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PaTLA: fostering public awareness and understanding of the role of the trial lawyer in the administration of justice.

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New PaTLA President tells real stories of victims helped by civil justice systems.
PaTLA News
A publication of the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association
August 1997

Putting faces and names to the compelling tales of victims who have been injured seriously as a result of medical negligence, insurance industry cost cutting, unsafe or defective products, motor vehicle accidents or workplace injuries, Carol Nelson Shepherd, the new president of the Pennsylvania Trial lawyers Association (PaTLA) pledged to serve as the representative voice of injured Pennsylvanians. Shepherd, a founding partner in the Philadelphia law firm of Feldman, Shepherd & Wohlgerlernter, is PaTLA's second woman President.

Speaking at her inaugural address on July 12 to more than 200 state trial lawyers at PaTLA's annual convention in Farmington, Pa., Shepherd said that she and other lawyers have a duty to speak on behalf of victims regarding the importance of our civil justice systems, and the fact that, despite propaganda to the contrary, it works effectively to compensate injuried victims of negligent conduct, to deter unsafe conduct, and to guard against the manufacture and distribution of unsafe products. In her address, Shepherd outlined three important areas where PaTLA can make a difference. "First, in the courts, we will continue to serve as capable and effective advocates for our clients," said Shepherd. "Second, in the Pennsylvania legislature, as well as in Washington, we will remain a strong voice for consumers," she added. "Third, in the public realm, we must make every effort to dispel the untruths and the anecdotal and misleading stories about our civil justice system that have been used by business and insurance interests to pollute the perception of lawyers, the legal system and the rights of tort victims." Shepherd explained that educating the public on the truth about our justice system is crucial because it is the public who will serve as jurors and potential jurors to hear and decide our clients' cases.

Shepherd began her remarks by telling the stories of several clients who have been harmed by medical negligence, cost cutting by the insurance industry and lax safety standards for product manufacturers. In words and pictures, Shepherd personalized the cases of plaintiffs whose lives have been turned upside down by the careless conduct of others.

  • A 26-year-old woman who lost her right leg because doctors failed to timely diagnose a circulation problem that developed after a fairly routine operation, even as her symptoms increased daily.
  • An infant who developed neonatal jaundice, an otherwise treatable disorder, but because of the early discharge of newborns from hospitals in response to insurance industry cost cutting, was not diagnosed early enough. As a result, this little baby suffered devastating injuries to her brain leaving her blind and never able to function at a development level above one to four months of age.
  • A young woman who lost all of the fingers on one hand in a lawn mower accident that could have been prevented if the "commercial" lawn mower she was using had the same safety devices as were required for lawn mowers intended for "consumers." This regulatory "loophole" was undoubtedly sponsored by the lawn mower industry.

"These stories are all true," said Shepherd. "Everyday, these and other victims turn to our courts for justice - and the system works," she added. Shepherd said that PaTLA is now confronting the toughest battle in the courts of public opinion in the 20 years that she has been practicing law. The public's perception of tort litigants and the good and honorable work of trial lawyers is being sullied by those who would deprive victims of essential legal rights, she said.

Carol Nelson Shepherd brings extraordinary talent to our her new position as PaTLA President. Having been a trial lawyer for nearly two years primarily on medical malpractice, but has included also litigation involving medical devices, products liability and motor vehicle claims.

Shepherd is a graduate of Syracuse University College of Law and Arizona State University. She has held leadership positions with the American Bar Association, as vice-chair of its Law & Medicine Committee (1995-97); the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, as a member of its Board of Governors (1988-91); the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association, becoming its first woman president in 1987; the Pennsylvania Bar Association, as a member of its House of Delegates (1987-present) and chair of its Civil Litigation Section (1995-96); and the Philadelphia Bar Association, as a member of its Board of Governors (1985-88) and as a past chair of the State Civil Judicial Procedures Committee.

An active member of the PaTLA for nearly 20 years, she is a past chair of many committees and has been involved with virtually all of the Association's committees, programs and activities. She has written and lectured prolifically since 1979 and has been the recipient of numerous honors and awards.

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