Lawyer Peter A. Kraus is largely responsible for opening the courthouse doors for asbestos victims in Alabama.
Though he won’t take singular credit for finally getting the victims the justice they deserve there after years of neglect by the courts, he acknowledges that he was a big part in finally turning the page for people who were exposed to harmful asbestos and suffered greatly as a result.
“For the first time, when we were able to really fight through and take a verdict there – and it was a good verdict – the defendants got the message. They learned that they can win every pre-trial ruling, every objection during trial, and even get our expert thrown off of the stand in the middle of his testimony, and still lose. The victims are winning millions of dollars and these companies are finally being forced to recognize that these cases have value and that they’re going to need to compensate these folks,” Kraus told Chris Placitella in an interview for the American Association for Justice’s Trial Masters.
Kraus, founding and managing partner of Waters & Kraus, spoke with Placitella in a wide-ranging interview about his career trying multiple seven-figure verdicts in a variety of states, from asbestos to pharmaceutical to consumer fraud.
“Alabama was really tough, and they had a terrible statute of limitations for toxic injury victims, and there were just limited exceptions where you can keep them there,” Kraus said. “They had corporate-friendly judges.”
But Kraus was able to overcome those obstacles and prevailed in an important asbestos case in Alabama, winning a multimillion-dollar verdict.
“Alabamians, up to that point, fundamentally didn’t have a remedy for asbestos injury and toxic injury, and that sort of changed everything,” he said. “The appellate courts made some rulings that gave access for people to the courts there, and we were able to start getting reasonable recoveries for those victims in Alabama. There wasn’t a path before then.”
Kraus, who was born and raised in Dallas, earned his bachelor’s degree from Duke University and his law degree from the University of Texas. His first job after graduating law school was in the Washington, D.C., area at a commercial litigation law firm, but realized after a few years that he wanted to be a courtroom lawyer, which is where his strengths are. He moved back to Dallas after landing at Baron & Budd, an asbestos products firm, where he stayed until founding Waters Kraus and Paul.
For Kraus, the most important part of the trial is jury selection, or voir dire.
“You need to have a jury who is fair and empathetic, will look at the facts and follow the law, and doesn’t have an agenda when they sit down in that chair,” he said. “Structuring of voir dire to address the potential weaknesses in your case to ferret out the biases and prejudices of the venire – that’s more important than anything.”
For young lawyers just starting out, Kraus said the most important wisdom he can impart about trying cases is to do the preparation and to tell a compelling story.
“You have to have a theme for your case,” he said. “You have to sit down once you’ve done that preparation, once you marshaled your evidence, once you’ve taken the depositions and you’re rolling, and you’ve done the discovery on the defendant, you put together a liability story. You come up with a set of themes and boil those themes down to simple messages that jurors can understand and that are going to stick with them and are going to be in their head when they go back to the jury room. And don’t forget your themes, stick with your themes, and tell your story when you’re in trial.”
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