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Everything Is Personal

AttorneyoftheMonth_2013Before Robert J. Francavilla, partner in San Diego’s oldest plaintiff’s law firm, Casey Gerry Schenk Francavilla Blatt & Penfield, LLP, was even in high school, he planned to pursue a career in which he could help others. “My father told me that if I wanted to help change things for the better, being a lawyer would be a great way to do it,” Francavilla says. Continuing, he explains, “my dad worked extremely hard for our family and taught me to treat others well.” He also recalls his father encouraging him that nothing was impossible. “He told me, if you feel overmatched, you can still always outwork others,” he says. His father was proven right. The determination to work hard has served Francavilla—and more importantly—his clients extremely well for more than 25 years.

 

PLAINTIFF’S WORK: A PASSION PROJECT
Robert Francavilla 2For Francavilla, who joined CaseyGerry in 1985, deciding to go into plaintiff’s work came with a great deal of responsibility. His clients, many of whom have suffered serious personal injury, ranging from brain and spinal injuries, to loss of limbs, severe burns, to major  orthopedic  injuries,  are  simply  outmatched when it comes to recouping their dignity and rising above tragedy. “The odds are stacked against our clients. They are up against powerful organizations, product manufacturers, public entities and insurance companies.  Most  of  my  cases  involve  catastrophic injury. My goal and objective is to return these people to a life of dignity and give them hope for a better tomorrow. I am in a position to help them, and that’s a big responsibility which I take very seriously,” he says.

It’s also a responsibility that Francavilla enjoys tremendously. “My clients inspire me. Sometimes I wonder, ‘Wow, could I do what they are doing?’ These people have been knocked down and continue to step up to challenges. I learn so much from them,” he says. He says many of his clients demonstrate sheer grit in the face of overwhelming adversity. “They motivate me, and I have the honor of helping them get the compensation they need to return them to a place of feeling like they have value.”

It is precisely because Francavilla forges such strong bonds with his clients that he is able to battle fellow “top-fight attorneys” and emerge victorious time and again. “I am working for a person, a human being,” he says, as opposed to working for an insurance company or large corporation. “When I get to know these people and hear their stories, it makes me care so much more.” To that end, he admits that what drives him to put everything he has into a case for a victim isn’t just about winning. “My fear of losing and letting these people down far outweighs any elation that comes from winning.”

Not surprisingly, he has reaped some significant verdicts and settlements. In fact, Francavilla has achieved results of more than $22 million in just the last several months—most recently settling a complex premises liability case on behalf of a seriously injured client for $7.5 million in damages. He is relentless in his pursuit of justice. “I never give up when it comes to my clients,” he says. “If someone or some company is responsible and will not own up to that responsibility, I will fight to hold them accountable.”

What sets Francavilla apart from many lawyers is his ability and willingness to take cases to trial when justice demands it. He explains that, “Every single case is approached as if it is headed to trial. This type of thorough preparation ensures a fearless pursuit of any challenge or adversary.” His five Outstanding Trial Lawyer Awards received from the Consumer Attorneys of San Diego, nomination for Consumer Attorneys of California Trial Lawyer of the Year, and numerous trial victories attest to that.

Robert Francavilla

CHOOSING A CHALLENGE
Francavilla’s drive to help others means that he will take on extraordinarily difficult cases—and battle to receive fair and just compensation. While he most often takes on large and highly visible cases, he is quick to confirm that he will take on less serious injuries if he believes that a client was wronged, even if the case presents a challenge. “I’m not afraid of going up against anyone,” he says. “My passion for helping others keeps me going.”

Moreover, his passion is shared by the entire firm, which will do everything in its power to help clients who have suffered injury receive compensation so they can move on and rebuild their lives. However, that’s not to say that they take every case.  “We are fighters and we will not shrink from a challenge, but we do not think it’s fair to put the client through years of stress, if we don’t think we can win. Clients appreciate that honesty,” he adds.

But that doesn’t mean that the firm doesn’t take each case that comes in seriously. As a matter of fact, CaseyGerry   invests its own resources in cases it may ultimately wind up turning down. “Our mock jury and focus groups are often used to determine whether or not we will take a case. We are able to watch mock jury deliberation on closed circuit, which allows us to do our job better. Sometimes cases we might have turned down, we pursue as a result of using focus groups,” Francavilla says. Of course, he admits that focus groups don’t always predict how a case will go, but can help highlight strengths and weaknesses of potential or ongoing cases. “We are willing to invest in cases even if we don’t ultimately take them.”

Another advantage CaseyGerry clients enjoy is Francavilla’s ability to call on his in-house investigation team—which includes his own brother, Paul Francavilla—to obtain witness statements and photos, so that the firm can accurately determine whether a potential client has a good case and to properly prepare for trial. Careful case selection is of utmost importance to the CaseyGerry firm, and according to Francavilla, this has been true since the firm opened its doors more than 66 years ago. “David Casey Sr.’s desire was to provide CaseyGerry clients with access to the courthouse, and preparing the right cases for trial is the best way to accomplish this,” he says.

Robert Francavilla and Firm

IT’S NOT A GAME
For Francavilla, one thing is clear when it comes to helping victims receive the compensation they need to rebuild their lives. “This is not a game. These are real people, and this is real life,” he says.  For him that begins when he goes to a client’s home, and sees the ways their lives have been upended by a horrible tragedy. Even if he knows it will be a tough case, believing in the cause is his single greatest asset.

Such was the case of teenage football player Scott Eveland. In 2007, Eveland collapsed on a San Marcos high school football field and ultimately suffered a serious brain injury stemming from bleeding in the brain. Together with senior partner David Casey Jr., Francavilla was able to obtain a $5 million dollar settlement to help support the disabled athlete for the rest of his life.

