Insight

Ensuring Legacies

Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder’s litigation against a world-renowned higher education institution is expected to set a precedent impacting civil rights, copyright and social justice. Along with the types of cases the firm typically handles, they are willing to take on unusual and untested legal issues – an honor to the legacies of its longtime leaders.

Ensuring Legacies
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Justin Smulison

April 16, 2021 03:15 PM

Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder (Koskoff) is revered as one of Connecticut's most successful plaintiff's litigation firms. Founded more than 80 years ago, Koskoff has since won 12 of the 20 largest personal injury verdicts in state history. While the firm is known for a wide range of civil litigation practice areas including medical malpractice, the Koskoff firm built its legacy by protecting the civil rights and collective dignity of their clients.

This dedication to every individual’s legal rights is perhaps best exemplified by a suit attorney Joshua D. Koskoff, named a Best Lawyers® 2020 “Lawyer of the Year” for Medical Malpractice Law–Plaintiffs in Stamford, who is litigating in Massachusetts courts that is making history. Koskoff is co-lead counsel representing the plaintiff in Lanier v. Harvard Corp., et. al, which has been noted by legal and mainstream media as a landmark case.

Plaintiff and Norwich resident Tamara Lanier is the descendant of slaves who were photographed against their will and published in a Harvard University anthropology book that remains in print. Koskoff’s mission is twofold: to secure the rights to the images for Lanier and her family, and to establish the precedent that such horrific scenarios cannot be exploited by any individual or organization.

Koskoff noted the firm is guided by the everlasting presence of his father, attorney Michael Koskoff, who passed in 2019, and attorney Richard Bieder, who passed in 2021.

“My father and Richard were inspired most by people who had compelling stories,” Koskoff says. “This incredible story of perseverance and courage began 170 years ago. It will have a major influence on many areas of law and shine a light on recovering the property of enslaved people. This monumental case was my father’s grand finale, and we will see it through to the end.”

Ms. Lanier’s great-great-great grandfather was a man named Congo “Papa” Renty. Renty and his daughter Delia were among seven slaves in South Carolina who were forced to pose for 15 daguerreotype images, which were an early form of photography, in 1850. The daguerreotypes were commissioned by Louis Agassiz, a Swiss-born zoologist and well-known Harvard professor who published the results of his research in an article, “The Diversity of Origin of the Human Races.” “Many of Agassiz’s works touted racist and discredited theories that Black people were an inferior group,” Koskoff notes. “That he taught at a well-known school does not improve nor change his character–he took advantage of people who had no rights at the time.”

Ms. Lanier became aware of the daguerreotypes in an anthropology book sold by Harvard University when she recognized Renty on its cover. Following unsuccessful requests for Harvard University to relinquish the images, Lanier contacted her team of preeminent civil rights lawyers, which also includes Koskoff attorneys Preston Tisdale, Alinor Sterling and Carey Reilly.

“Our argument is simple and rooted in morality: If you steal something that is not yours, exploit it and profit off it, you are not acting ethically–no matter how well you treat it,” Koskoff says, adding that he expects the suit to eventually reach state appellate courts. “These images are closer to pieces of art because there are no film negatives–so copyright laws and civil rights are being tested.”

Further Complex Litigation in 2021

The firm’s reputation for taking on world-renowned and well-funded entities expands into the area of wrongful death. Indeed, victims of mass shootings have turned to the firm for justice following unimaginable tragedies. This includes advocacy for 10 families of the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. The ongoing case against Remington Arms Corp. shifted into bankruptcy court due to the defendant’s restructuring and near-total demise.

The firm also has a liability action against eight gun manufacturers related to the 2017 Las Vegas massacre–the worst mass shooting in modern American history. It shines a light on the defendants’ liability since the alleged shooter modified his weapons with bump stocks, enabling him to build an automatic rifle that murdered 60 concert goers and injured 411 more on the Vegas strip.

These cases are indicative of Koskoff’s ability to use the law to make genuine positive change for individuals, communities, and society at-large.

“Michael Koskoff and Richard Bieder were dreamers, and when they believed in a case or their client’s story, they were not going to allow hurdles in the law to get in the way of achieving justice,” Koskoff says. “They might have gone down swinging a few times, but they never gave up. The greater the challenge, the more engaged and confident they became.

“Every lawyer at Koskoff uses and approaches the law in different and creative ways in the service of deserving people,” Koskoff says. “We were taught by the best, and we proudly carry on their legacies.”

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