Trial attorney Ted Williams Jr. of St. Louis’ Williams Venker & Sanders

On steam engines, military service, the jury system and the greatest hitter who ever lived

Published in 2010 Missouri & Kansas Super Lawyers — November 2010

So what do you think of the other Ted Williams?

When I think of famous Ted Williamses, I think of two individuals: my father, a Ph.D. chemical engineer and a world-renowned expert on automated control. The other Ted Williams is the one you mention in baseball. That Ted Williams is the real life John Wayne. While Mr. Wayne always portrayed American heroes, both my father and [the hitter] are actual American heroes. My father served in the Southwest Pacific during World War II and went to college on the GI Bill. He built his reputation and expertise in automated control. His contributions enhance the lives of all of us every day. The other Ted Williams voluntarily left baseball to serve in the United States Marine Corps both in World War II and the Korean conflict. There is no doubt that he was the greatest hitter ever and, like my father, was a man who felt that it was a privilege to serve his country. 

I was named after my father but we are distantly related to the baseball Ted Williams.

 

Oh? How?

A very distant cousin on my father’s side. There is a family resemblance, more so with my father when he was younger and serving in the Army Air Corps in World War II.

 

You spent many years in the Army as well, right?

Military service is a tradition in our family. We trace that heritage back to the Revolutionary War. Having grown up in that environment, it was only natural that I seriously consider service in the U.S. Army. I served on active duty from June 1969 upon graduation from Purdue [University], through March of 1972. During active duty and while in the Reserves, I had the honor of commanding troops, both as a cavalry and as an infantry officer. With my legal education, I [transferred] my commission to the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. I retired after 26 years of commissioned service in both the active Army and Army Reserve with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

 

What did you study at Purdue?

I began in civil engineering but after one semester, transferred to political science [and] American history. One of the reasons I initially wanted to be a civil engineer was to build railroad bridges and to work for a railroad. I have always been fascinated by bridge design but realized that was not my best calling.

 

Did you grow up loving trains?

My grandfather worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad for almost 50 years. When I was a small boy, he showed me my first steam engine and I was hooked from that point on. An operating steam engine, in many respects, almost seems alive due to the effect of steam on its moving parts.

 

One of your own model designs, in fact, made it into Model Railroader?

The article, which appeared in the December 2000 issue, illustrated a model that I built over the course of about 20 years, patterned after a portion of the Wabash Railroad. It involved the most challenging grades for the railroad and served as the vital connection for traffic from Detroit and Chicago to Kansas City and vice versa. That portion of the railroad also boasted the railroad’s only tunnel at Hannibal, Mo.

Railroads, in many respects, were the catalyst for our nation’s expansion toward the Pacific Ocean. The growth of our country is directly related to the growth of the railroad industry. Certainly, my interest in American history is related to that development. 

 

How did you come to be in the business of defending railroads?

I can’t remember when I didn’t harbor some interest in the law. I guess I was brought up on a diet of Perry Mason and other early lawyer shows, as well as the fact that my grandfather had always wanted to be a lawyer but never had the opportunity.

My initial experience was with the prosecutor’s office in Tulsa, Okla. Trying cases before both judges and juries was a great primer for my later work as a trial lawyer. Thereafter, I practiced for three years in Chicago as a trial lawyer with the Chicago and North Western Railroad, handling cases throughout the state of Illinois. I then began the private practice of law in St. Louis, where I grew up. That experience included products liability, toxic tort, admiralty cases, medical malpractice and aviation matters. 

 

You’ve handled more than 200 jury trials. Any really stand out in your mind?

The one that sticks out most is Stanley v. Kimberly-Clark, the first case tried by Kimberly-Clark on the issue of toxic shock syndrome. At the time the case was tried, there were thousands of claims pending. Very few had been tried by any manufacturer. For the ones that had been tried, there were mixed results. Toxic shock syndrome is a very serious illness which, at the time, received significant public attention. This trial addressed many legal issues, as well as the causal relationship, if any, between the numerous serious injuries suffered by Gayla Stanley and her use of tampons. At trial, the jury was asked to address not only those issues, but in particular, the discreet differences between staphylococcus endocarditis and toxic shock syndrome. In addition to defending the efficacy of the product and presenting evidence on the thoroughness of its testing and approval process, we presented extensive medical evidence on the cause of debilitating injuries occurring to Ms. Stanley. The jury concluded that it was not her tampon use that caused her injuries, but the development of staphylococcus endocarditis.

 

Any reason why that case in particular resonates with you?

I use it to illustrate the importance of our jury system; the dedication and personal sacrifices that frequently occur to typical jurors. When people question the validity of the jury system, or make overtures about trying to eliminate it, I use Stanley to illustrate the importance of maintaining the system. In that case, conscientious jurors in Jefferson County, Mo., listened to six weeks of medical, technical and often sympathetic evidence. They took complex medical testimony—often conflicting—and were able to logically decide, under the law and the evidence, as to the real cause for Ms. Stanley’s serious injuries.

I have had jurors come up to me after other trials and tell me that, even though they wanted to rule in favor of the plaintiff based upon the seriousness of his or her injuries, they felt the higher obligation of following the law and serving as judges of the facts. The vast majority of jurors want to do the right thing.

 

Ted Williams, the baseball player, wanted people to say after he retired, “There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.” What do you want people to say when you walk by?

I would merely want them to say that Ted Williams loved his family and his country, tried to do the best he could for both, and was privileged to serve his nation and its citizens in uniform as a soldier and at the Bar as a lawyer.

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