Policy: Law

John Edwards, chasing ambulances again

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Byron York,North Carolina,Trial Lawyers,Law,Civil Suits,John Edwards

Former Sen. John Edwards came within a few electoral votes of being vice president of the United States. But now, after a loss in the 2004 election, a brief run in 2008 ended by spectacular adultery and love-child scandal, a hung jury in a multiple-felony campaign-finance case, and the death of wife Elizabeth, Edwards has returned to the occupation in which he first made his name: the practice of personal injury law.

Edwards' new firm, Edwards Kirby, based in Raleigh with an office in Washington, is pursuing customers with all the zeal of a late-night, local-cable informercial. Its website -- call 1 (866) 409-2250 -- is dominated by the words: "…AND JUSTICE FOR ALL" and outlines the firm's expertise in personal injury litigation.

"Whether your loss occurred on an operating table, a factory floor, at the workplace or on the highway, our wrongful death lawyers will explore every avenue of recovery," the Edwards Kirby site says. "We have a history of securing record-setting verdicts and settlements in cases involving personal injury, including: Trucking and Auto Accidents; Wrongful Death and Catastrophic Injury; Drowning Accidents; Burn Injuries; Construction and Premise Liability; [and] Defective or Unsafe Products."

Edwards has scored some of his biggest wins in medical malpractice suits; indeed, he was once so successful that he was accused of driving entire fields of medical specialists out of North Carolina and sending insurance rates through the roof. The new Edwards Kirby firm is looking for the same type of business. "Whether your case involves birth injuries caused in the delivery room, botched surgery or a missed diagnosis, the medical malpractice lawyers at Edwards Kirby can advise and represent you," the website says.

The homepage features a sidebar with the headline PROVEN RESULTS. The message is simple and clear: We win big money:

DROWNING/POOL ACCIDENTS

$30.9 MILLION decision for 5-year old girl injured by a pool drain pump.

CATASTROPHIC INJURIES

$23.3 MILLION verdict for child who suffered brain injuries at birth.

TRUCK/AUTO ACCIDENTS

$10.75 MILLION settlement for family of children injured/killed in truck accident.

BURN/ELECTROCUTION INJURIES

$4.1 MILLION verdict for burn injuries received while on the job.

CONSTRUCTION/PREMISE LIABILITY

$8 MILLION settlement for passerby killed during construction accident.

Some readers might think Edwards has been disbarred. He hasn't. He was indicted in June 2011 on six felony counts, accused of using campaign funds to cover up his affair with Rielle Hunter, a woman he hired to make a video for his 2008 presidential run. One reason Edwards did not plead guilty to a reduced charge -- he had the chance -- was that it might have involved disbarment. "Friends said he was loath to lose his law license," the New York Times reported in 2011. "He has expressed interest in practicing public-service law."

Edwards was back in the courtroom recently, suing an emergency-room doctor for "brain damage and physical injuries that a 4-year-old Virginia boy received in December 2009 when he was an infant in the care of Pitt County Memorial Hospital," according to the Raleigh News-Observer. The plaintiffs had already won a $13 million settlement from the hospital involved; the jury deadlocked in the case against the doctor.

"I really loved being back in the courtroom," Edwards told the News-Observer. "It really felt like a gift for me."

It's not known how much Edwards will take home from the $13 million settlement in the brain damage case. But the fortunes of lawyers like him come from taking a big part — sometimes half — of multi-million dollar awards in jury trials. The bigger the award, the bigger Edwards' payday. But Edwards told the News-Observer that his work is consistent with the populist focus on poverty he emphasized in the "two Americas" message of his political campaigns.

"Two Americas — heartbreaking for me and a lot of people — is still alive and well," Edwards told the paper. "It’s not gotten better. There’s a lot that can be done….The courtroom allows [plaintiffs] to level the playing field."

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