Member Spotlight

Our member spotlight for this issue is Charles D. Naylor, a maritime personal injury attorney who has been practicing in Southern California since 1974. Naylor is peer review rated A-V Preeminent by Martindale-Hubble and has been selected by Southern California Super Lawyers as one of the “top attorneys in Southern California” every year from 2007 to the present. In 2007 he was a finalist for the Consumer Attorney of the Year Award presented by the Consumer Attorneys of California and in 2008 was a recipient of California Lawyer Magazine’s CLAY (California Lawyer Attorneys of the Year) Award.

Naylor received a Bachelor of Science degree from California State University at Long Beach in 1971 and a Juris Doctor degree from The University of Santa Clara in 1974.

Please share with us a little about your practice.

I primarily represent injured maritime workers and injured cruise passengers, including catastrophic injury and death cases. Until very recently, a significant part of my practice was representing injured Longshore workers in Longshore & Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (“LHWCA”) claims. Recently, I have become more involved as a mediator for LHWCA cases and have focused my litigation practice on Jones Act, marine construction, cruise passenger and general maritime personal injury cases.

What attracted you to working in the maritime field?

My attraction to Maritime Law came very organically. I grew up in San Pedro, which at the time was still a thriving commercial fishing community. My grandfather was a commercial tuna fisherman who often told stories “from the high seas” to his grandchildren, which fostered my grown-up fantasy of someday becoming a ship’s captain. While attending CSU Long Beach for my undergraduate degree, I worked as a Longshoreman. So when I graduated from law school and began working at a law firm in Long Beach, CA, the business I was bringing in came from the people that I knew – the commercial fishermen and the longshoremen – who were coming to me for legal counsel. Just a few years into my career, a tuna piracy case solidified my interest in Admiralty & Maritime law.

What opportunities/experiences were most important in shaping your career in this field?
 
Fresh out of law school, I started working at Buck & Smith in Long Beach. When I started, I told Dick Smith, a partner at the firm, that I wanted to be a trial lawyer. Just 30 days after starting my very first job, I found myself in trial as first-chair. As nerve-wracking as that was, it meant that I spent the next two years working for a law firm that regularly tried lawsuits with a partner that was willing to give me a shot. Several years later, while working at Marin, Naylor & Ryan, the captain and owner of a tuna boat fleet came to me with an unusual problem – tuna piracy. The captain was part of a fleet of three small boats from San Pedro, in international waters 200 miles off the coast of Mexico, following a school of tuna worth about $100,000 (in 1980. That would be almost $300,000 today). While the captain was waiting for conditions to be right to make his set, a large fishing boat out of San Diego came into the area and began to encroach on the small fleet, using its speed boats to divert the school of tuna and when that failed, its helicopter dropping “seal bombs (weighted waterproof ¼ sticks of dynamite) which drove the school out of the net as it was being “pursed.” The case presented some very interesting legal questions: 1) since the situation occurred in international waters, what law, if any, applies? 2) What right did our captain have in the “free in nature” that he could sue on? In working up the case, I found myself citing pre-revolution whaling cases out of colonial New England, while the defense was citing cases from England in the 1500’s. It was a fascinating legal exercise and by time it was done, I was hooked on maritime law.

What advice would you give to lawyers who are considering a career in maritime law or who have just begun to practice law in the field?

First, if you are going to work on the plaintiff side, you are going to have to learn to “eat what you kill.” You are going to want to make sure you have your financial affairs in order to be able to prepare for the unpredictable nature of the cash flow.

Second, when you are breaking into any practice area, you are not likely going to get the best cases. It is important to remember that you still need to be selective. Only take cases that have merit, and if you do get a “whopper” associate with an experienced maritime lawyer to prosecute the case. If you do, you will do right by your client, you will learn and you will still make a lot of money. If you don’t, you may end up snatching defeat from the jaws of victory; and you don’t want to do that.

Finally, get involved. Join organizations like the Admiralty & Maritime Law sections of the FBA, AAJ, WILG, etc. It will help you build relationships with the people you can call upon when needed.

