Holding Corporations Accountable
Robert J. Nelson has played a leading role in the firm's False Claims Acts (whistleblower law), automotive, aviation, defective products, mass torts, tobacco, and consumer fraud cases, taking on many of the world's largest corporations and holding them accountable. He has served as court-appointed Lead or Co-Lead Counsel in numerous state and federal coordinated proceedings, as well as in more than 30 class actions.
Mr. Nelson was lead trial counsel in a wrongful death action involving a defect in Chrysler vehicles that resulted in a punitive damage verdict of $50 million against the company. For his work on the case, Mr. Nelson received a California Lawyer Attorney of the Year (CLAY) award. The victory against Chrysler was "one of the year's largest personal injury verdicts,” California Lawyer noted, and “was the first park-to-reverse case against Chrysler in 25 years to make it to trial.”
Mr. Nelson chairs Lieff Cabraser's False Claims Act practice group and has spearheaded whistleblower suits that have resulted in settlements totaling over $180 million and changed industry practices. Last year, Mr. Nelson served as lead trial counsel in litigation against Sutter Health, one of California's largest healthcare providers, for false billing of anesthesia services. In November 2014, the case settled for $46 million, a record amount under the Insurance Frauds Prevention Act.
In 2010, Mr. Nelson accomplished the extremely rare feat of receiving a second CLAY award. He was recognized for his work as lead trial counsel in obtaining a $78.5 million whistleblower settlement against the University of Phoenix. The settlement is believed to be among the largest ever achieved under the False Claims Act in a case in which the U.S. Department of Justice did not intervene.
In the 1990s, Mr. Nelson played a lead role in the lawsuits against tobacco companies brought by public agencies and states, which resulted in a settlement valued at more than $200 billion, the largest legal settlement ever. He also served as a lead counsel in six class actions that netted more than $80 million for homeowners who had defective ABS plumbing pipe installed in their homes.
Much of Mr. Nelson's current caseload involves working closely with government officials throughout the country, investigating cases in which federal and state governments are being defrauded. These cases often involve Medicare and Medicaid fraud, but the investigations extend into literally all areas in which the government plays a role. Mr. Nelson currently has whistleblower cases filed under seal in the Northern District of California, the Central District of California, the Eastern District of California, the Middle District of Tennessee, and the Southern District of New York.
Mr. Nelson is a frequent lecturer on class action practice, as well as subject areas such as product liability and whistleblower cases. Before joining Lieff Cabraser in 1994, he was an Assistant Federal Public Defender for the Northern District of California for five years, where he tried numerous cases. Prior to that and immediately following law school, he served as a judicial clerk for Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.