“Expose. Confront. Change.” That is the tagline for Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating for consumers and taking on politicians and the special interests that fund them in order to expose, confront, and change corporate and political injustice.
Each year, Consumer Watchdog hosts the Rage for Justice Awards to honor the heroes and heroines of the public interest movement. This year, Ricardo Echeverria JD ’93 received the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award. In his introduction at the award ceremony, Michael Bidart, Echeverria’s friend, loyal supporter of Santa Clara Law, and managing partner of Shernoff Bidart Echeverria LLP, said, “Someone asked me the other day: ‘Why are they giving Ricardo Echeverria a lifetime achievement award? He is only 51 years old!’ The reason is that he deserves it. Ricardo has accomplished more as a consumer lawyer at age 51 than most people could accomplish in three lifetimes.”
A trial attorney with Shernoff Bidart Echeverria, Echeverria handles both insurance bad faith and catastrophic personal injury cases. He began at the firm as a law clerk right out of law school and has worked there for 28 years. He is the immediate past president of the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles (CAALA) the nation’s largest local association of plaintiffs’ attorneys. His impressive trial record is distinguished by many major victories including a $68 million jury verdict in a medical malpractice case in Fresno, CA (Perez et al. v Community Regional Medical Center, Pervaiz A. Chaudhry) the National Law Journal recognized the verdict as one of the Elite Trial Lawyer Top 50 Verdicts in 2018; $25.7 million (net) jury verdict in a catastrophic personal injury case (Elkins v. Murchison); a $17 million jury verdict in a catastrophic personal injury case where a security guard had his leg amputated in a forklift accident (Meier v. Pennysaver USA); and many others.
He is a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA) and has been recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer in the State of California by The National Trial Lawyers Association. In 2014, he was elected a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers (ACTL), which recognizes the top one percent of total trial attorneys in the country.
A frequent lecturer on insurance bad faith and managed care liability, Mr. Echeverria has been a featured speaker for many organizations including the American Association for Justice, formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA), Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles, and Consumer Attorneys of California, among others.
Q&A with Ricardo Echeverria JD ’93
- Why did you decide to be a lawyer?
I kind of fell into it by accident. I grew up on a dairy farm in Chino in Southern California and had never really thought about being a lawyer growing up. I initially went to undergrad at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with the thought of going to veterinary school and becoming a large animal veterinarian. My plan quickly changed and I ended up studying agribusiness with the intention of returning home to continue to work on the family dairy business. It wasn’t until mid-way through my undergraduate years that I had an inkling about going to law school. I was involved in student government at Cal Poly and served at the student body president my senior year. Through that experience, I met many friends who were planning to go to law school. The concept was intriguing to me. I had no idea what area of law I would want to practice, but I knew that if I were a lawyer, I would want to be in the courtroom trying cases. Luckily, I had known my mentor, Mike Bidart, my whole life through the local Basque community in Chino. Mike gave me sound advice about what life as a trial lawyer was like, so I decided to give it a shot. I was most fortunate to work at this firm as a law clerk during law school and then as a lawyer once I graduated from law school. It’s the only place that I have ever worked in my professional career. I’m very lucky to be in a practice where I’m able to help people day in and day out. It’s incredibly rewarding to do what you love.
- What made you choose Santa Clara for law school?
Well, to be completely truthful here, I knew that I wanted to be far enough away from home during law school because otherwise I would be asked to come home on the weekends to help with the work on the dairy farm. So part of my decision was based on location to be up in the Bay Area for law school, instead of Southern California, so I could focus all of my attention on studying law. I also liked that Santa Clara enjoyed a solid reputation as a Jesuit institution. I couldn’t have been happier with my choice.
- What was the most surprising thing about law school?
My biggest surprise was that my professors were so likeable and down to earth. I guess I expected difficult and mean professors like you see in the movies. But, the professors I had were completely supportive, accessible and genuinely wanted to train us to be great lawyers. It was a very pleasant surprise.