The high profile case, which settled in 2012, set a record for the greatest number of depositions (more than 250) taken on a personal injury case in San Diego. But the experience also served as the catalyst for Francavilla’s advocacy for football players on an even greater scale. “After the Eveland case, I was contacted by a retired NFL player. He explained that he expected torn ligaments, strains and sprains, but no one ever gave him the information—which the NFL had—which demonstrated that repetitive trauma to the head can lead to lifelong brain damage,” Francavilla says.

In 2012, following the death of Junior Seau, CaseyGerry was appointed to serve on the Plaintiffs Steering Committee overseeing national MDL litigation against the National Football League (NFL) which alleges that multiple concussions can lead to long-term brain injuries. Francavilla’s success in the Eveland case led to his serving on the medicine and science sub-committee of the NFL suit.

“Had players been given the accurate information, that  repetitive  head  trauma  was  so  dangerous,  I think many would have left the game. These players, who have the biggest chunk of their life remaining after they retire, are thrown to the scrapheap, with potential lifelong injuries. I’ve even spoken to an NFL Hall of Famer, who told me ‘if I would have known, I would have played baseball instead,’” Francavilla says.

But what about those who claim that football players should obviously know that they are putting themselves at risk, when they choose that career? According to Francavilla, that’s not true and not altogether the point. “The NFL is the model, and represents the ultimate in football. From college, to high school to the pee-wee league, they set the standard. When the NFL withholds information, what does this mean for the health and well-being of our kids? The lawsuit is raising awareness, and ideally proving that better medical attention and better return- to-play policies after a head injury are crucial. Players must heal to the point that they have no more symptoms, or else they are more vulnerable to reinjury,” he explains. “This is especially true of children and teens whose brains are still developing. “

Robert Francavilla and Family

GOODWILL AS A WAY OF LIFE
In the same way that his father instilled in him the values and lessons that helped shape the person and lawyer he is today, Robert works to instill in his young sons a devotion to keeping people safe and advocating on behalf of those who have been victimized. For now he does so at a level that his young sons can understand. “I try to teach them that it is easy to be critical of someone, it is easy to make people feel bad. The real challenge is to help make people feel better. My seven year old is already protecting kids on the playground who are being picked on,” he says with a smile. Ultimately, “I do this job as a way to provide my family—wife, Carla, and sons, Zachary and Dominic— with a better life and to give them an appreciation of their life and compassion for the hardships of others. They know that I try to help people make the best out of a horrible situation.”

That passion for helping others transcends into charity work for Francavilla personally, and for the firm as a whole. Francavilla serves on the Board of Directors of Head-North, a Del Mar based nonprofit dedicated to providing help and hope for spinal cord injury survivors. Francavilla was invited to serve on the board by a client he’d previously represented. “The organization works  really  hard  to  help  those  who  have  suffered a spinal cord injury adjust to their new lives,” he says. Not surprisingly, fellow members of Head-North also include family members of clients that Francavilla has represented. “The work that Head-North does to help people transition into their new ‘normal’ is remarkable,” he says.

Francavilla’s colleagues at CaseyGerry are also immersed in various non-profit organizations, serving in leadership positions for community and charitable organizations including the Civil Justice Foundation, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, the United Jewish Federation, the San Diego County (Del Mar) Fair Board and the San Diego Kiwanis Foundation. The firm has also contributed financially to support organizations including but not limited to, the Paul Jacobson Spinal Cord Foundation, Las Patronas, the USD School of Law and Children’s Hospital of San Diego. CaseyGerry attorneys also played a key role in developing legislation and policies that led to Trial Lawyers Care (TLC), which provided pro bono legal support to the families of the victims of 9/11/01. The program became the largest pro bono undertaking in the history of American law.

The goodwill efforts of the firm can be traced in large part to the firm’s managing partner, David Casey, Jr. “He has worked incredibly hard to continue to make the firm that his dad opened in 1947 better and better,” Francavilla says. “He has successfully helped the firm earn its stellar reputation with judges and lawyers, as well as reinforce our staying power, and our excellent trial results,” he adds.

But of course, no man is an island, and certainly not within the CaseyGerry firm. “All of our attorneys live in, and want to better the San Diego community. It is our home,” he says. Within the walls of the practice, the sense of family and community prevails as well. “It’s a family oriented firm, and with husbands and wives and kids stopping by, it can be like Grand Central in here,” he jokes. Indeed, the firm cares about family, cares about the San Diego community, cares about setting standards for excellence, and most importantly, cares about helping those who need their help. In coming years, Francavilla expects that the firm’s mass tort division will grow, but he admits “there is no pre-planned mode of expansion in place.” However, “we are open to bringing in new people to help service our clients, because we are always interested in areas of law where we can help people.”

EDUCATION

  • University of San Diego, B.B.A.
  • University of San Diego, J.D.

AFFILIATIONS

  • State Bar of California, Member
  • Consumer Attorneys of San Diego, President
  • American Board of Trial Advocates, Member
  • American Association for Justice, Member
  • San Diego County Bar Association, Member

AWARDS

  • Five Time Winner of the Consumer Attorneys of San Diego Outstand­ing Trial Lawyer Award
  • Super Lawyers, San Diego Edition, 2007 – 2013
  • Best Lawyers in America 2008 – 2013
  • Top Attorneys, San Diego Daily Transcript 2012 – 2013
  • Top 50 San Diego Super Lawyers, June 2010
  •  50 People to Watch in 2012, San Diego Magazine, January 2012

Contact:

Robert J. Francavilla
www.cglaw.com | rjf@cglaw.com
619.238.1811
110 Laurel St., San Diego, CA 92101-1486

Karen Gorden

Karen Gorden is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal.

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About the Author: Karen Gorden is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal.

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