In today’s civil litigation system, we rely on plaintiff’s lawyers to protect our rights. They serve regular people and society as a whole. Plaintiff’s attorneys are dedicated to a fair trial and upholding the rights of individuals to seek justice.
Historically, a lack of good plaintiff’s attorneys have left individuals with unfortunate results. This is because there were no good plaintiff’s lawyers to help protect them and seek the outcome they needed following a catastrophic event.
What happens when there are no good plaintiff’s attorneys to help people through civil litigation? What happens when nobody is there to uphold fairness and force others to take responsibility for their negligent actions? The 1914 case of Gulla v. Triangle Shirtwaist Co. is a perfect example.
The Gulla V. Triangle Shirtwaist CO. Case and Its Impact on Civil Litigation
On March 25, 1911 in New York City, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was home to the city’s deadliest industrial disaster in history when it caught fire, ultimately claiming the lives of 146 garment workers, including 123 women and 23 men.
The workers were stuck inside, dying from fire, smoke inhalation, or falling or jumping from the factory, which was located on the Asch Building’s eighth, ninth, and tenth floors. The victims ranged in ages from 14 to 43. Many were recent immigrants and barely spoke any English.
During the times, it was a common occurrence for owners to lock the doors to stairwells and exits to prevent unauthorized breaks and avoid potential theft. Unfortunately, the doors were locked when the fire broke out and they couldn’t escape. A shipping clerk brought in a firehose, but it didn’t work. There was no pressure and nothing came out.
The catastrophe led to improved safety standards. Between 1911 and 1914, there were 36 new laws to reform the state labor code. However, it did very little for the victims of the fire.
Public outrage ensued and the state was pressured to press criminal charges.
In December of 1911, owners Isaac Harris and Max Blanck faced their criminal trial on charges of manslaughter. Their lawyer was Max Steuer, a giant in the New York legal world. The judge in the case, Judge Thomas Crain, instructed jurors that in order to return a guilty verdict, they had to find two facts:
- The door was locked during the fire
- The defendants knew, or should have known that the door was locked
Assistant District Attorney Charles S. Bostwick called on 103 witnesses—the defense presented 52, including key witness May Levantini, who Bostwick claimed lied on the stand.
On the final day of the trial, in just under two hours, the jury returned and rendered their verdict: not guilty.
One juror, Victor Steinman, was quoted as saying “I believed that the door was locked at the time of the fire, but we couldn’t find them guilty unless we believed they knew the door was locked.”
Three years after the fire, there were twenty-three individual civil lawsuits filed against the owner of the Asch Building. They settled with the recovery averaging at just $75 per life lost. This roughly translates to just $1,892.54 in today’s value.
The Problem Faced by the Plaintiffs — No Good Plaintiff’s Lawyers
Despite the evidence from the criminal proceedings being made available to plaintiffs in a civil case, there were no plaintiff’s lawyers on the level of Max Steuer. Nobody stood out from the fray to help these individuals take legal action against the negligent parties.
The result? A clear-cut case of reckless management led to virtually nothing for the grieving families.
What should have been an open and shut case for the plaintiffs turned into nothing more than a footnote in the history of trial law and further proof that good plaintiff’s attorneys can help make a difference.
The Importance of Good Plaintiff’s Lawyers
Good plaintiff’s attorneys serve a purpose in civil trial law beyond simply representing a case. They are there to serve real people dealing with life-changing tragedies during one of life’s most difficult moments. They level the playing field when large companies and negligent individuals employ personal injury defense lawyers.
They serve society as a whole and validate our belief that justice can be obtained when someone is wronged.
Injured individuals or families of those who have lost a life due to other’s negligence deserve to have someone on their side who is dedicated to protecting their rights to a fair trial. Good plaintiff’s lawyers give peace of mind to those relying on them to get results.
With good plaintiff’s lawyers, judicial failures such as Gulla v. Triangle Shirtwaist Co. can be avoided and real people can get real justice. Without them, we live in a world where trials benefit the needs of well-funded companies and corporations far more than the needs of regular people. This goes against the three underlying principles of the legal system: fairness, rights and remedies, and neutral adjudication.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.” When it favors one side, we fail to progress, and justice will never be served.
Good plaintiff’s lawyers obtain justice. They force negligent parties to change and improve for the betterment of the society. They help those in need to secure compensation and justice. They go beyond the call of duty to protect plaintiffs in the ultimate forum. Anything else fails our communities and forces us to accept the wrongdoings and injustices we have endured. This isn’t something that anybody should stand for, regardless of the situation. In the end, having a good plaintiff lawyer is imperative for the survival of civil rights and the fairness of the justice system. That’s a duty we’ve gladly fulfilled for nearly 100 years—and we’ll continue to fulfill for the next 100.