As Timothy Litzenburg, L’08, prepared to present his case against the Monsanto corporation, he turned to the scholarship of one of his former Richmond Law professors. Professor Pete Swisher’s Causation Requirements in Tort and Insurance Law Practice: Demystifying Some Legal Causation Riddles (47 Tort Trial & Insurances Practices Law Journal 2007) turned out to be a helpful resource for Litzenburg – who went on to win the first of what’s likely to be hundreds of cases against Monsanto, arguing that their Roundup weed killer causes non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In this instance, a San Francisco jury ruled unanimously in favor of plaintiff Dewayne Johnson, awarding him $289 million in damages. 

The Miller Firm in Orange, Virginia, where Litzenburg has worked for almost seven years, is known for “being sort of insanely aggressive in setting trials and going to trials in mass torts,” said Litzenburg, referring to the type of law suit involving mass numbers of victims. Such an approach, he said, is unique: “Most people who are in mass torts move along slowly.” But for the Miller Firm – which he describes as “the punk rock of mass torts” – “you get an idea, and then you sort of grab your tools or instruments to get them on stage, and you give it your best as soon as possible.”

For Litzenburg, that idea came during some down time after he finished trying six cases in five states in two years in the Actos bladder cancer lawsuits. The firm won five out of the six cases, and Litzenburg was conducting some research to determine what might be “the next big thing” for the firm – which has a sub-specialty in mass torts in cancer-causing products. “I remember the day the World Health Organization called [glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup] a carcinogen,” said Litzenburg. After consulting with colleagues and medical experts, the Miller Firm started letting the public know that they were taking cases against Monsanto, the makers of Roundup.

Litzenburg thinks the recent verdict against Monsanto is “just the tip of the iceberg.” So far, the Miller Firm has about 2,000 cases against the company on their plate. Many will likely settle – but “I’m excited to bring this to as many juries as possible,” Litzenburg said. “I think that the purest form of democracy is the civil jury – corporations run America, but they don’t get to speak to the jurors.” He’s scheduled to go before his next jury in the Monsanto case in January in St. Louis.

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Litzenburg didn’t always set out to be a personal injury attorney. During law school, he tried his hand at criminal defense work, and did a summer internship at Williams Mullen. But after reading John Edwards’ Four Trials, he decided he wanted to be a trial lawyer. And “it’s much easier to get a job when you know what you’re looking for,” Litzenburg noted. He worked for personal injury attorney Jonathan Petty and Hancock Daniel, both in Richmond, before landing at the Miller Firm.

Professor Swisher – affectionately known as “Tort-Man” to his former students – also played a role in the trajectory of Litzenburg’s career. Litzenburg took Family Law, Insurance Law, and Torts from Swisher, but it was the latter course that had the biggest impact. “[The] really esoteric stuff that we looked at in that class that maybe nobody uses – I use it,” said Litzenburg. Take the well-known Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co. case, for example. It’s a notoriously complicated case often used by torts professors to illustrate principles of causation. It’s a case that Swisher cited in his Causation Requirements article – the same one that Litzenburg referenced in his Monsanto trial prep.

“Pete Swisher was hilarious and irreverent, but he was really one of the leading professors in his area in the country,” said Litzenburg. “And he was clearly a plaintiff’s lawyer at heart.” It’s a legacy that Litzenburg continues in his work today.