Frank Kelly has represented clients in courtrooms down the block, throughout California, and around the country. He provides local, regional and national experience in the courtroom for clients involved in high-stakes litigation. A fourth-generation San Franciscan, Frank honed his skills in trial courts in and around San Francisco, up and down the Central Valley, in Los Angeles, the Imperial Valley, and along the California coast. In addition to California, Frank has tried cases in Oklahoma, Alaska, New York, Michigan, Missouri, Oregon, West Virginia and Florida.
Class actions, aggregated individual mass tort cases, complex product liability cases, and catastrophic construction defect cases are among the types of cases Frank handles for automobile, tobacco and other product manufacturers. To handle these cases effectively and efficiently, Frank has managed very successful trial teams, often integrating lawyers from other firms into the team. Many of these cases involve serious claims for punitive damages, an area of the law in which Frank is regarded as deeply knowledgeable.
Over the last 15 years, Frank has primarily handled complex individual and mass tort jury trials on behalf of corporate clients. He has obtained favorable jury verdicts in catastrophic injury and wrongful death product liability cases on behalf of tobacco companies, automobile manufacturers, trucking companies, and construction companies. He has tried commercial cases involving allegations of defective construction, improper roadway design, diseased agricultural products, insurance bad faith, sexual harassment, first party insurance coverage, and housing discrimination.
Frank has been recognized for his trial skills by the American College of Trial Lawyers and the American Board of Trial Advocates. Chambers USA: America's Leading Lawyers for Business has awarded him nationwide recognition in the field of Product Liability & Mass Torts. He is also active in the Product Liability Advisory Council, the Federation of Defense and Corporate Counsel, the Defense Research Institute and the American Inns of Court. Frank has lectured for the Product Liability Advisory Council, the Association of Defense Counsel of Northern California, the San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association, and Hastings College of the Law on such topics as international discovery, evidence, techniques of cross-examination, expert witnesses, discovery, bad faith and insurance coverage for employment torts. He has conducted seminars on “Liability for Failure to Warn, a Cautionary Tale for Manufacturers” and “Direct and Cross Examinations.”
Frank provides pro bono service through the San Francisco office’s homeless advocacy programs.
Representative Trial Matters
Geronga v. Ford Motor Co., No. CIV524889 (Calif. Superior Ct., San Mateo Cty. May 26, 2016). In a case where a plaintiff sought $42 million in damages, Frank obtained a full defense verdict for Ford. In 2013, five women died when a limousine that had been stretched from a Lincoln Town Car caught fire. When the car was stretched, its capacity was limited to six rear passengers; the limo operator later modified the car to carry up to 12 people. At trial, Frank argued that the later modification caused the overloading that led to the fracture of the floor structure and its contact with the driveshaft, ultimately causing the fire.
Chacon v. Philip Morris USA, No. 8-102 (11th Judicial Dist. Fla., Miami-Dade Cty., September 22, 2016). Frank obtained a defense verdict for Philip Morris in a case where the plaintiff sought $19 million in damages. Although decedent Robiel Chacon moved his wife and children to Florida in the 1980s, he maintained a residence in New York City in order to manage a business he owned. The plaintiff contended that Chacon was a Florida resident for the purpose of determining membership in the Engle class, and Frank challenged that assertion. The jury rejected the plaintiff's argument, and returned a verdict for Philip Morris.
Dubinsky v. Philip Morris USA, No. 5-2014-CA-26783 (Fla. Cir. Ct. Brevard Cty. 2016). In this Engle matter, Frank obtained a defense verdict for Philip Morris.
