Eva Saviano / Connecticut's Best Lawyers 2016

It is the Mount Everest of cases. That’s what Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder attorney Joshua Koskoff says of a suit that he and his firm filed on behalf of 10 families from Newtown, Connecticut, against gun-maker Bushmaster and against Riverview Sales, the company that sold the assault rifle used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. The incident, which was the deadliest shooting at a high school or elementary school in U.S. history, left 20 six- and seven-year-old children and six adults dead, in addition to the shooter and his mother. 

“Like everyone else, I was horrified when this happened,” says Koskoff. “It was so senseless, and it happened in our own backyard.” The firm, with offices in Bridgeport, Danbury, and New Haven, Connecticut, prides itself on taking challenging cases—cases daunting enough that accepting them might seem bad for business, Koskoff jokes. But that is where his firm thrives. 

“The families of Sandy Hook, like other families we have represented, came to us after their lives had been torn apart through no fault of their own. We felt a tremendous amount of motivation to try to help them,” says Koskoff. The firm fights tooth and nail for their clients, as they are doing against the stacked odds in the Sandy Hook case.

“When we see legal hurdles—when we see that Everest—we want to climb it. It’s in our DNA.” 
– JOSHUA KOSKOFF


Holding gun companies accountable is a tall order in the United States, says Koskoff. In 2005, the American gun lobby successfully passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a federal statute that provides unparalleled immunity from prosecution to gun manufacturers, distributors and dealers, and their trade associations. But in September 2015, a Connecticut federal court judge removed the Sandy Hook case back to local court, essentially rejecting Bushmaster’s argument for immunity and giving Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder the opportunity to argue for the defendants’ accountability for making available a highly lethal assault weapon—marketed mainly as a military- or law enforcement-grade gun to the general public—without the attendant safeguards.

Helping families or individuals who have suffered catastrophic injury is what drives the team of attorneys at Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder. “For us, getting involved in these cases is about embracing the cause,” says managing attorney Jim Horwitz.

One cause that the firm devotes itself to is medical malpractice. Attorney Kathleen Nastri, along with Horwitz, achieved a record $58 million verdict for a Norwalk family whose son suffered a birth injury that resulted in cerebral palsy, the largest verdict in Connecticut history. In a case tried by attorney Michael Koskoff—son of firm founder Theodore I. Koskoff—the firm represented a Yale University medical intern who was instructed to establish an IV in a known HIV-positive patient without proper training, and contracted the virus himself. The firm won a $12.2 million verdict. Until this case, negligence claims that occurred in an educational setting were considered unwinnable.

 “Representing students whose educational programs or institutions have let them down is particularly important to us,” says attorney Antonio Ponvert, adding that abuse of children in educational settings has been “epidemic.” Ponvert has been taking the fight for students to Litchfield County, Connecticut, private schools, representing plaintiffs in cases against Indian Mountain School. Ponvert’s clients allege repeated sexual assault by several school officials in the early 1980s. “Bringing these issues to light and getting justice is not only vitally important for the individuals who are our clients, but also in protecting children from similar injury in the future,” says Ponvert. 

In 2005, attorney Bill Bloss successfully filed suit against New Hampshire college Keene State for negligence after a student who had never before been a cheerleader was allowed to participate in an advanced cheerleading stunt that rendered her a quadriplegic. This inclination toward standing up for their clients in the face of strong opposition dates back to the firm’s founding.

When Theodore Koskoff, Joshua Koskoff’s grandfather, started the firm in 1936, personal injury and plaintiff’s law hardly existed—and it was even less popular. At a time when one “just didn’t sue people,” Ted Koskoff represented a wide range of clients, on both sides of the courtroom. “He felt everyone deserved their day in court,” says Josh Koskoff, from entrepreneur Glen Turner to Lonnie McLucas of the Black Panther Party. “Taking on those kinds of cases can make you a lot of friends, but sometimes, they make you a few enemies.”

“If you are a lawyer, you are helping to mold the rights of individuals for generations to come.”

– THEODORE I. KOSKOFF (1913-1987), Founder, Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder PC

But to Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder, saying ‘yes’ to controversial or demanding cases is just another version of scaling that mountain. “When we see legal hurdles—when we see that Everest—we want to climb it,” says Koskoff. “It’s in our DNA.” But it is not only the high-profile cases that earn Koskoff’s attention: For him, each fight is worth it if it is the right thing to do. About a decade ago, he brought suit against an internist who had dismissed his patient’s abnormal stress test as non-problematic, despite chest pain, which was deemed indigestion. Later, the man, a truck driver, died of a heart attack following surgery, due to underlying heart disease. “The insurance company didn’t think the jury would award much to a truck driver, his lost wages weren’t much,” says Koskoff. “But what they didn’t realize is that he was rich in things you don’t buy or sell: He had a wife he adored, friends he loved, daughters he doted on—as full a life as anyone, rich or poor.” Koskoff tried the case twice, the first time to a $10 million verdict, which was later overturned on a technicality, and a second time when, after the defense still did not settle, the man’s family was awarded $22 million.

But it isn’t the money that motivates Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder. It is the profound difference financial assistance can make in the lives of their clients. “Something we have found consoling to our clients is spending time trying to answer questions in situations that start off with no answers,” says Koskoff, who says it is in keeping with the parentage of the firm to take on such tough cases. “My grandfather used to say he never tried a case without leaving a little blood in the courtroom. He didn’t mean that it was hostile—he meant it was his own blood, that he felt each case very strongly, big or small. And at the end of the day, if you feel like you have left that blood, then you have done your job. We take that very personally.”

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PICTURED ABOVE

Standing left to right: Chris Bernard, Carey Reilly, David Bernard, Kathleen Nastri, Jim Horwitz, Alinor Sterling, Antonio Ponvert, Bill Bloss, Sean McElligott, Regina Murphy, Josh Koskoff, Craig Smith.

Seated: Michael Koskoff, Joel Lichtenstein.

Photo by Michael Meyer.