Benedict Morelli, Jeremy Alters, and David Ratner formed Morelli Alters Ratner in 2012 to build on the relationship they had established working together on various litigations. They had a vision of a firm that would be dedicated to representing people without a voice. “We’ve always been committed to leveling the playing field for our clients,” Morelli says. “And most important, as someone who has been practicing since 1977, I’m very careful about only representing people who are in the right; there’s no mileage for me at this point in my career in representing someone who is not deserving.”
In his more than 35 years of trying cases, Morelli has obtained many multimillion-dollar verdicts for his clients. In 1995, his $40 million medical malpractice verdict was featured in the National Law Journal
as one of the “Top Ten Verdicts” in the United States. More recently, he helped secure a $22.5 million verdict in 2009 as lead counsel in a polio vaccine case that had been filed 30 years earlier; the result stands as the largest vaccine verdict in U.S. history. In 2011, Morelli and Ratner obtained a $95 million verdict (the largest single-plaintiff sexual harassment verdict in U.S. history) in a sexual harassment trial in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.
And the list of record verdicts continues: Morelli achieved the largest verdict in the country for a trip and fall case involving a fractured hip at $2.6 million, as well as the largest verdicts in the country in numerous complex medical malpractice trials. He attributes these significant results to a philosophy of never shying away from difficult cases that he believes are meritorious and never taking the easy way out.
“When you take a case, especially if it is something high-profile, you own it and you become part of the case; and if in fact it is looked upon as something that is less than meritorious, then you get painted with that brush,” he says. “So we’ve made a real point of only taking cases where the individual is correct in his or her interpretation of what happened, and I think our adversaries recognize that.” In addition, Morelli and his firm are willing to fight for justice even without hope of financial reward.
Consequently, when Kevin Dwyer—a 40-year-old man living with cystic fibrosis—contacted Morelli Alters Ratner, PC in 2013 about helping him obtain insurance coverage to pay for a life-saving drug, the firm agreed to represent him pro bono
. “We saw the injustice at play in Kevin’s case, and we were committed to correcting what was truly an arbitrary decision on the part of his health insurance company,” Morelli explains.
Cystic fibrosis is a fatal disease that slowly destroys lung function, and while there has historically been no effective treatment, a life-saving drug, Kalydeco, was recently approved for certain patients. In June 2012, Dwyer’s insurance provider, Oxford Health Plans, denied his request for coverage of that drug. But at the same time, the company approved coverage of the drug for Dwyer’s sister, Martha Weber, whose cystic fibrosis mutations are identical to Dwyer’s.
“Despite identical cases of a fatal disease and the same insurer, the insurer’s decision to let a man die unnecessarily was left unchallenged,” Morelli says. “It’s a sad example of the managed care paradigm at its most cruel.”
After being contacted by Dwyer to represent him in his case, the managing partner of Morelli Alters Ratner PC, David Ratner, sent Oxford a letter detailing the case, and a team of five attorneys in the firm’s New York office began preparing for litigation against the insurance company. To put added pressure on Oxford, the firm contacted a producer of The Today Show
and interested the show in Dwyer’s story. Before the segment aired, the company changed its position and agreed to cover Dwyer.
“In our letter to Oxford we set forth the details of the lawsuit we were planning to file, along with the arbitrary and ill-conceived decisions Oxford made in denying Kevin coverage. Clearly Oxford did not want to have to defend its decision,” Ratner explains.
“It’s very satisfying to know that we played a part in helping Kevin obtain the treatment he needs,” Morelli adds. “I’ve been trying cases for a while now, and the reason I haven’t stopped is because I believe that what I’m doing is making a difference for people—at the end of the day, if I can help someone who is struggling, then that’s the ultimate reward.”