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A Journey of Societal Inequality Through a Lens of Optimism: Change Can Only Happen if You Believe!

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By Sheryl J. Willert

I was born a mere 17 days before the United States Supreme Court decided Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)1. Although I did not know it then, the journey of my life would be significantly impacted by that decision – it shaped where I went to school, how I was treated when I arrived, and what I did and did not learn after I arrived. Initially, Brown seemed like a magic carpet, taking me places I might not ever have dreamed that I could go. But today, it seems so many of the issues Brown spoke to with such promise remain unresolved. Furthermore, the gains—and they were great gains—seem to be disappearing, slipping through our fingers like sand falling to the ground from a broken hourglass.

I was born in South Carolina, one of the many states where much of the population abhorred Brown and delayed what the Court required while seeking alternative ways to continue to oppress people of color. No less than their white brothers and sisters, Black people from South Carolina were responsible for the success and resilience of this nation. Even though they were dragged here involuntarily, Black people tilled South Carolina’s soil, planted her crops, and, directly or indirectly, helped to build the People’s House for her government, with many later dying in her defense.

I attended a parochial school as a child. Why? Because even by the date of my first year in elementary school, South Carolina provided separate schools for people of my color, schools which were in no way “equal” to the public schools enjoyed by white children. Transferring to public school in junior high school changed all of that. There, my history teacher had the temerity to teach us the civil war was not about Yankee oppression but about the North’s desire to “free the ‘Nigras.’” I never liked the expression, but I still like the thesis.

I did well academically and moved on to high school, where my experiences were mixed. I had several incredible teachers, and I had classmates who became lifelong friends. But on far too many occasions, I was reminded that whatever part of the Supreme Court’s Brown mandates had made their way to the school district, few had trickled down into the social fabric of my hometown. Brown did not get me invited to parties or protect me from the taunts of my classmates. I was a brown-skinned person, and that was what mattered first.

College and law school were better; I was fortunate to attend two of the nation’s best schools. Yet even there I found reminders—more subtle, and more insidious because of their subtlety—that brown-skinned people were not the same. I vividly recall not being invited to the wedding of a friend because Black people were not welcome at the country club where it was taking place. I vividly recall being told in law school that I would pass a class because, lucky for me, I had attended “the right” undergraduate school. My less-fortunate Black classmates would not pass! I do not use the word “vivid” casually. I was not so much surprised by this pervasive racism as I was disgusted that it continued; I still cringe at the thought of it. However, I was  focused. My parents had taught me I could do “anything that I wished to do if I put my mind to it.” I left law school as an optimist.

To a significant degree, becoming a lawyer has validated my optimism. I have enjoyed a wonderful firm, wonderful clients, and wonderful colleagues. I have been fortunate to learn hone the craft of trying cases, and to do so successfully. I was entrusted to lead my firm, and I was entrusted to lead DRI. These were two of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given me. Yet, despite the positive things—and there truly have been many—the racism I first met in South Carolina has been there to greet me throughout the country, both in my daily life and in my career as a lawyer. An office manager reminded me I was expected to pass the bar exam on the first try because other Black lawyers on whom they had “taken a chance” had not. When looking to move from one job to another, I was told I was not a viable candidate by one firm because it had “already hired their Black person for the year.”  I was removed from a team assembled for a new lawsuit because the in-house counsel didn’t believe their clients were ready for a Black person to represent them. On another occasion, a job offer was rescinded because the firm learned I had married a white man. Brown v. Board of Education was decided in l954. If you believe all of these experiences, so personal to me, happened decades ago—you’d be wrong.

I believe my parents had it right when they told me I could do anything I put my mind to. I also believe that if you believe in yourself, you can achieve what is necessary to make this nation a better place. Many nations do not have constitutions that espouse freedom of thought and democracy. In the United States, we do. Racism is the antithesis of freedom, and it is a continuing threat to our democracy. Racism, no matter its form, lends fragility, not strength, to our democracy.

We can do something about racism.

We might start by taking stock of what I will submit is “the obvious:”

  • We are better as partners. If we can stop being enemies, life will be so much better.
  • Separate is not equal. “Equal” demands someone else; the alternative is being alone. Our nation survived and excelled because people worked together.
  • “The truth” is the same; it is a collective thing—nobody owns all of it.
  • Everyone has something to contribute.
  • Everyone needs a hand up at one time or another. Think about the last time your spouse or your child or your business colleague asked for your help. How did you respond? “Yes, what can I do?” If I’m right about that, then let’s learn to say “Yes!” to the others.

I am proud to have been DRI’s President. I am even more proud the Pioneer in Diversity Award is named after me, and that award is what I want to speak about last.  Anyone can be a “pioneer”—you just must go first. But it’s also important to work hard, be willing to face and work through adversity and not be deterred. When the task at hand is diversity, perseverance is all the more important. Sadly, racism has not gone away. But we can keep fighting against it. And I know that at DRI, we will.

I am thankful to all the members of DRI, past and present, and to all the leaders who came before and after me, for upholding DRI’s core values. DRI has never been about the money. DRI is about providing the finest educational opportunities, creating the most meaningful relationships, and setting the best example for diversity in what will continue to be challenging times. DRI is about excellence. When it comes to diversity, DRI is about doing the right thing.

Sheryl WillertSheryl Willert is the former managing director of Williams Kastner, and a member in the firm’s Seattle office. A national speaker and author on such topics as sexual harassment, age discrimination, and race discrimination, Ms. Willert has successfully represented individuals and corporations in such matters. Ms. Willert is a past president of DRI-The Voice of the Defense Bar and was the organization’s first female and first African-American officer.


A Time of Reflection, Recognition & Responsibility

By Stacy Lynne Douglas, Esq.


Black History Month is a yearly reflection that pays tribute to the generations of Black people in the United States who overcame adversity arising from and related solely to the color of their skin. The notion of celebrating Black contributions and history started with W.E.B. Dubois, a well-known civil rights activist, author, and sociologist who sought to raise awareness of the significant and numerous contributions of Black people in the United States, people often dismissed and disregarded. DuBois first proclaimed Negro History Week in 1925, which was celebrated within the month of February.

Today, we often see Black History Month as a time where well-known Black people are identified and celebrated. Individuals from the civil rights movement including Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, Malcom X, Rosa Parks, and Harriet Tubman are frequently remembered and celebrated for their life changing contributions to the pursuit of equal rights and justice for all. We cannot ignore the courage and unfettered determination demonstrated when they chose to risk their lives and livelihood solely to pursue what was right and to end a wrong.

We also remember our athlete heroes: Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, and Arthur Ash. We honor them for paving the way for the Colin Kaepernick's of today. We watch in awe while Ruby Dee, Diahann Carroll, Dorothy Dandridge, and Cicely Tyson taught little black girls that they are beautiful and can grace the big screen. Meanwhile, Sidney Poitier, James Earl Jones and Sammy Davis Jr. taught young black men that they were strong both inside and out and had options outside of working the fields.