Verduzco v. Ford Motor Co., No. 615207 (Calif. Superior Ct., Stanislaus Cty. April 10, 2015). Frank successfully defended Ford Motor Co. from claims that the entire line of Taurus sedans were defective. The case involved injuries catastrophic injuries to a young vehicle occupant allegedly caused by the vehicle’s design. The speed of the crash and biomechanical reconstruction was hotly contested by the parties, and both parties’ experts ran multiple car-to-car crash tests to support their theories. The plaintiff claimed not only that Ford failed to conduct adequate pre-production rear-impact safety testing, but also that catastrophic injuries were caused by intrusion from an inadequately designed rear structure combined with excessive deformation of an allegedly defective front seat. His complaint said Ford should have warned consumers about the design, as rear-end collisions are the most common type of car accidents in the U.S.
Countering that the vehicle’s design was safe and defect-free, Ford argued the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by an aftermarket speaker box located in the trunk. Ford also asserted that the driver of the SUV caused the crash and all the resulting injuries by negligently taking his eyes off the road to reach for a bottle of Gatorade. The plaintiff sought more than $18 million in damages—including $8 million in economic damages as well as punitive damages in an unspecified amount. The Stanislaus County Superior Court granted Ford’s motion for non-suit on the punitive damages claim before trial. On April 10, 2015, after a seven-week trial, the jury returned a 10-2 defense verdict for Ford.
Durkee v. Ford Motor Co., No. 14-617 (N.D. Cal. September 2, 2014). The plaintiffs filed a putative class action involving alleged unlawful and fraudulent warranty practices, but the court granted Ford's Rule 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim. In a copycat case, Potter v. Ford Motor Co., No. 13-5095 (N.D. Cal. September 22, 2014), the plaintiff settled on terms favorable to Ford and voluntarily dismissed.
Sammarco v. Philip Morris USA, (Fla. Circuit Ct., Broward Cty. June 2, 2014). In March 2014, a Broward County jury awarded the plaintiff $2.4 million in compensatory damages, assigning 45 percent of comparative fault to Philip Morris. Following the trial, Frank and the Shook team learned that the plaintiff had filed a personal injury suit claiming mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure. The Shook team filed a motion for a new trial, which the court granted due to the newly discovered evidence. The matter is still pending.
Gilchrist v. Ford Motor Co., No. 11CECG04230 (Calif. Supreme Ct., Fresno Cty. November 7, 2013). A trial jury found Ford’s design of the Hydro Boost system on its Ford F250 diesel truck was not defective in design and that the cause of a 2011 accident, attributing the cause to the driver, who steered left into oncoming traffic and collided with plaintiff’s car. Plaintiff had sought over $200 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
In Re: Tobacco Litigation, No. 00-C-5000 (W.Va. Circuit Ct., Ohio Cty. May 15, 2013). In April 2013, more than 601 consolidated personal injury cases went to trial, including 346 in which Shook’s client was a defendant. The jury returned a verdict finding for the defendant on all counts except a single failure to warn claim involving fewer than 10 plaintiffs; an appeals court upheld the jury verdict, including a finding that the plaintiffs were not entitled to punitive damages. The remaining claim is expected to be tried in 2018 in Phase II of the litigation.
Clayworth v. Pfizer, No. S205726 (Calif. Supreme Ct., November 28, 2012). Frank represented Pfizer when Clayworth, Meyers Pharmacy Inc., Golden Gate Pharmacy Services Inc. and 12 other retail pharmacies accused pharmaceutical companies of conspiring to inflate drug prices in the U.S. and to keep lower-priced Canadian drugs off the market in violation of the California Unfair Competition Law and the Cartwright Act. The Supreme Court refused to re-hear the consolidated antitrust suit; in August 2012, the First District Court of Appeal upheld summary judgment for the defendants, finding that plaintiffs failed to provide any evidence to support their claims that Canadian pharmaceuticals were consistently priced below those sold in the U.S.
Durbin v. Ford Motor Co., No. FCS028866 (Calif Superior Ct., Solano Cty. Aug. 6, 2012). Frank was lead trial counsel in this SUV rollover case; plaintiffs stipulated to a defense judgment after the court excluded the plaintiff’s seatbelt expert, allowed evidence of the plaintiff’s blood alcohol levels and precluded punitive damages claims.
