated for 20 minutes before returning a verdict for the defense.
- UHS (July 2009, Riverside, CA) - Fitz spent four weeks in trial for a case involving a brain-damaged adult man. The special damages were in excess of $10 million and the plaintiff's last demand when trial started was $2.5 million. The jury returned a verdict of $6 million but found the plaintiff 75% contributory negligent. After the setoff from settling the defendants, Fitz's client owed only $37,000.
- SwissRe (March 2009, Tampa, FL) – Two weeks before trial began, Fitz and his team were asked to take over a case involving a permanent brain injury to a well-known plaintiff's lawyer. Both local and regional defense counsel recommended a settlement of $12-15 million. Fitz obtained a defense verdict after two weeks of trial.
- HCI (February 2007, Rockingham, NH) – With just two weeks' notice, Fitz agreed to take over as lead trial counsel in a case involving the death of a 63-year-old man following complications from gall bladder surgery. He obtained a defense verdict by convincing the jury that an empty oxygen tank, which the plaintiff was using for supplemental oxygen shortly before his cardiac arrest, did not cause his death.
- MedPro (March 2006, Columbia, SC) – Fitz successfully defended a doctor who performed spine surgery. The plaintiff became paralyzed following the surgery and blamed the surgeon for not recognizing the early signs of paralysis. Fitz obtained a defense verdict after a two-week trial.
- Allstate (August 2013, Denver, CO) – Fitz defended Allstate against a bad faith insurance claim. Following a car accident, the insured, who had policy limits of $100,000, did not produce medical documents in time for Allstate to investigate the claim prior to the settlement deadline. When the deadline passed, the plaintiff proceeded to trial and obtained a verdict in excess of $3 million. The plaintiff then sued Allstate for unreasonable delay or denial of a claim. After two weeks of trial, the jury deliberated less than an hour before rendering a defense verdict.
- AT&T (December 2010, Alexandria, LA) – Plaintiffs alleged that an advertising sign was improperly displayed in an AT&T Mobile store and, as a result, fell and struck the head of a two-year-old, causing traumatic brain injury. Fitz defended the case by arguing that the sign could not cause a traumatic brain injury and the plaintiffs' experts were frauds. After a two-week trial, the jury deliberated for 20 minutes before returning a defense verdict.
- Chesapeake Advisors LLC (September 2008, Richmond, VA) – After a five-day trial, Fitz obtained a defense verdict in this case involving allegations of breach of contract, fraud, and unjust enrichment