As lawyers, we speak in high regard of Thurgood Marshall who rose to the United States Supreme Court after a career of fighting for the rights of Black people. We hold him in high regard and respect him with gratitude for his compelling argument before the Supreme Court in the well-known case, Brown v. Board of Education. Today, we celebrate the first Black female Vice President of the United States in Kamala Harris, soon to be followed by the first Black female justice of the United States Supreme Court.


The individuals listed above and their contributions, as well as those of other well-known activists, leaders and scholars, are important to remember. Although we honor them and undoubtedly value their sacrifices, we often fail to take the time to pay tribute to the unspoken heroes in Black History that made some of the largest sacrifices while making some of the most significant contributions to our society. This Black History Month, I implore you to remember the ancestors of us all. The brave souls who you do not read about in the newspaper, see on television, or find during an internet search. This month, please take a moment to pause and recognize the heroes nobody speaks of because their fight was a silent one.

In 2022, there admittedly is access to education for the Black person in America that once was not known. We know today that we have rights, whether those rights are honored and respected or not. We have tools our ancestors did not previously have, which allow us to air our grievances in a way they could not. However, we must recognize that it was not that long ago that Black heroes had to use alternate means to express their grievances.

We are all too familiar with 14-year-old Emmett Till, and the gruesome nature of his death: being lynched for "offending" a white woman in a grocery store. It was not that long ago, in September 1955, a mere month after his murder, when an all-white jury of their peers acquitted his killers. We focus on the gruesome nature of the open casket at his funeral, but we pay less attention to the strength and character of his mother, Mamie Till Bradley, who is the one that insisted on an open casket for the purpose of showing the world what had been done to her baby boy. Ms. Bradley could have spared herself the pain and suffering associated from the exposure of her child's mutilated body, but she recognized that this moment in time was bigger than her personal suffering and pain. It was, sadly, larger than her son's death. She knew that history would remember this and force people to see the injustice that plagued our country.

We often forget that there are countless Mamie Till Bradleys in our history. Ms. Bradley powerfully stated, "When people saw what had happened to my son, men stood up who had never stood up before." We owe the deepest amount of gratitude to the Mamie Till Bradley's of past. It is because of the Mamie Till Bradley's that the world was forced to see the reality of injustice that plagued the United States. It is because of the Mamie Till Bradley's that we are one step closer on the long road towards justice.


Whether you are a descendant of African slaves or not, it is undeniable that their contribution has had a positive impact on the United States and our lives in general. As a nation, we have a responsibility to respect, recognize and honor these contributions. From economic growth to soul food all the way down to Motown, the United States is better because of the contributions the forgotten made to our collective human race.

We all know about the atrocities surrounding slavery. Human life being sold at auction, families being torn apart, and unimaginable physical and psychological abuse, often resulting in death. While we never want to celebrate slavery, it would be disingenuous to deny the significant contributions indentured servants made to the foundation of this country. African slaves built the economic backbone of the United States, generating massive amounts of wealth based upon an unpaid labor market. Every industry has benefited from the blood, sweat and tears associated with the work slaves performed as slavery itself is well known as “America's First Big Business.” New research titled, "The Contribution of Enslaved Workers to Output and Growth in the Antebellum United States" provides actual estimates of the economic impact the work of enslaved workers provided to financial growth between 1839-1850. The research, conducted by Mark Stelzner of Connecticut College and Sven Beckert of Harvard University, confirms that "slavery was an important institution for economic development in the United States, and the unrequited labor of enslaved women, men and children helped produce in significant ways the nation's economic expansion in the two decades before the Civil War."

To put this in perspective, I will share a discussion I had with my friend, Ricardo Woods. We were discussing the impact of slavery on the growth of the country when he said, "Stacy, imagine your law firm has a team of lawyers who were required to bill a certain number of hours per month, and if they failed to do so, faced dire consequences. There are no labor laws protecting them from your discrimination, harassment, or hostile work environment. Next imagine that you never had to pay this team of lawyers, while keeping the income generated from their work because there are no wage and hour laws you are required to follow. Think about how profitable your firm would be...." Despite feeling well-versed on slavery and its fiscal benefit to the United States, this example jarred me. It compelled me to see more clearly in connection with my status in a law firm, the fiscal impact unpaid labor had on a multitude of industries and individuals. Therefore, we should recognize and pay tribute this Black History Month to the indentured servants who worked tirelessly under unimaginable conditions. We should all recognize that what we have today is due, in large part, because they gave so much and lost even more.

As a Black girl growing up in the United States, food was a very big deal. My trips to Texas to visit family revolved around the food and comradery cooked up in the kitchen. Recipes handed down for generations, originally created from the leftover foods the slave owners did not want to eat, are some of the tastiest dishes you can find today. Black people learned how to cook with love and flavor, bringing their culture and traditions from Africa. Many people do not realize that some of the most popular dishes today either hailed from Africa or were developed in slave communities. African crops such as okra, rice, kidney beans, lima beans, watermelon, and yams traveled to the Americas with slaves. These crops eventually became the cuisine of not only Africans, but white Americans, and they continue to impact cuisines today. Many DRI members, including myself, enjoy seminars in New Orleans, primarily for the food. It was enslaved Africans who cleared the forests, raised crops and built the New Orleans infrastructure back in 1700's. The food is creole cuisine, originating from good old-fashioned soul food. The beautiful part of New Orleans cuisine is the combination of African cuisine, French cuisines, Spanish cuisine, and Native American cuisine. It represents the melting pot of our pallet. This Black History Month, we should pay tribute to the countless forgotten women and girls of slavery who lovingly created tasty cuisines for their families that continue to feed us today.

Music was also a particularly vital component of slavery. Singing was a form of communication that originated during the voyage from Africa to the United States. Singing was a common way for Africans to express feelings amongst one another in their native language. It is rumored that Harriet Tubman utilized music to warn slaves of their need to hide their scent from dogs on their trail. "Wade in the Water" is a popular song that people believe was used to instruct escaping slaves to hide under water to avoid capture. Drums also became a communication tool for slaves, allowing them to replicate tones of speech that were heard from several miles away. Music served as a way for the slaves to maintain that critical connection to one another. In the fields, the workers would often sing songs that combined African music with Christian music, dancing as they sang. These sounds made their mark on musicians in the United States, providing an important backdrop to the blues, jazz, rock, and pop we listen to today. This Black History Month, we recognize the unknown musicians who created the sound that comforts us, excites us and allows us to continue to express sorrow and joy today.


While Black History Month is a wonderful time to demonstrate respect and compassion for the indentured servants of yesterday, the best gift one can truly give in their memory is the much-needed compassion for their descendants living within our challenging world today. The news and media are regularly displaying the ongoing injustices of our society that continue to plague and often terrorize Black people in America. We honor the past by doing better in the future.

