Insight

A Hall of Fame Career

Revered as one of the nation’s best trial lawyers, trailblazing attorney Steve Yerrid reflects on some of his most significant achievements in more than four decades in the courtroom.

Man in blue suit with red tie standing outside
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Justin Smulison

October 19, 2022 12:00 AM

EVERYONE LOVES AN UNDERDOG. And if there is one lawyer in Florida who personifies the underdog, it is Steve Yerrid. Raised by his mother amid humble beginnings, Yerrid combined family values of love and honor with the drive for competition he picked up as a young athlete and in city streets. This potent blend of characteristics led him to the heights of the legal profession because he felt a calling to channel them all in the courtroom—though he knew the odds were usually against him. Undeterred, the Georgetown Law graduate built his brilliant record of success of accomplishments by seeking justice for those who deserve it and providing a voice for the voiceless for more than four decades.

A look back on some of his precedent-setting, high-value and personally affecting results exemplify Steve Yerrid’s hall of fame-caliber career—one that is still going strong.

Well before he was a powerhouse litigator or inducted into the Hall of Fame of the National Trial Lawyers Association, the highest accolade achievable from that organization, Yerrid made his mark on the legal community in 1980 as a young lawyer in a seemingly unwinnable maritime case.

Perhaps Yerrid recognized elements of himself while defending his client Captain John Lerro, who had a virtually impossible case confronting him both in the courtroom and the court of public opinion. The accused pilot was in command of a large 608-foot bulk freighter which, during an unpredicted storm packing hurricane force wind, was blown off course and struck an unprotected anchor pier of the mammoth Sunshine Skyway Bridge, collapsing its center span and tragically claiming 35 innocent lives. In utilizing a rare “Act of God” defense, where he had to prove that nothing humanly possible could have altered the events that followed, Yerrid secured Lerro’s complete exoneration. As a result, a newer, safer Skyway Bridge was built with proper fendering and pier protections. The new bridge now serves as a template for safer bridge constructions all over the world. Furthermore, the young lawyer received international recognition in one of the world’s largest maritime tragedies.

The enormity of the case and his startling success followed Yerrid throughout his career. Public interest has remained consistent, and to commemorate the victims and honor Lerro’s story, Yerrid and a prominent Tampa businessman co-produced “The Skyway Bridge Disaster,” a 60-minute documentary which was released to widespread acclaim in 2020, 40 years after the tragedy. “I think of John Lerro’s courage and determination every day. He taught me invaluable lessons in life and together we became extremely close,” Yerrid says. “We remained dear friends throughout his life, and I talked to him the week before I gave his eulogy. Knowing him and being able to clear his name against all odds remains one of the brightest highlights of my career.”

Local and national attention has continued steadily for Yerrid and The Yerrid Law Firm because of their extraordinary track record of winning:

  • In 2006, acting as lead counsel, Yerrid, along with David Dickey and co-counsel Rich Gilbert, obtained a $217 million medical malpractice verdict for a client who was rendered a quadriplegic after a Tampa hospital misdiagnosed symptoms of a stroke. It was, and remains, the largest medical malpractice verdict in Florida’s history. After collection of funds post-trial, the lawyers and client contributed $1 million to “The Miami Project” for quadriplegic research.
  • In 2009, a jury awarded $330 million to Yerrid’s client, a mother of a 13-year-old girl killed in a drunk driving accident. It was the nation’s largest wrongful death verdict that year.
  • In 2010, then-Florida Governor Charlie Crist appointed Yerrid as Special Counsel in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. He worked pro bono (and personally paid the costs) for almost a year for the citizens of Florida. Subsequently, he was retained by the City of Tampa and in 2015, secured a $27.4 million settlement of its claims with oil giant BP over lost taxes and other economic damages incurred as a result of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. The settlement was the most any city received from the BP litigation.
  • Between 2013 and 2020, he represented the families of high school and college football players who died due to intense training without proper hydration or supervision. Such advocacy not only secured justice for the families but was also instrumental in instituting new safety protocols at both the high school and college levels. Many of these now serve as nationwide models throughout the sports community to reduce the risks of head injuries, sickle cell deaths and heat strokes.

Yerrid is a fighter both in and out of the courtroom. In 2011 Yerrid was honored to be voted into the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame based upon his background as an undefeated amateur boxer (17-0), a successful international boxing promoter and an avid supporter of the “fight game,” protecting its integrity and helping former boxers who have suffered brain injuries or fallen on hard times.

And though he has led his firm in recovering billions in verdicts and settlements, one can look to Yerrid’s representation of a movie theater employee to understand the wide impact and legacy he has established through his courtroom victories.

Local and national attention has continued steadily for Yerrid and The Yerrid Law Firm because of their extraordinary track record of winning."

Anthony “Tony” Verran was making a deposit for his employer at a St. Petersburg bank after midnight on February 26, 1986. The bank was the site of a nighttime robbery months earlier. Tragedy unfortunately struck again when an assailant hiding in the bank’s tall, dark bushes shot Verran in the head—mere millimeters from his brain—for what amounted to a $630 deposit. He suffered severe injuries and lost sight in his right eye.

Yerrid represented Verran in the premises liability involving one of the first cases brought against banks for newly installed outdoor ATMs and night depositories. He contended that the bank was liable for third-party criminal assaults at its outdoor facilities because it had chosen aesthetics—such as high foliage and dim lighting—over safety, concrete and bright lights. In his memoir, When Justice Prevails, Yerrid recalls several dramatic turns and rejected settlements during the Verran trial. Yerrid ultimately secured a $1 million jury verdict and, as a result, banks nationwide paid attention and took immediate measures to improve the safety features around ATMs and outside night depositories by cutting down high-foliage and installing concrete and bright lights, thus eliminating a haven for criminals to hide and prey upon after-hours customers.

While the relatively modest monetary result might not normally receive as much attention, the case remains one of his most savored victories because of its nationwide affect in the banking industry and the untold tragedies these protective measures have prevented.

“After the verdict, Tony Verran became so interested in the law that he enrolled in law school,” Yerrid says. “He now enjoys success as a lawyer and offers pro bono services to the less fortunate. Tony took a negative life experience that could have easily kept him in a dark place and turned it into a life-changing positive. Knowing I was involved helping all that come about resonates because of its widespread impact.”

For more than four decades serving the greater Tampa area, Florida, and on occasion, the entire U.S., many call upon Steve Yerrid and The Yerrid Law Firm in the aftermath of wrongdoing and the tragedies that too often follow. He remains as motivated as ever to ensure that justice—rather than power or money—prevails.

Yerrid’s prestigious career reached a new milestone in the 1990s when he was appointed by the late Gov. Lawton Chiles as the youngest member of the 11-member “Dream Team” of private lawyers and took a leading role in Florida’s landmark lawsuit by taking on the previously unbeaten cigarette industry. The case resulted in the biggest monetary settlement in U.S. history at the time, ultimately topping $17 billion.

“This case made a difference in our culture, society and our lives by halting cigarettes and tobacco marketing campaigns targeted at America’s youth,” Yerrid says. “I was personally vested as well, having lost both of my parents to tobacco-related illnesses, and wanted to honor them both by taking on previously unbeaten Big Tobacco. With this result, and the multistate settlement of over $200 billion that followed shortly, a national victory was obtained largely by utilizing much of Florida’s work product. A societal sea of change has since occurred throughout the country, and millions of lives have been and continue to be saved.”

Headline Image: Peter Acker

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