‘A Lot of Chutzpah’

But octogenarian Bob Parks doesn’t fight—until he needs to

Published in 2018 Florida Super Lawyers magazine

By Harris Meyer on June 18, 2018

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Bob Parks doesn’t make small talk or fight with opposing lawyers over minor things like scheduling hearings. The famed Miami plaintiff’s attorney has never had time to waste. At 80, that hasn’t changed.

“He is a strong, no-nonsense guy, a very able lawyer,” says aviation and aerospace attorney Aaron Podhurst, Parks’ former partner for nearly 25 years and a litigation legend in his own right.

“He only fights over what he has to,” says Thomas Scott, a former U.S. attorney and judge who has presided over cases with Parks and also worked across the aisle from him. “He takes cases other lawyers wouldn’t take because they’re very difficult. He has a lot of courage.”

A national expert on aviation liability, Parks has handled more than 200 plane crash cases. He’s also led the way in holding offshore resort and cruise line operators accountable in U.S. courts.

And he’s won products liability cases against large pharmaceutical companies. Parks served as lead attorney in a national class action case on behalf of hemophiliacs infected with HIV from blood-clotting products. “It was a very emotional situation,” Parks says. “It was very rewarding to get the settlement, which meant a lot to these people. But it was painful to go through.”

With Lyn, his wife of 32 years, he recently drove to Palm Beach to attend a meeting of the board of the Everglades Foundation. As chair of its litigation committee, he was plotting strategies in case the Legislature failed to OK a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to ensure clean, fresh water flows through the endangered “sea of grass.”

“We’re trying to avoid talk of litigation,” he says.

Parks was born in the Bahamas. Once an avid boater and scuba diver, he chaired the state’s Environmental Regulation Commission from 1978 to 1986 and spearheaded efforts to clean up the polluted Miami River. And he was named Environmentalist of the Year by the National Audubon Society.

Parks was the first person in his family to get a college degree, attending the University of Florida. He wanted to be a diplomat, but hadn’t been a naturalized citizen long enough to take the Foreign Service exam.

“I went to law school thinking I would get into the international part through law,” he recalls. “I had no motivation at all as a young person to be a lawyer. But it seemed to work out pretty well.”

After graduating from Georgetown Law School, Parks got his Florida Bar license in 1964 and teamed up with Podhurst in 1970 at what became Podhurst Orseck & Parks, where he and his colleagues became known for handling major airline crash cases.

“Through changes in the aviation industry,” he says, “a lot of time spurred by litigation, flying is safer than ever.” But Parks never wanted to learn to fly himself. “I’ve learned enough about planes not to be a pilot,” he deadpans.

He also became an expert in helping families of people injured or killed in resort and cruise-line accidents to move their cases from foreign venues to plaintiff-friendlier U.S. courts.

Scott, now with Cole, Scott & Kissane, recalls a trial he presided over while a district judge in Miami in the late 1980s, in which he needed to bifurcate the case. Parks was up by himself against six defense attorneys from a big out-of-state firm.

Scott thought Parks was in a corner and wouldn’t be able to get out. “But the son of a gun won; it was unbelievable,” he says. “The guy has a lot of chutzpah.”

This year, the board of directors of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers unanimously named Parks a Distinguished Fellow. He has also served on the state Bar’s Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission and the National Judicial College Board, and has raised funds for Legal Services of Greater Miami.

Parks is currently working on a products liability case against Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, in connection with the 2015 crash in Spain of a U.S.-made fighter jet during a NATO training exercise. It killed 11 airmen and seriously injured 17 more.

Scott has faced off as a defense lawyer against Parks in recent years and sees the same characteristics and skills as he saw 35 years ago.

“We never fight over a damn thing except the merits of major issues,” Scott says. “I wish there were more lawyers like that.”


Headline-Grabbers With Claims Handled by Parks

Crash LIVES LOST DATE
Eastern Airlines Flight 401 crash—Florida Everglades 101 1972
TWA Flight 800—Atlantic Ocean off New York 230 1996
U.S. Air Force T-3A Firefly (two crashes) 4 1996-97
Chalk’s Ocean Airways Flight 101—off Miami Beach 20 2005
Comair Flight 5191—near Lexington, Kentucky 49 2006
TAM Linhas Flight 3054—São Paolo, Brazil 199 2007
Boeing/McDonald Douglas MD-11 cargo—Shanghai, China 2 2009

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