Stacy DouglasStacy Douglas is a Partner and Director of Diversity & Inclusion with Everett Dorey LLP. She is a member of the National Bar Association and is an active member of the Defense Research Institute, having served on the Board of its Diversity Committee. Ms. Douglas is currently Vice-Chair of DRI’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee and serves as the Annual Meeting Chair for DRI’s 2021 Annual Meeting.

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Product Liability: The Role of Human Factors Experts

Human Factors is the scientific discipline that analyzes human capabilities and limitations and how these affect our interaction with products, processes, and environments. The field of Human Factors helps engineers and scientists understand human performance as it relates to physical, physiological, and psychological aspects of a wide range of everyday home and work activities. In litigations, Human Factors experts are often retained to assess topics such as product usability and adequacy of warnings and/or instructions, as well as reasonableness of the plaintiff’s conduct.

Regarding design, the Human Factors expert may be asked to explain whether and to what extent the hazard analysis procedure followed by the manufacturer was appropriate. With respect to any hazards identified by the manufacturer, the expert may be asked to explain decisions the manufacturer made regarding designing out, guarding against, and/or warning about hazards. These decisions need to be evaluated by the expert with respect to the applicable standards, available technology, and known safety information at the time of manufacture, as well as scientific data on human performance, to be able to conclude whether the actions of the manufacturer were reasonable.

While manufacturers should strive to produce products that minimize overall risks without altering functionality or creating new hazards and/or failure modes, any product is capable of producing injury under certain conditions.2Preventing all modes of unintentional or intentional misuse of a product is impossible to predict and control3 because a product user’s perceptions, experience, and motivation with regard to interaction with the product or situation have a significant influence on his or her behavior and can contribute to the occurrence of accidents or mishaps.

Product liability litigations often include allegations of defective warnings. The assertions in these cases include but are not limited to the following:

  • No warning was provided about a hidden hazard (i.e., one which was not “open and obvious”)
  • The provided warnings were inadequate because they did not meet the formatting guidelines of applicable standards
  • The provided warnings did not emphasize the hazard
  • The provided warnings were ambiguous
  • The provided warnings were not placed in an area which would enhance noticeability
  • The provided warnings did not provide sufficient information to protect the user from harm

In such cases, a Human Factors expert can be retained to evaluate the adequacy of the supplied safety information and the reasonableness of the use behavior.

In evaluating the product safety literature involved in such litigation, an expert should consider whether the literature provided sufficient information regarding exposure to the specific hazard. The expert may also evaluate whether (a) the language was ambiguous; (b) the product complied with any applicable standards; (c) an alleged lack of adherence to a standard caused the incident; (d) an additional or alternate warning was needed to inform the user of the hazard; (e) the location of a warning affected its noticeability.

In evaluating the conduct of the injured party in such litigation, the expert must evaluate whether the injured party was “sophisticated” (i.e., had superior knowledge about the hazard due to familiarity, experience, or training). The expert may also consider whether (a) the hazard was hidden or apparent and obvious; (b) the injured party was already aware of the hazard and how to avoid it prior to the incident; (c) the injured party was familiar and experienced with using the product; (d) the user read the provided precautionary information; (e) the precautionary information was being complied with at the time of the incident.

Allegations regarding defective warnings must be considered in light of available testimony as well as relevant scientific literature. A warning’s effectiveness depends on whether or not a user will actually notice, read, and comply with it.4 Many factors should be considered when evaluating a warning’s effectiveness, including design; language; and user comprehension, familiarity, and behavior.

Gaps in the evaluation of warning adequacy have the potential to adversely affect the outcome of the case. Therefore, when choosing a warnings expert, an educational background in Human Factors or a related field (Industrial Engineering, Psychology, Neuroscience, Ergonomics, etc.) and experience in designing, testing, and testifying about warnings and/or other relevant human factors is important.

This article is adapted from “The Role of the Engineering Expert in Product Liability Litigation.”1 Applied Safety and Ergonomics, A Rimkus Company, was proud to be a Premier Sponsor of DRI’s 2022 Product Liability Conference which was held February 2—4, 2022 in Las Vegas, NV. Learn more at https://www.dri.org/education-cle/seminars/2022/product-liability


1Khan, F.S. (2021). The Role of the Engineering Expert in Product Liability Litigation, Analysis and Prevention of Component and Equipment Failures. In B.A. Miller, R.J. Shipley, R.J. Parrington, & D. P. Dennies (Eds.), ASM Handbook Vol. 11A: Analysis and Prevention of Component and Equipment Failures (pp. 30-35). ASM International. https://doi.org/10.31399/asm.hb.v11A.a0006832. Excerpts reprinted with permission from ASM International.

2Dorris, A.L. & Purswell, J.L. (1978). Human Factors in the design of effective product warnings. Proceedings of the Human Factors Society’s 22nd Annual Meeting (pp. 343-346).

3Krauss, D.A., Arndt, S.A., Lakhiani, S.L., & Khan, F.S. (2008). Additional Considerations When Applying the “Safety Engineering Hierarchy” in Industrial Work Settings. 13th Annual International Conference on Industrial Engineering: Theory, Applications and Practice. Las Vegas, NV.

4Ayres, T.J., Gross, M.M., Wood, C.T., Horst, D.P., Beyer, R.R., & Robinson, J.N. (1989). What Is a Warning and When Will It Work? Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (pp. 426-430).


Systemic Racism in the Legal Profession: What Should We Do About It?

By Ebony S. Morris

Recently, Judge Michelle Odinet, a newly elected City Court judge in Lafayette, Louisiana, was recorded using the “n-word” and comparing an alleged burglar to a “roach.” It was apparent from the recording that the “n-word” is frequently used in her home, and equally apparent were her sentiments toward African American litigants and attorneys who, more than likely, make up the majority of those appearing in the courtroom. Once I heard the recording, I, like everyone else, was disgusted; however, I was not surprised.

After all, Lafayette, Louisiana, is in the South—where confederate monuments are proudly displayed in most courtrooms. Judge Odinet’s racist behavior is obviously the result of a deep-rooted history of racism in this country. Even more specifically, her remarks shed light on systemic racism in the legal profession.

A recent American Bar Association (“ABA”) study reveals that white men and women are still overrepresented in the legal profession, compared with their presence in the overall U.S. population. See Profile in the Legal Profession, American Bar Association, July 2021.  In 2021, 85% of all lawyers were non-Hispanic whites, a decline from 88% a decade ago. Id. By comparison, 60% of all U.S. residents were non-Hispanic whites in 2019. Id. Not surprisingly, the growth of African American attorneys in the legal profession has been slow.  Nearly all people of color are underrepresented in the legal profession, compared with their presence in the U.S. population. Id. 4.7% of all lawyers were African American in 2021 – nearly unchanged from 4.8% in 2011. Id. Each year, the data becomes more and more sobering, and based on the profession’s slow diversity growth, it is not shocking to learn that racism still lingers in the profession.

