Article by Peter Trieu, a personal injury lawyer in Calgary, Alberta
Chandler, Kurt, Courtroom Avenger: The Trials and Triumphs of Robert Habush, American Bar Association press, 2014.
Courtroom Avenger is the inspiring story of renowned Wisconsin plaintiff’s lawyer, Robert L. Habush. I could not put the book down the moment I opened it. Although his story takes place in an American context, it’s a must-read for plaintiffs’ lawyers and anyone interested in a dramatic and engaging story about pursuing justice on behalf of people devastated by injury.
Robert Habush (Bob) was born on March 22, 1936. Bob’s father was a lawyer who struggled to build a general law practice during the Great Depression since none of the larger firms would hire him because he was Jewish.
Bob didn’t have any ambitions to study law after high school, but during University, his first major was in accounting and he eventually planned to practice business law. However, in 1960, when Bob was in his second-year of law school, his healthy, firstborn two-month old daughter, Sherri, developed a catastrophic neurological brain injury after being inoculated with a defective vaccine called Quadrigen.
It is this personal tragedy that unleashed Bob’s vengeance and channeled Bob’s rage to pursue justice as a trial lawyer and to serve as a protector, guardian and defender of countless victims devastated by injury. As he says today:
It’s a hundred year war…There’s not going to be an armistice. There’s not going to be a peace treaty. As long as I’m drawing breath I will get even. I will make them pay: the malpracticing doctors, defective manufacturers, the companies who sell unsafe products. That’s the way I am. There is no forgiveness in my heart. There is no turning the other cheek. There never was and there never will be.
How this book challenges me
A couple of key themes emerge through Bob Habush’s story that challenge and inspire me as a Plaintiff’s lawyer:
- I am inspired by Bob’s commitment to seeking the good of the profession and raising the bar for Personal Injury lawyers nationwide
For example, Bob was tirelessly involved with committees in the battle against tort reform—a movement aiming to implement caps on damage awards, implement “no-fault” insurance whereby plaintiffs would get reimbursed for losses without having to prove fault, in exchange for being prohibited from pursuing damages through the tort system for losses caused by at fault parties involved in a collision, and a movement aiming to implement measures that would deny plaintiffs recourse for pursuing justice through the civil justice system (for a good overview of the American tort reform agenda, purchase the documentary, “Hot Coffee”, located here: http://www.hotcoffeethemovie.com/Default.asp).
Bob’s efforts also helped him win verdicts that ultimately contributed to safer products, safer automobiles and safer medical procedures— with each verdict incentivizing some of the most powerful companies in the United States to improve product and procedural safety.
Furthermore, Bob’s successful verdicts and settlements influenced public policy, industry practices and case law in a number of areas including punitive damages, governmental immunity and product liability law.
2. I am inspired by Bob’s persistence, determination and tenacity which enabled him to make a significant, meaningful and palpable difference in people’s lives
Bob’s fearlessness and imagination was cultivated in the early years of his career. On his first day of work, Bob’s father dumped fifty car accident cases on Bob’s desk—cases that Bob describes as his cadavers, stating, “They were like the dead bodies that medical students dissect when they’re training. I didn’t have a single client who had the right of way. They were blowing stop signs, running red lights, making left turns without yielding. Every conceivable offence. But they had been hurt in the accidents and they wanted a lawyer”. Insurance companies would either send a lowball settlement offer, or take Bob to trial, and Bob tells us that he “ended up trying one or two cases a month for an entire year in front of a jury and never winning one—not one”.
In trying the “cadaver” cases, Bob never gave up and his efforts eventually began paying dividends. His perseverance enlarged his courtroom presence, sharpened his ability to persuade jurors and the Court, and he obtained verdicts that exceeded the offers the insurance companies proposed to his clients. By instinctively taking hard cases to trial early on in his career, Bob developed courage as he confronted the possibilities of failure. In taking “garbage” cases to trial, he cultivated fearlessness by not being afraid of failing and not being deterred by the size of his opponents.
One of the most valuable lessons from Courtroom Avenger is that fear of failure must be outweighed and overborne by something far deeper, nobler and greater—and that is, a deep-seated, deeply rooted, relentless and passionate pursuit of justice. A person cannot pursue justice by failing to confront and striving to overcome his or her fear of failure.
Read this book if you want to know more about some of the following stories of justice:
Justice for the young sawmill worker who lost his legs to a recklessly designed buzz saw.
Justice for the insurance agent who, on the eve of his retirement was infected with the AIDS virus by a contaminated blood additive.
Justice for the high school girl who was sexually assaulted by her trusted coach and religion teacher…
Justice for [Bob’s] daughter, who suffered brain damage from a defective and dangerous vaccine when she was two months old.
If you are wondering whether you’ve picked the right career as a Plaintiff’s lawyer, or if you are looking for stories to encourage you in your journey as a Plaintiff’s lawyer, Courtroom Avenger is a must read.
Article by Peter Trieu, a personal injury lawyer in Calgary, Alberta.
 Chandler, Kurt. 2014. Courtroom Avenger: The challenges and triumphs of Robert Habush. Chicago: American Bar Association, p. 7.
 Chandler 2014, p. 24
 Chandler 2014, p. 20-21.
 Chandler 2014, p. 125.
 Chandler, 2014, p. 101
Chandler, 2014, p. 143.
 Chandler, 2014, p. 26
 Chandler, 2014, p. 27.
 Chandler, 2014, 268-269.