After Disaster Strikes

Keith Griffin helps victims of tragedy piece their lives back together

Published in 2010 Southern California Rising Stars — July 2010

Last December, on the anniversary of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Keith Griffin went to court on behalf of a Northridge doctor who lost his wife and daughter in that disaster.

“It was a bad faith insurance case, where a doctor and his wife purchased $500,000 life insurance policies on each other,” says the member of Girardi|Keese. “They had a daughter who was a violinist. She had started a charity in L.A. called Strings by the Sea and had gone to her hometown in Sri Lanka to open another branch. Two months after the doctor and his wife purchase their insurance, they visit their daughter in Sri Lanka and the tsunami hits.”

The company opted to pay temporary insurance benefits, 10 percent of the policy, because it claimed it had not issued the policy, he says. “So we took the doctor’s case and got a verdict in our favor.”

Griffin especially relished the opportunity to try the case alongside Tom Girardi, founder of the Southern California personal injury firm. “By trying a case with him, you learn how to carry yourself in the courtroom,” Griffin says. “The familiar way that he’s able to tell a story to 12 people that have never met you or your client before, and being able to bring them into the life of your client, that’s the true art.”

Griffin is a child of Los Angeles, one of four brothers whose mother has worked for the state of California for 40 years and whose father works as a contractor. He attended UCLA and Southwestern University Law School with plans to become an FBI agent. “I figured law school was good background for law enforcement,” he says.

But instead he joined Girardi|Keese in 1999. It was a steep learning curve, learning to deliver in front of a jury. “The very first case I tried I lost,” he says. “It was a medical malpractice case; traditionally med mal practice cases are very difficult to win. Generally the cases that go to trial are the real big damage cases, or the cases where it’s a real 50-50 shot—but usually [the big damage] cases tend to settle. When you’re a young lawyer, you end up trying the 50-50 cases.”

But he quickly gained his footing. “My first big verdict was $9.3 million,” he says of trying ECC Construction, Inc. v. Oak Park Calabasas Homeowners Association. “It was a breach of contract case where I was second chair to [firm partner] David Lira. We tried it against a homeowner’s association in the Valley, which never paid our client, the contractor, for years and years of work.”

Griffin’s name is also attached to State of New Mexico v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc., a major win for the firm. The case settled for $13 million over the contamination of water wells in a designated Superfund site in Albuquerque. 

Today, aviation cases take up much of his time. “I’ve got just about all of our aviation cases here at the firm,” he says. “Small plane crashes. Helicopter crashes. Major airline crashes.”

This includes a case stemming from last summer’s Air France disaster, where Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro bound for Paris crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all passengers and crewmembers. He is representing the family of one of the victims.

“When a plane crashes, no one for years tells [victims’ families] why,” he says. “Our goal is to not only help them recover for the loss, but to give them answers.”

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