So, what is the solution to eliminating racism from the legal profession? Unfortunately, there’s no magic answer. But, at the very least, the legal profession must take meaningful and impactful steps toward eliminating racism from the legal profession. First, education is crucial to exposing and eliminating racist practices. Equity requires understanding not only the current experience of oppression but also the comprehensive social structure and how a history of lost opportunities and disenfranchisement have expanded the race gap. A lack of education and understanding contributes to bias, which in turn creates barriers and hinders the retention and advancement of diverse lawyers.

Next, mandating unconscious bias training may also assist in eliminating racism. Unconscious bias training at regular intervals should be provided in the workplace. Unconscious bias training is crucial for those with decision-making roles for promotions and advancement opportunities. Existing processes should be examined to see how bias affects staffing and advancement. For example, determining whether the work allocation system is based on objective merits whereby technical skills, judgment, and work ethic will earn placement on challenging and complex files, or whether the system leaves room for subjective preferences based on soft skills and who “fits” in with the team.

Finally, in-house counsel who are the decision-makers when selecting outside counsel or service providers can also assist with exposing and eliminating racism in the legal profession. In-house counsel can request data related to the demographics of the lawyers at the firm to assess whether the firms are meeting diversity benchmarks and metrics. In-house counsel can also engage in continuous review of existing relationships to determine whether diverse lawyers are billing on the files, whether those attorneys are the lead attorneys on the files, and whether those attorneys are being properly promoted (and fairly compensated) for their work.

As evidenced by Judge Odinet’s remarks, there is much work to be done to eliminate racism in the legal profession. As attorneys, we are at the forefront for change, and we must take steps to eliminate racism in the legal profession and retain diverse attorneys. We cannot and should not tolerate racist behaviors, such as Judge Odinet’s, and we certainly should not allow it to continue.

Ebony MorrisEbony S. Morris is an associate attorney based in the New Orleans office of Garrison, Yount, Forte, & Mulcahy, L.L.C. Ms. Morris has extensive experience in defending premise liability, product liability, trucking liability, retail and hospitality liability, and mass tort litigation matters. Recently, she was selected for inclusion in the 2020 and 2021 Louisiana Super Lawyers “Rising Stars” List, The National Black Lawyers “Top 40 Under 40,” the 2020 Lawyers of Color “Hot List,” and the National Association of Women Lawyers 2021 Rising List.


The Smart Way to Grow Your Practice

By Wendy Merrill

Marketing legal services is difficult. For many attorneys, business development is seen as a necessary evil, critical to success but fraught with challenges. Developing client relationships and promoting one’s practice are not skills taught in law school, and often lawyers must learn how to originate business by enduring bumps, bruises, random successes, and an assigned, but not specifically allocated, marketing budget.

With the advent of social media came a new and highly effective method of articulating and promoting one’s professional abilities and individual value proposition: Thought Leadership.

Positioning oneself as a thought leader involves creating a quantifiable brand centered around one’s knowledge, experience, interests, and values. This requires a consistent focus on providing value. Defining and effectively promoting your personal brand is essential to developing a vital practice, and with a thoughtful approach, it can be the vehicle for perpetual growth.

What is your personal brand?

Simply put, your brand is the mark you leave on others. It’s what compels someone to refer you, hire you, or befriend you. It’s the summation of what you do, why you do it, and how it makes others feel. Your brand is how you are described by others, which is why it is critical to be consistent and thoughtful about conveying your brand through your actions. Defining one’s brand is challenging for many; it’s hard to see ourselves as others see us. To make it a bit easier, here are three steps to help you successfully articulate your brand:

  1. Ask those you admire to share how they would describe you in your absence or when introducing you.
  2. Think about 2-3 people you admire and jot down their personality characteristics. Why are they appealing to you?
  3. Write down a description of yourself, incorporating input from steps 1 and 2, and use this as a guide for every client interaction, phone call, website bio, social media post, and exchange with colleagues.
  4. Enlist support from your firm’s marketing professional to promote your brand within and outside of your firm.

Branding Yourself as a Thought Leader

As an attorney, you essentially sell your brain for a living. As such, branding yourself as a thought leader is the lowest hanging marketing fruit – as long as you harvest it. Thought leadership is not just about creating a name for yourself as a great attorney with an expansive understanding of a particular practice area; it also includes helping people see you as someone who is committed to professional development, leadership, wellness, firm management, the future state of the law, and more. When promoting yourself, you want people to identify with your point of view and shared values.

Your DRI membership offers you a robust platform for promoting your thought leadership and personal brand through article publications, speaking engagements at our seminars and on our webinars, sponsorship program participation, and social media engagement.

Social Media

Did you know that by “liking,” “sharing,” or “commenting” on a DRI LinkedIn post about an upcoming program, you demonstrate your thought leadership? Depending on what you write in the body of the post, you can position yourself as knowledgeable in a particular practice area or as a leader in the civil defense space. In promoting DRI, you are promoting yourself.

To get more traction from your posts, be sure to use hashtags such as: #law, #lawyers, #lawfirms, #attorneys, #lawfirm, and of course, #DRICommunity. It is also helpful to “tag” other DRI members, non-member attorneys, clients, and influencers by typing “@” and then their name.


Writing an article for one of DRI’s publications is an invaluable opportunity to get your name in front of thousands of people. Depending on how you would  like to be seen by your colleagues, you can pen a piece on developments in your practice area, the importance of diversity in law firms, best practices for attorney wellness, or career advice. The DRI Communications staff is here to help you to maximize your thought leadership reach and take the guesswork out of authorship. 

Consider writing about a timely topic in the news and how it is relevant to your practice or your personal brand. Our Communications staff are always looking for content that is not only of interest to our members but to the legal community at large. If you have an idea or are looking for suggestions on compelling topics, please send an email to submissions@dri.org.


DRI has a rich history of producing outstanding programs with terrific speakers. If you volunteer to present at one of our seminars or webinars, you not only reach attendees, but your appearance is shared in marketing materials that are promoted in our publications, in emails, and on various social media platforms. In addition, many of our speakers record videos of themselves highlighting their presentation, which DRI then shares on social media. These posts always attract the most engagement, and the speakers enjoy putting themselves out there.

When speaking on behalf of a DRI program, “spice” up your presentation with interesting and even humorous images. Your PowerPoint should complement your presentation, not constitute it. The more engaging a speaker you are, the better advertisement you provide to an audience of potential referral sources and clients.


DRI’s reimagined sponsorship program provides unique opportunities to promote you and your firm’s brand. Through the careful alignment of advertising, networking, and recognition at events, being a DRI sponsor highlights your commitment to a particular practice area and to the civil defense bar.

When sponsoring a program, be sure to post on social media about your commitment to the program and to DRI. It’s a great opportunity to gain extra visibility for your brand as a complement to the promotional support provided by DRI.

Wendy MerrillWendy Merrill is DRI’s Executive VP of Growth Strategy & Branding, where she heads up the organization’s marketing, publications and online strategy.


The DRI Small Law Firm

By Daniel I. Graham, Jr.