Frailey v. R.J. Reynolds, (Fla. Circuit Ct., Duval Cty. June 28, 2012). Frank represented R.J. Reynolds in this wrongful death action, which he tried to a defense verdict.
Schwarz v. Philip Morris USA, (Ore. Circuit Ct., Multnomah Cty. February 16, 2012). In a 2002 trial of a wrongful death action, a jury awarded $150 million in punitive damages against Philip Morris. The award was reversed on appeal, and Frank was brought in as the new lead trial counsel in the retrial. The jury returned a 9-3 verdict awarding $25 million in punitive damages.
Boeken v. Philip Morris USA, (Calif. Supreme Ct., Los Angeles Cty. August 8, 2011). Frank was brought in as new lead trial counsel in a retrial of a $3 billion damage award in a wrongful death action. On retrial, the jury awarded plaintiff $12.8 million.
Grill v Philip Morris USA, No. 7:05-cv-09174 (S.D.N.Y. May 16, 2011). In a case where the plaintiff sought more than $300 million in damages, the court first granted Philip Morris’ motion for summary judgment, dismissing the plaintiff’s prayer for punitive damages. After deliberating for only a few hours, the jury returned a unanimous verdict for Philip Morris on the remaining claims.
Bullock v. Philip Morris USA, No. BC 249171 (Calif. Superior Ct., Los Angeles Cty. August 25, 2009) In August 2002, a California jury awarded a plaintiff $850,000 in compensatory damages and $28 million in punitive damages. Citing the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits grossly excessive or arbitrary punishment, state appellate judges agreed the punitive damage award should be heard by a new jury. The punitive damage claim was re-tried in August 2009, and the award was reduced to $13.8 million.
Whiteley v. Philip Morris USA, No. S178178 (Calif. Superior Ct., San Francisco Cty. October 31, 2007) In early 2000, a jury found for the plaintiffs and awarded them $22 million, which included $20 million in punitive damages. In 2004, the California Court of Appeal reversed the verdict, ordering a retrial of three of the claims. In January 2007, the second jury awarded $2.6 million in compensatory damages but hung on the issue of punitive damages against Philip Morris. The plaintiffs moved for a retrial, in which Frank represented Philip Morris; after deliberating for five days, the jury returned a 10-2 verdict for his client.
Belen v. Ford Motor Co., No. CIV 419981 (Calif. Superior Ct., San Mateo Cty. April 1, 2006). Frank, with co-counsel Snell & Wilmer, obtained a settlement for Ford and a Ford dealership in a difficult case that had been considered unwinnable. Belen involved claims for compensatory and punitive damages brought against Ford, Peninsula Ford of Burlingame and driver Lawrence Stevens arising from a rollover crash that killed four passengers. The crash occurred after Stevens and his six passengers neared the end of an all-night trip from California to Las Vegas in Stevens’ 1997 Ford Aerostar. Just before the crash, Stevens was driving northbound on I-15, going about 70-75 miles per hour. He drove the Aerostar into the center median where it rolled over three times, landing right-side up in the southbound lane. During the course of the rollover crash, four of the passengers were ejected from the Aerostar, despite the fact that each was wearing a seatbelt. All four died. The plaintiffs claimed that Stevens negligently drove the Aerostar and caused the crash, but also claimed that the Aerostar’s seatbelts, sliding door and side windows were defective in design, and that the design flaws contributed to the deaths of the four passengers. Plaintiffs also claimed that Peninsula Ford had contributed by negligently failing to repair the Aerostar. The case settled when Ford’s final witness testified.
Cory v. Ford Motor Co., No. No. BC275178 (Calif. Superior Ct., San Bernardino Cty. January 1, 2005). In a case that was recognized as one of the top 10 California defense verdicts of the year, Frank represented Ford when a plaintiff, who was a passenger in a Ford LTD that rolled over during an accident, alleged that the car’s defective roof caused the injuries that left him a quadriplegic. After a three-month trial, the jury returned a verdict for Ford.