Sean Stonefield / The Best Lawyers in Wisconsin 2016

With the inclusion of Keith Stachowiak in its 2016 edition, The Best Lawyers in America has recognized a lawyer who is described by his colleagues as their secret weapon—a hard-working, highly intelligent attorney not given to boasting about his accomplishments. 

“You will never hear Keith talk about himself or the many successful cases in which he has been involved,” says Don Prachthauser, who has been included in Best Lawyers since 1995 and was named as its Milwaukee “Lawyer of the Year” in 2013 for plaintiffs’ personal injury litigation. 

"The culture of our firm is that we don’t give up on our clients’ cases, even when they take considerable time and effort." – Don Prachthauser

“It’s really heartwarming that a behind-the-scenes guy has been recognized by his peers in Best Lawyers, because that’s something that those of us who work with him have known for a long time.” 

Stachowiak, who started out at Murphy & Prachthauser  more than 30 years ago as a law clerk, has remained with the firm throughout his entire legal career. He is known not only for his research ability and interpretation of insurance contracts, but also as a highly regarded appellate lawyer. 

“There was a 13-month period a few years back where Keith argued three of the firm’s cases before the Wisconsin Supreme Court,” Prachthauser recalls. “I’m fairly certain he is one of the only personal injury attorneys in the state of Wisconsin to have done that.”
Of those three cases, Stachowiak was particularly vital in a matter involving an intersection motor vehicle collision caused by a volunteer firefighter who ran a red light. Under Wisconsin case law, the trial judge determined that the volunteer firefighter should be granted immunity, and the Wisconsin Court of Appeals agreed. But after Stachowiak argued the case before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, it determined in a 7-0 decision that the volunteer firefighter was, in fact, liable. 

“The culture of our firm is that we don’t give up on our clients’ cases, even when they take considerable time and effort,” Prachthauser says. “So while our goal is to resolve cases short of trial, we are always prepared to follow through, whether that means trying the case or arguing it at the appellate level.” 

As an example, Prachthauser points to a similarly hard-fought result in which Stachowiak again provided critical assistance: a $17 million verdict that the firm secured after successfully arguing the case first at trial, then in the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, and, finally, before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. 

The firm’s client in the case was an 82-year-old man who was still working as a barber when an intersection auto accident rendered him a quadriplegic. The driver who ran the red light and struck the man’s vehicle had a $50,000 limit in her insurance coverage, but when the lawyers at Murphy & Prachthauser reviewed the case, they saw that she was volunteering for a church within the Milwaukee Archdiocese at the time of the accident, and they therefore argued that the woman was covered under the church’s insurance policy. The courts agreed, and the firm’s client was fully compensated for his injuries.

“In retrospect, Kevin Kukor and I did the easy part by winning the case at trial,” Prachthauser says. “Keith was responsible for all the motions brought before the court, as well as the briefs that were filed with the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, so we at the firm know that much of the case’s success was owed to Keith’s masterful research and writing.”

This was true of another case Prachthauser and Kukor tried recently, which involved a man who lost the use of one eye following a surgical procedure unrelated to his vision. Three days into the trial, Prachthauser and Kukor learned that lawyers for the insurance company were planning on using a sophisticated computer animation in an attempt to discredit their explanation for how the eye injury had occurred. Stachowiak, who wasn’t in the courtroom at the time, worked through the night preparing the argument that helped the trial team convince the judge to prohibit the insurance company from showing the animation.

“Keith’s behind-the-scenes work in that case might very well have been the reason why the jury decided in our client’s favor,” Prachthauser says. “And that’s one of the main advantages that our firm can offer clients—the benefit of a team approach, where any one of us can call upon the talents of another attorney at a moment’s notice to assist in a case.”