DRI’s membership is the key to its success as the leading organization for the civil defense community. Not only does DRI provide its members unparalleled opportunities to further develop their skillset and to connect with other defense attorneys and in-house counsel throughout the country - it also gives its members the opportunity to invest their energies and enthusiasm in furthering DRI’s vision. And, as DRI’s Insurance Law Committee (ILC) perfectly illustrates, this is true regardless of the size of the law firm in which a particular member practices.

The ILC is one of DRI’s largest committees, consisting of attorneys who practice in mid and large size law firms throughout North America. And yet two members who contribute their invaluable leadership efforts to the ILC and impact the DRI in such positive ways come from small law firms.

Max J. Cohen is a partner with the law firm of Lowe, Stein, Hoffman, Allweiss & Hauver LLP, a Louisiana law firm of 11 attorneys. Max, who is admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court and a variety of state and federal courts in Louisiana and Texas, represents his insurance company and corporate clients in a variety of coverage, personal injury, premises liability, products liability, and property damage disputes.

Although Max has only been a member of DRI for a little over a decade, in that time, he has garnered several leadership roles. Max has served as the Program Vice-Chair for the 2015 DRI Insurance Coverage and Claims Institute, the Program Chair for the 2016 DRI Insurance Coverage and Claims Institute and has been a featured speaker at several conferences. Most recently, Max served as the Program Chair for the 2021 DRI Complex Coverage Forum, which took place in Columbus, Ohio on November 11.

Before joining Lowe Stein, Max worked with one of New Orleans’s largest law firms. But Max was surprised at how well he connected with Lowe Stein’s intimate size and attorneys and he “never looked back.”

Max relishes practicing law with the attorneys in his office. He acknowledges that a small law firm environment is a challenging one – but it also provides the attorney the opportunity to get actively involved in a file from the start and to take ownership responsibility of the matter. And Max has brought this hands-on approach to his relationship with DRI.

When asked how the DRI first came to his attention, Max answered, “It all started with a conference.” Earlier in his legal career, Max had participated in other legal associations - but Max was impressed with the welcoming atmosphere of his first Insurance Coverage and Claims Institute conference and how specifically the conference’s content addressed his practice interests and needs.

Max believes his involvement in DRI has supplemented his legal career in many positive ways. Fundamentally, he appreciates DRI’s ability to bring together attorneys and claims professionals throughout the U.S. and Canada who share similar interests and practice areas. While he acknowledges that business opportunities have presented themselves through these connections, he considers the friendships and relationships that he has formed with his fellow ILC members to be the “true benefit of my membership in DRI.” According to Max, in DRI’s ILC, he is part of a network in which he and other members can learn from one another and connect as they serve their respective clients and communities near and far.

Like Max, Jeff Van Volkenburg practices law in a small law firm. Jeff is one of the founding partners of Varner & Van Volkenburg, P.L.L.C., a West Virginia law firm consisting of four attorneys.

Jeff embraces the challenges of his legal practice. A former high school social studies teacher, Jeff turned his attention to the law in early 2002. He is admitted to practice in West Virginia state and federal courts, as well as the Third and Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals as well as the U.S. Supreme Court. Jeff focuses his practice on defending corporations and insurance companies in a variety of disputes, including those involving insurance coverage, toxic tort, oil and gas, and construction defects.

Jeff had joined DRI in 2008. After having positive experiences attending DRI’s Annual Meeting in 2010 and the ILC’s Insurance Coverage and Practice Symposium conference in 2012, he decided to invest even more energy into his DRI membership. Jeff became active in DRI’s Young Lawyer Committee where he took on several leadership roles. Jeff has served as the Chair of the ILC’s Young Lawyer Section and served in various roles related to seminar planning, in addition to presenting at the Insurance Coverage and Claims Institute, and coordinated webinar programming. Most recently, Jeff served as Program Vice Chair for the 2021 DRI Insurance Coverage and Claims Institute and is now preparing to serve as Program Chair for the 2022 conference.

Of the many benefits to his small-firm legal practice, Jeff appreciates the opportunity to be fully vested in his cases, from the start of the assignment to its conclusion. And he believes DRI’s educational programming, including its seminars, conferences, and webcasts, has supplemented his resources. Jeff applauds the formal education programming that DRI provides, however, he notes that the camaraderie with the DRI membership also provides valuable educational opportunities of its own. Jeff notes that practicing law in a small law firm in one of the smaller states in the country gives him a unique perspective on legal issues. He believes his ability to exchange insights with other practitioners through his membership in DRI enhances his practice through discussions about trends and issues emerging in other jurisdictions.

When not busy with their leadership responsibilities with DRI, Max and Jeff each enjoy spending time with their respective families. Max and his wife, Ellen, are the parents of an adult son and daughter. Jeff and his wife, Julia, are the parents of two younger children, ages 7 and 2. Jeff admits his leadership responsibilities present a “bit of a balancing act,” but explains that “you just have to budget your time to do everything that needs to be done.”

As busy as each is, Max and Jeff still make time to pursue their separate passions. A photographer since high school, Max enjoys getting up at first daylight to photograph the people and architecture of New Orleans. Max has also served as the official photographer for his local high school’s drama productions. As much as Jeff enjoys running marathons and traveling (pre-pandemic), he embraces his passion for baseball through coaching his son’s little league team.

Just as Max and Jeff share a common small firm background, they share common words of advice for those seeking to get the most out of their DRI membership. “It sounds a bit cliché, but you get out of your membership what you put into,” Jeff opines. It is an assessment with which Max agrees. “The best way to benefit from your membership is to be active. Join a committee. Speak and write. Volunteer. And one thing will lead to another.” Jeff shares a similar view. “There are plenty of opportunities to get involved. Volunteer, do what you say you will do, and the opportunities will present themselves.

Daniel I. Graham, Jr.Daniel I. Graham, Jr. is a founding partner with Nicolaides, Fink, Thorpe, Michaelides, Sullivan LLP. He assists his insurance company clients in evaluating the coverage issues that intellectual property infringement, privacy, and unfair business practice claims present and represents his clients’ interests in technology-related coverage disputes throughout the country. Dan, who has been recognized by Leading Lawyers Network, Chambers USA, and Super Lawyers, is an active member of DRI’s Insurance Law Committee.


Best-In-Class Education from DRI!

The new DRI Learning Center offers members easy access to all of DRI’s top-notch educational content, including webinars, virtual seminars, on-demand content, and more.  Users will be able to save their programs and manuscripts, as well as their CLE certificates, to track credits earned through DRI virtual programming.

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DRI Leaders Offer Insight into Important Changes for Expert Testimony

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Thanks to DRI President Douglas Burrell and DRI Center for Law and Public Policy President Toyja Kelley, along with Gardner Duvall, Chair of the Center’s Legislation and Rules Committee, for their testimony last month before the Advisory Committee on the Rules of Evidence in support of proposed amendments to Federal Rule of Evidence 702. They elaborated on the comment DRI filed in support the amendments, which expressed the belief that the proposed amendments will help lawyers present qualified experts, as well as oppose witnesses whose qualifications or testimony do not meet clear requirements.