- What was the most challenging thing about law school?
Without question, the amount of reading. I’m a slow reader to begin with and it was a LOT of dense reading, which was challenging for me. Luckily, I have a very good memory and I can listen carefully, so going to class and listening to the dialogue was very helpful to put everything in perspective for me.
- How do you feel that Santa Clara prepared you for this career?
Santa Clara was a very down-to-earth and helpful atmosphere. The students were fun to be with and we all supported each other. We all genuinely wanted each other to do well. In my area of trial practice, this translated into the importance of civility in practicing law. We can have vigorous disagreements and disputes, but they should always be handled with professionalism and civility.
- Why did you choose this area of law to specialize in? Was there an event or a person that inspired you?
This one is simple. I mentioned above that my mentor is Mike Bidart. He was the single reason that I was able to work at this firm from the very beginning. When I saw first-hand the great work that the firm did in the area of representing consumers in insurance bad faith cases, and helping victims of catastrophic injuries, I knew that this was going to be my professional home, and it has been for my entire career. I loved the work the firm did and continues to do to this day. I am inspired every day to help my clients achieve the just results that they deserve. It is incredibly motivating and rewarding.
- You have said, “I am a sore loser so I like to win.” Can you talk a little more about that? When you lose a case, how does it feel? When you win a case, how does it feel?
As euphoric as the wins are, the losses are equally devastating. When a client comes to me for representation, I will fight for that client to the end. If it means that the case must go all the way and be tried, then so be it. I put a great deal of my energy and passion into preparation for trial. And it’s because there is so much invested into the case that the wins are so great, and the losses, well, really suck. I do think that when a lawyer has those raw emotions at the conclusion of a case it means that they genuinely care about the client. I’m certainly guilty of that.
- What has been the most surprising thing about your career in this field?
Well, I surely never expected to win a lifetime achievement award (and for sure not at 51 years old). But, as I mentioned when I accepted the recognition, I regard it as a “halftime,” not “lifetime,” achievement award.
- Can you share a story about one of the most rewarding cases you have taken on?
I recently tried a medical malpractice case over nearly three months in Fresno and was able to expose some very bad practices of a local cardiothoracic surgeon who had a habit of leaving the operating room early before the patient’s chest was closed following open heart surgery. In my case, the client went in for a rather routine open-heart procedure and was left in a near vegetative state with a massive brain injury. We were able to prove in that case that the surgeon left not only the operating room but the hospital itself, to attend a business meeting while my client was still on the operating room table and not stable. Despite two phone calls to his cell phone reporting abnormal bleeding, the surgeon simply ordered blood products over the phone but did not come back to the hospital. Within another twenty minutes, the bleeding continued and my client went into cardiac arrest and the surgeon was a half hour away, with no back up cardiothoracic surgeon in the hospital. While the doctor was rushing back to the hospital, the staff that was present were desperately trying to get my client back on the heart and lung machine to keep oxygen going to his brain. They couldn’t do it because they had never done it. When the surgeon returned 31 minutes into the code blue, he quickly got my client back on the machine, performed several additional hours of surgery, and my client today has a perfectly beating heart. The trouble is that the 31-minute delay of a lack of oxygen resulted in a massive brain injury. Ultimately, the verdict rendered was reported to be the largest personal injury verdict in the history of Fresno County.
This case was particularly rewarding not so much because of the size of the verdict, but because we really were able to expose some very bad conduct. There were several other cases involving this same surgeon and ultimately all of the cases were confidentially resolved. It was very rewarding to have these clients close out some very bad chapters in their lives.
- Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
I have been extremely blessed to have very positive influences throughout my life and career. This includes both my personal and professional family, and equally important, my Santa Clara family. I have nothing but the fondest memories of my law school education at Santa Clara and I’ve enjoyed being a part of the school’s continuing commitment to preparing the next generation of great lawyers. I’ve been very lucky and it is much appreciated. Thanks.