Larry Spiller Kimmel's Second Chance

After Wilmington attorney Paul Spiller, his wife and two of his three children were killed in a plane crash, Spiller’s law partner (and brother-in-law) Mort Kimmel adopted the only survivor, Larry Spiller Kimmel, who has been paying it forward since. 

Published in 2019 Pennsylvania Super Lawyers Magazine — June 2019

We left on New Year’s Eve of 1987, flying into Rutland, Vermont, from Wilmington to go skiing on a family vacation. It was my mom and dad; my younger brother, 5; my older brother, 14, and me. I was 9.

My dad was an experienced pilot and we’d flown together many, many times. But as we were flying, we were diverted because ice was accumulating on the wings. We needed to get to a bigger airport in Burlington, where it would be safer to land. I was in the front with my dad, sitting in the co-pilot’s seat. But the plane was struggling, and my mom made me switch places with her, and now I was seated facing back toward the luggage.

I was told that by doing that, she saved my life.

[When the plane went down], my brothers and I all broke our legs. My right leg was pretty bad. They found me in the luggage compartment, crawling around trying to avoid flames. The plane had crashed and burst into flames. They rushed me to the hospital.

The next morning, I woke up to my uncle, Mort Kimmel—my birth mother’s older brother and my birth father’s law partner. He told me my parents had been killed and that my brothers were unconscious. I had a minor concussion and the broken leg, but it healed pretty quickly. I stayed at the hospital for a couple of weeks, and during that time, my older brother died. Once I came home, my younger brother died shortly after.

I moved in with my Aunt Marcia and Uncle Mort—they became my parents. My cousins became my siblings, and have been my brother and sisters ever since. My younger sister is only eight months younger than I am. People ask, ‘How could you have a sister who is only eight months younger?’ We were all very close before the plane crash.

A lot of people in Delaware know about the accident; it was a big story throughout the state. Of course, as time goes on, people pass away and people forget, so I end up telling it more than I used to.

In one respect, I’d say it completely changed my life. But in another respect, not a lot. That’s strange, isn’t it? I stayed in school and moved into a loving, caring family that wasn’t made of strangers. My birth father coached high school games, and my uncle took over the role. He’d run up and down the East Coast with me for baseball and basketball. As much as life you would think would change when your entire family gets wiped out, it just didn’t, somehow. The same things my birth parents did—loved and cared for me—my adopted parents did. I was very lucky.

The money my parents had was put aside until I turned 18. Once it was given to me, I decided I wanted to make my own money, and so we created the Kimmel-Spiller Charitable Foundation. The foundation gives out money every year. We focus on sick children and how to help them in the local community, but also in the world. It’s still around to this day.

I joined the firm started by my adoptive father, and where my birth father was a partner. I found I enjoyed doing personal injury work. It was a good way to help other people who’d been injured, whether it was nursing neglect, work accidents, car accidents or airplane crashes like mine. I joined as an associate in 2005 and eventually became a partner. I’m now managing partner. We’re growing—we just hired our 12th attorney. We’re the largest firm in the state of Delaware that focuses on work and personal injury cases.

This past year has been one of the hardest for my family—my adoptive father died in March 2018. He was my uncle and father and my law partner, my mentor and my hero: he was a lot of things all at once. He was 77 and died from cancer.

When people ask about my story, I don’t shy away from talking about it, but I don’t put it out there. It’s part of who I am, but it’s not what I am.

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