Seminar Spotlight

2022 Women in the Law Seminar
January 26–28 – Austin, Texas

At DRI’s recent Women in the Law Seminar, the WITL Mary Massaron Award was presented to Alex J. Hagan of Ellis & Winters LLP. Congratulations, Alex!

Sandra J. Wunderlich, Alex Hagan, Marie Chafe
Pictured (L to R): WITL Committee Vice Chair Sandra J. Wunderlich, winner Alex Hagan, WITL Committee Chair Marie Chafe

2022 Construction Law Seminar
January 26–28 - Austin, Texas

2022 Program Vice Chair Lisa J. Black of Black Marjieh & Sanford LLP shared this message on LinkedIn in praise of DRI’s recent Construction Law Seminar:

“It was an honor to wrap up this great DRI Construction Law conference today in Austin with Mark D. Shifton (Program Chair) and Melissa Lin (Program Vice Chair). A big thank you to all the panelists for providing their insights and contributions. The conference provided excellent and timely content.”

The conference topics addressed the long-term implications of America's gaining housing stock and infrastructure, how to leverage new technology at trial to simplify complicated construction concepts, how to meet diversity and inclusion goals, and more.

Lisa Black, John Bieder
Pictured: Black Marjieh & Sanford LLP Partner Lisa Black and Partner John Bieder

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Pictured: Speakers during the seminar’s “How to Win Clients and Influence Partners” session.


SLDO Golden Coat Competition – Winners
Washington Defense Trial Lawyers Secure 1st Place For The Third Year In A Row


SLDO’s collectively gathered over 1,200 coats in December 2021!

Congratulations to every SLDO that participated in the DRI Third Annual Golden Coat Collection Challenge.  Over 6,000 coats have been donated since the start of this challenge in 2019, that is 6,000 people who escaped the cold this winter.

And it is time to announce our winners …

First Place with a trophy to be delivered is: Washington Defense Trial Lawyers with 933 coats! Outstanding.

Second Place: South Carolina Defense Trial Attorneys with 80 coats. Fantastic!

Third Place: Colorado Defense Lawyers Association with 60 coasts. Amazing.

Feel Good, Do Good, DRICares/#SLDOsCare


Women in the Law and Construction Law Committee Members: Come Together to Support Caritas of Austin

By Carolyn M. Husmann

During the final week of January, DRI’s Women in the Law and Construction Law Committees came together to hold their annual seminars in Austin, Texas. As is tradition, the seminars built in a philanthropic component for all to participate in, even if they could not make it to the seminar itself. Prior to and during the seminars, members of both committees donated funds to benefit Caritas of Austin (https://caritasofaustin.org).  Caritas of Austin’s mission is to prevent and end homelessness for people in Greater Austin.  They believe that when everyone has a stable place to call home, they can realize their full potential and contribute to the community. Part of that mission is to ensure that people have healthy food as they rebuild their lives.

A portion of the donations collected were used to purchase the supplies needed to assemble Snack Care Kits for Caritas of Austin. Members from both the Women in the Law and Construction Law Committees came together on Wednesday morning prior to the start of their seminars to visit and assemble these Snack Care Kits. Each Snack Care Kit included a bottle of water, a vitamin C packet, a granola bar, dried fruit, nuts, and crackers. Caritas of Austin hands these kits out to their walk-in clients. The members of the Women in the Law and Construction Committees assembled over 200 Snack Care Kits! On top of the funds used to purchase the supplies for the kits, additional donations collected between these two committees amounted to roughly an extra $2,020 for the charity. What a fantastic way to come together and support the Greater Austin Area!

#DRICares is so GRATEFUL for all the members of the Women in the Law and Construction Law Committees who donated and/or helped out in any way with this project! THANK YOU!

Carolyn Husmann Carolyn Husmann is a partner in the St. Louis office of Sinars Slowikowski Tomaska with nearly 20 years of experience defending companies in Illinois and Missouri. She concentrates her practice on toxic tort claims including products and premises liability.


IDC Holiday Party & Spirit of the Season Fundraiser

dri cares fundraiser

The Illinois Defense Counsel had a wonderful time gathering in Chicago for their Annual Holiday Party. They are thankful to all who attended and to all who donated to their Spirit of the Season Fundraiser. They are pleased to announce that they raised over $850 for the Land of Lincoln Legal Aid, https://lincolnlegal.org/.

The Spirit of the Season donors included:

  • Denise Baker-Seal, Brown & James, P.C.
  • Laura Beasley, Baker Sterchi Cowden & Rice LLC
  • Joe Bleyer, Bleyer & Bleyer
  • Bill Busse, Busse & Busse, P.C.
  • Adam Carter, Esp Kreuzer & Cores, LLP
  • Greg Cochran, McKenna Storer
  • Donald Patrick Eckler, Goldberg Segalla LLP
  • John Eggum, Foran Glennon Palandech Ponzi & Rudloff, PC
  • Robert Elworth, HeplerBroom LLC


  • Terry Fox, Flaherty & Youngerman, P.C.
  • Linda Hay, HeplerBroom LLC
  • John Heil, Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen, P.C.
  • Anne Oldenburg, HeplerBroom LLC
  • Michael Resis, SmithAmundsen, LLC

Robson Forensic

S-E-A, Ltd.

  • Patrick Stufflebeam, Tressler LLP
  • Aleen Tiffany, HeplerBroom LLC
  • Sandra Wulf, Illinois Defense Counse

They would also like to thank the following companies for their sponsorship of the Holiday Party.   

  • Avalon Health Economics
  • ESi
  • MN Lawyers Mutual
  • Robson Forensic
  • S-E-A Limited


DRI New Members and Advocates

DRI welcomes the following members and advocates:


  • Shawn P. Cosgrove, Billings, MT
  • Terra Hittson, Santa Fe, NM
  • Fanny Turcios, Houston, TX
  • Michael Gooding, Chicago, IL
  • James J. Simeri, Saint Louis, MO
  • David Rocker, Portland, Oregon
  • Jacqueline Genesio, Abington, PA
  • Anthony Tamburro, Mechanicsville, VA
  • Erin O'Leary, New York, NY
  • Mary Rose Hughes, Washington, D.C.
  • Nancy Chinonis, Flint, MI
  • Samantha Buddig, Chicago, IL
  • Michael Lee Dunphy, Billings, MT
  • Kevin Bandy, Cincinnati, OH
  • Rachel E. Eilers, Tampa, FL
  • Casey John Heitz, Billings, MT
  • Thaddeus Harrell, Chicago, IL
  • Mark E. GiaQuinta, Fort Wayne, IN
  • Erin Gomez, Chattanooga, TN
  • Fanny Chac, Atlanta, GA
  • Jason Weigand, Bath, OH
  • Kathleen Curtis, Minneapolis, MN
  • Danielle E. Forsgren, Omaha, NE
  • Fredrick D. Clarke, III, Birmingham, AL
  • Norman Ladd, III, Tyler, TX
  • Joshua Michael Dille, Chicago, IL
  • Selma Moy, New York, NY
  • Geoffrey Cunningham, Billings, MT
  • John L. Doran, Towson, MD
  • Scott Andrew Jalowiec, San Francisco, CA
  • Faith Eaton, Dallas, TX
  • Patrick M. Delaney, Orlando, FL
  • Bryan N. Price, Charleston, WV
  • Julie Fix Meyer, St. Louis, MO
  • K. Justin Hutton, Johnson City, TN
  • Danielle Kegley, Chicago, IL
  • Carmen Cato, Tampa, FL
  • Ryan Blue, Rogers, AR
  • Madeleine Loeffler, Lexington, KY
  • Andrew Jason Ricke, Overland Park, KS
  • Brett Matthew Carson, Houston, TX
  • Zachary Lee Neighbors, Edmond, OK
  • Matthew J. Fischer, Chicago, IL
  • Thomas E. Lavender, III, Atlanta, GA
  • Blake T. Burns, Edmond, OK
  • Todd Hyman, Hoboken, NJ
  • Alison O'Dwyer, White Plains, NY
  • Doug Marcello, Carlisle, PA
  • Christina Russo, Fort Worth, TX
  • David Barker, Washington, D.C.
  • Margaret Caroline Binzer, Lorton, VA
  • Kathryn N. Tanner, Charleston, SC
  • Elena N. Boop, Cleveland, OH
  • Roberto Bazzani, Atlanta, GA
  • Caroline Ahler Augenstein, Lexington, KY
  • Abigail McCall, Fort Lauderdale, FL
  • Ryan Glass, Louisville, KY
  • David Paul Horowitz, Pound Ridge, NY
  • Brian C. Conley, West Chester, PA
  • Pamela Sue Webb, Nashville, TN
  • Keegan Madden, Chicago, IL
  • Judson Price, San Diego, CA
  • Marlon A. Primes, Cleveland, OH
  • Yuko Ann Nakahara, East Meadow, NY
  • Thomas A. Amon, Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • Will McGrath, Little Rock, AR
  • Rachael E. Palmer, St. Louis, MO


  • Baxter D. Drennon, Little Rock, AR
  • Elaine M. Stoll, Cincinnati, OH
  • Elizabeth M. Hutton, Johnson City, TN
  • Frank Carson, Columbus, OH
  • Geoffrey Cunningham, Billings, MT
  • Jason B. Hendren, Rogers, AR
  • Anthony J. Monaco, Chicago, IL
  • Ashley K. Brown, Lexington, KY
  • Melissa Dorman Matthews, Dallas, TX
  • Brad L. Roberson, Edmond, OK
  • Brian C. Bassett, Chicago, IL
  • Denise M. Montgomery, Philadelphia, PA
  • Chad E. Blomberg, Kansas City, MO
  • Edward J. Guardaro, White Plains, NY
  • Douglas K. Burrell, Atlanta, GA
  • Ellen H. Greiper, New York, NY
  • Jeffrey A. Swedo, Irvine, CA
  • Matthew C. Murphy, Minneapolis, MN
  • Jeffrey R. Williams, San Francisco, CA
  • Melissa M. Cowan, Los Angeles, CA
  • Nicole Walsh, Tampa, FL
  • Patrick J. Sodoro , Omaha, NE
  • Sandra J. Wunderlich, Saint Louis, MO
  • Tracey L. Turnbull, Cleveland, OH
  • Thomas J. Maroney, New York, NY
  • Barbara Hunyady, Okemos, MI
  • David J. MacMain, West Chester, PA
  • Deborah Masucci, Brooklyn, NY
  • Heather Gwinn Pabon, Nashville, TN
  • Mandy J. Kamykowski, Saint Louis, MO
  • Melissa Thompson Richardson, Lexington, KY
  • Steven I. Klein, Orlando, FL
  • Virginia L. Price, San Diego, CA


What We're Looking Forward To

2022 Trucking Law Seminar
April 27–29 – Austin, Texas

Do you want to know what the future of trucking is bringing? This seminar is focused on how the trucking industry is becoming smarter, faster, and better, and what attorneys, claims professionals, and industry representatives can do to get the edge and stem the tide of nuclear verdicts. Attendees will hear about smarter ways to effectively represent the trucking industry, either in settlement of cases or at trial, and reimagining the attorney/adjuster relationship to the benefit of our industry clients. Also hear about new and continuing tort reform efforts from the people spearheading a push for a more equitable legal system for the trucking community.

In anticipation of the gathering, here’s what our members are most looking forward to.

Learning the Latest Technology

Committee Chair Stephen G. Pesarchick of Sugarman Law Firm LLP said the conference will help attendees learn about the latest technological advancements, which help attorneys learn how to try a case “smarter, faster and better.”


Program Chair Bradford G. Hughes of Clark Hill LLP said the event’s reputation precedes it, attracting those who want to learn about the industry and connect with those working within it.

2022 Employment and Labor Law Seminar
May 11–13 – Denver, Colorado

DRI’s 45th annual Employment and Labor Law Seminar will bring together leading management-side employment and labor attorneys, in-house counsel, human resources professionals and EPLI representatives from throughout the U.S. and Canada. This seminar is indispensable for experienced practitioners as well as those new to labor and employment law.

In anticipation of the gathering, here’s what our members are most looking forward to.

Quality Content

The continuing legal education is "always helpful," and "there's certain programs I look forward to," said Program Chair Diane Krebs of Jackson Lewis P.C. “I’m a long standing member of the Employment and Labor Law Committee and attending the seminar is my favorite time of the year. The people that attend the seminar are what make it the best."

Jean Back of Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt PC echoed the sentiment and commented on the power of reconnecting with colleagues and friends during the event, as well.

Client Success

Sandy Morris of Valentine Austriaco & Bueschel PC said DRI allows her small Chicago firm to market itself as a “full service firm," expanding its reach and leading to client success.

2022 Diversity for Success Seminar
May 11–13 – Denver, Colorado

The DRI Diversity and Inclusion Committee invites you to the 17th annual Diversity for Success Seminar and Corporate Expo, where attendees will have the unique opportunity to hear from and network with in-house counsel and potential referral sources. You can participate in discussions on how law firm leaders and corporate law departments are handling the new, remote environment in the post-pandemic world and how it is affecting the recruitment and retention of diverse talent, and more!

In anticipation of the gathering, here’s what our members are most looking forward to.


Marc Hood of Swift Currie McGhee & Hiers LLP said when he first joined DRI, he was astounded by the diversity and gender identity. "It’s reaffirming to me to see other individuals who are part of that field," he noted. "Really inspiring and helping me focus my career."

"This seminar is my safe place to go see friends, see people who share the same vision, and a place that I can go and get support for day-to-day experiences I have in my career both personally and professionally," said Committee Chair for the Diversity and Inclusion Committee Stacy Douglas of Everett Dorey LLP. 

