Miami trial lawyer Edward Moss, who died Wednesday afternoon at age 78 at his Coconut Grove home of complications from prostate cancer, was a rarity in the legal field.
He was a plaintiff’s lawyer who stood up to big corporations on behalf of his clients. And then he navigated a tricky maneuver into defense work and represented corporate clients including Brown & Williamson, Texaco, Boeing, Home Depot, DuPont and others.
“That’s highly unusual to handle both plaintiff and defense cases,” said law partner and friend Ken Reilly, who worked alongside Moss at Shook, Hardy & Bacon. “He had a wonderful career as a plaintiff lawyer for a long time.”
Indeed, one of the most rewarding cases of Moss’ illustrious career revolved around a 1979 car crash that left a man paralyzed after an accident in Naples. Moss argued that the axle on the car was faulty and that General Motors was liable. A jury agreed and ordered GM to pay $4.5 million to the accident victim.
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The decision changed the life of Moss’ middle son, Andrew, 43, a Miami plaintiff lawyer.
“The GM case was the reason I wanted to become a plaintiff’s attorney,” Andrew Moss said. “I was 12 or 13 when that verdict came back. Mom took my older brother and me to see my dad and he and his client were having a get-together at the hotel. The client rolled up in a wheelchair and gave me a giant hug and said, ‘Your dad means the world to me.’ And that hooked me.”
Years later, in 1997, Moss represented tobacco company Brown & Williamson against a $5 billion class-action suit initiated six years earlier by flight attendant Norma Broin, a nonsmoker who was nevertheless diagnosed with lung cancer. She said secondhand smoke aboard jetliners was the cause of the cancer.
A $346 million settlement was reached — four tobacco giants had to pay $300 million to establish a research foundation and $46 million to the plaintiffs’ legal team and their associates. The plaintiffs won the right to sue the corporations individually, but no money.
Moss, who was born in Miami on Sept. 21, 1936, wasn’t thrilled with the decision. But not bowed.
“He was a big believer that the law only works if both sides have good lawyers and he never lost respect for the clients on the plaintiffs’ side. But he always thought he was doing the best he could for the civil justice system and both sides deserved the best lawyers they could hire,” Andrew Moss said.
Moss, in an interview with the legal journal Lawdragon, said he was comfortable in both fields.
“There are some things about plaintiffs’ work that, if you’ve done it and done it reasonably well, there has to be something wrong with you if you don’t miss it. A lot of the practice involves getting good results or verdicts for some very nice people. But I’ve become known as a defense lawyer, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I enjoy what I do.”
Moss, an avid golfer, was a graduate of Miami Beach Senior High School, the University of Florida and the law school at the University of Miami. He earned a number of distinctions in the legal community, among them a 2011 Legal Legend in Miami-Dade award and a Top 10 Lawyers in Florida ranking. He also was a board member of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, whose membership is limited to the top 500 trial lawyers in the country.
He spent his entire career, up until two weeks before his death, practicing law in the downtown Miami area. Among the firms in which he was a partner: Fuller, Brumer & Moss and Anderson & Moss. He merged the latter with the national firm Shook, Hardy & Bacon.
In court, Moss was described as “cool, even genteel, generally soft-spoken but assertive” in a 1997 Miami Herald article.
One exchange between Moss and his rival, Miami Beach school chum Stanley Rosenblatt, who represented the flight attendants, nearly led to contempt charges by a steamed judge.
Moss accused his nemesis of speechifying to the press.
Rosenblatt: “I resent that. And I’m sick of it. You’re the phony with the press.”
Moss: “Oh, cut the crap.”
Rosenblatt: “You cut the crap.”
Moss: “Now, you wait just a minute…”
You could say they were caught up in the passion of the moment.
“Ed was a truly fine trial lawyer but also one of the nicest, most generous, most liked human beings I ever encountered,” law partner Reilly said. “He enjoyed a spectacular reputation.”
Moss is survived by his wife, Eileen; his sons Hugh, Andrew, Devin and his stepson Brady; grandchildren Michael, Michelle, Finley and Emerson, and his sister Dorothy. A celebration of life will be held 1 to 4 p.m. March 6 at the Garden House at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, 10901 Old Cutler Rd., Coral Gables.
Donations can be made to the Mario Eisenberger Research Fund at Johns Hopkins University, attention Michael Hibler, Kimmel Cancer Center, 17th Floor, 750 E. Pratt St., Baltimore, MD 21202.
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