Once Federal Judge, Now Plaintiff's Lawyer
This week a jury landed least $525 million in damages on the creator of an unsafe highway guardrail that spears rather than saves. We talked to former federal judge Walter Kelley, now at Hausfeld LLP, whose patent case unearthed the deadly product violation.
Walt sat on the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia until '08; after leaving, he picked up a patent suit over guardrail endcaps. In the course of the case, it turned out that the endcaps speared cars rather than absorbing the force of collisions. Then at Jones Day and unable to take on qui tam plaintiffs' work, Walt handed it off to Boies Schiller and McKool Smith. Since it's a False Claims Act case, the jury verdict of $175 million is automatically tripled. Walt tells us that with penalties and attorneys' fees, the total award will likely be $600-700 million.
Walt, who joined global claimants firm Hausfeld LLP a week ago, says it will be involved in follow-on actions, including a nationwide series of product liability actions. He showed us a picture of one of the offending guardrails—there are 500,000 around the country. Their creator, Trinity, changed the design without disclosing it to the Federal Highway Administration or properly testing them. When a car hits, the metal should continue curling up; the ones made by Trinity flip outward. Some collisions allegedly led to lost limbs and fatalities.
Walt tells us he joined Hausfeld from Jones Day for the freedom to pursue matters like this whistleblower case and represent plaintiffs. He's interested in antitrust matters, of which there are dozens in the office, including those with Air Cargo and the NCAA. He says he is looking forward to "being on the side of angels" and breaking these things up.
Does Walt miss sitting on the bench? It's a mixed bag, he says. There were days when it was great, but much of the joy depended on the type of cases; he preferred complex, sophisticated ones, but found that when he was on the court, most dealt with drugs, guns, and employment discrimination. When he's not in the office, you can probably find Walt racing sailboats—he grew up on the water in Norfolk—or if he's on land, playing golf.