2022 Life, Health, Disability, and ERISA Seminar
May 18–20 – Nashville, Tennessee

DRI’s Life, Health, Disability, and ERISA Seminar is in person in 2022! Join us at the foremost conference for life, health, and disability practitioners to learn from top-notch faculty and exchange ideas about the latest developments in the law and industry. The 2022 program includes discussions on COVID-19-related disability claims and testing fee disputes, strategies for long-term care litigation and technological innovation effects on the insurance industry, the ever-popular Schmidtke on ERISA, and practical tips for both in-house and outside counsel to avoid litigation and defend claims when they arise. On top of unparalleled education, the seminar offers a wide array of networking opportunities, where you can build your book of business while enjoying Nashville with long-standing friends and new contacts.

In anticipation of the gathering, here’s what our members are most looking forward to.


Several committee members commented upon the lasting friendships they've built from attending this seminar, and they are excited to be back in person this year!

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DRI Members Share Their Victories

Quentin Urquhart and Kelly Brilleaux

McDonald Toole Wiggins PA and Irwin Fritchie Urquhart & Moore LLC won a summary judgment dismissal with prejudice for Crown Equipment Corporation in a suit brought by an operator of the RM6000, a forklift designed and manufactured by Crown. With the matter set for a five-day jury trial scheduled to begin on February 7, 2022, the Honorable Sarah S. Vance of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana issued the Order dismissing the case on January 20, 2022.

Quentin Urquhart and Kelly Brilleaux of Irwin Fritchie Urquhart & Moore in New Orleans helped prepare the Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff’s claim that the RM6000 was defectively designed under the Louisiana Products Liability Act (“LPLA”). Finding that Plaintiff was unable to meet his burden of proof on his design defect claim as a matter of law, the Court granted the Motion and dismissed the case with prejudice. Prior to this ruling, on January 7, 2022, the Court also granted Crown’s Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff’s claims for negligence and negligent maintenance and repair, holding that such claims were barred by the exclusivity provisions of the LPLA.

The case is Dawson Vallee v. Crown Equipment Corp. of Ohio, et al., No. CV 20-1571, 2022 WL 179532 (E.D.La. Jan. 20, 2022).

K. Justin Hutton and Elizabeth Hutton

DRI members, K. Justin Hutton and Elizabeth Hutton, of the East Tennessee firm of Herndon, Coleman, Brading & McKee, LLP obtained a defense verdict on behalf of Pediatric Pulmonologist, Barbara Stewart, M.D, and her employer ETSU Physicians and Associates in Victoria Miller, individually and as personal representative of Estate of Rebekah Miller, deceased v. Medical Education Assistance Corporation d/b/a ETSU Physicians and Associates and Barbara Stewart, M.D. in the Circuit Court of Washington County, Tennessee in August of 2021. The Plaintiff alleged that Dr. Stewart failed to properly diagnose and treat Rebekah Miller, a six (6) month old child with pre-existing heart conditions, who presented to Dr. Stewart’s office with complaints of respiratory distress. Shortly after being discharged from Dr. Stewart’s office the child presented to the Emergency Department in respiratory distress, and despite heroic treatments she continued to deteriorate and ultimately passed away the following day. The defense alleged that Dr. Stewart’s diagnoses and treatment of the child was appropriate with the information she had available to her at that time, but the child ultimately succumb to a rare, and in this case, fatal infection caused by Bordetella Bronchiseptica (Kennel Cough) that was undiagnosed at that time.

There were no settlement negotiations prior to trial. The Plaintiff asserted at trial that the child’s mother was entitled to damages in the range of $1.6 million to $2.7 million for lost earning capacity for the child, and additional monies for pain and suffering and loss of consortium.

After seven days of trial, the jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor the defense.

Tracy Kolb

Tracy KolbFollowing a two-week long trial in November 2021, Tracy Kolb obtained a defense verdict for all four of their clients, three physicians and a hospital, in a medical malpractice case tried to a jury in U.S. District Court in Bismarck, North Dakota. Their three co-defendants also earned defense verdicts. The lawsuit arose out of a prescription for the medication Bactrim. The patient developed Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS) with ocular involvement. SJS is an extraordinarily rare disorder. It was alleged that there was not an indication for the medication and multiple emergency department providers failed to recognize SJS due to an allergic reaction to Bactrim.

Keep The Defense Wins Coming!

Please send 250–500 word summaries of your “wins,” including the case name, your firm name, your firm position, city of practice, and email address, in Word format, along with a recent color photo as an attachment (.jpg or .tiff), highest resolution file possible, to DefenseWins@dri.org. Please note that DRI membership is a prerequisite to be listed in “And the Defense Wins,” and it may take several weeks for The Voice to publish your win.


Congratulations to DRI Members for Their Achievements

Nelson Mullins Expands National Litigation Practice in Minneapolis and Richmond

DRI Member Alana K. Bassin represents companies in product liability, commercial litigation, and general liability defense. She has defended individual and mass tort actions across the country involving high-exposure catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases.

Jenny Covington is a DRI Member and represents well-known medical device and pharmaceutical manufacturers in high-profile claims, often involving catastrophic injury and wrongful death. She also has experience defending numerous automotive and consumer product manufacturers.

Issac Messmore concentrates his practice on complex litigation matters, including class action defense, appeals and advanced motions, and commercial and product liability defense, and is also a DRI Member. He defends manufacturers of products from many industries, including motor vehicles, chemical products, and industrial power generation equipment.

DRI Member Rob Wise, focuses his practice on appeals and advanced motions, product liability defense, and complex commercial litigation, including class and mass actions. His product liability work focuses primarily on representing manufacturers and businesses in catastrophic personal injury matters nationwide.

Sinars Slowikowski Tomaska LLC is pleased to announce the opening of its West Coast office in Seattle, Washington. Attorneys in SST’s new office defend a variety of civil claims in Washington, Oregon and California. In addition to a large toxic tort practice, the Seattle office will further expand SST’s legal services in the construction, employment, cannabis, sexual abuse and title issue practice areas. Most importantly, SST’s West Coast office has extensive trial experience, further deepening SST’s current trial bench who were involved in back-to-back trials in Cook County, Illinois at the end of 2021.

Scott Wood, managing partner of the Seattle office, shares the enthusiasm: “We are excited to join SST and provide another level of practice flexibility to our clients. Joining SST makes sense because we all believe businesses should be built on relationships. We agree that our clients, be it a family-owned business or a Fortune 500 Company, receive the same level of expertise and attentiveness.”

In addition to SST’s new equity partner, attorneys, and DRI members Zackary Paal (partner), Melissa Roeder (of counsel), and Joshua Tinajero (associate) will also join the firm.

If you have a recent achievement or recognition, you would like featured, email your news to membership@dri.org. Please note that DRI reserves the right to review all accomplishments to ensure they are adequate for publishing. All submissions will be reviewed for relevance and compliance with DRI’s mission. Submissions may be edited to conform with our standards, and space limitations.


“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
– Maya Angelou