In your years of practicing law in this field, what trends in the field or significant court decisions have most impacted your practice?

First, if you are going to have a long career, keep in mind that things are going to change and you are going to have to find ways to adapt. When I first started practicing law, the port of Los Angeles (San Pedro) was still a major fishing port and the combined ports of L.A. and Long Beach had four major shipyards. And the law was favorable for Longshore workers to sue their employers for injuries on the job. Today, all the tuna fleets are gone, all the shipyards have closed and a Supreme Court decision in 1981 (Scindia Steam Navigation Co. vs. De Los Santos) devastated Longshore liability cases. Meanwhile, the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach grew to become among the busiest ports in the U.S., and the cruise ship industry boomed—creating new opportunities for the community and for my practice.

In terms of key decisions, the most significant decision for Jones Act cases in 30 years came in 2009 (Atlantic Sounding Co. vs. Townsend). In that decision, the Supreme Court held that seamen can recover punitive damages for bad faith failure to provide Maintenance & Cure. Before the decision, employers were able to withhold or terminate Maintenance & Cure as a way to force injured seamen into bad settlements. The Townsend decision leveled the playing field and gave injured seamen a way to fight back and get the medical care they are entitled to and occasionally recover punitive damages from their employer.

What do you perceive to be the most significant legal challenges in the market today?

The impact of technology on the way we practice law. It is constantly advancing and it requires a commitment to keep up. One of the biggest benefits, I have found, is how technology has made collaborating with other lawyers on a case much more effective, and therefore much more attractive. It also gives me the ability to work anytime and anywhere. While that is great, it means people expect me to work anytime and anywhere. It can be challenging to set boundaries and have a proper work/life balance.

Please describe one or two of the most memorable cases that you have been involved with during your career.

Mraz vs. DaimlerChrysler
 
In 2004 I got an urgent call from a witness who testified in a very difficult Longshore case I had tried several years earlier. She was at the hospital with her friend whose husband had just been seriously injured while working at a Los Angeles container terminal. When I arrived at the hospital to meet with Mrs. Mraz, I realized very quickly that this had the potential to be “the big one”—the career-defining case:

Her husband was a 38-year-old longshoreman, who suffered ultimately fatal head injuries when he was run over by a 1992 Dodge Dakota truck supplied to him by his employer for his work on the container terminal. Mr. Mraz had got out of the truck and left it running in “park,” and was hit by the truck when it began traveling in reverse with no driver at the controls. We determined the truck's transmission had a “park to reverse” defect that allowed it to appear to be in park, and after approximately 30 seconds, shift itself into reverse. In 2007, a Los Angeles jury issued a $55.2 Million award to the family of Richard Mraz, including $50 Million in Punitive Damages and $5.2 Million in Compensatory Damages. The case settled in Bankruptcy Court in 2009 for $24 million.

The case taught me a valuable lesson – when “the big one” comes across your desk – don’t get greedy. If you need help with manpower, experience or capital – get it. You will need all three to be successful. In this case, I partnered with a major products liability law firm to set us up for success. And it worked out well for all.

Valladolid vs. Pacific Operators Offshore

On June 2, 2004, Juan Valladolid died when he was crushed by a forklift at his employer’s facility. Mr. Valladolid worked primarily as a roustabout on an offshore drilling platform located on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). Occasionally he would be assigned to work ashore at his employer’s shore side facility at La Conchita. It was there that the accident occurred. Offshore oil workers, on platforms located at least three miles offshore, are covered by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA). The OCSLA is an extension of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), a federal law that provides compensation for the disability or death of maritime workers as the result of an injury. Because Mr. Valladolid was not injured while actually working on the OCS, his employer denied Mrs. Valladolid’s claim for death benefits.

When we got involved in the case in 2005, we were simply trying to provide a widow with death benefits we felt she was owed for the death of her husband. The case soon took on a whole new meaning as it turned into a test case on a jurisdictional issue of whether OCSLA applies to injuries that occur ashore. Over the next six years, the case went through the Office of Administrative Law Judges, the Department of Labor Benefits Review Board, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and finally to the U.S. Supreme Court where the case was heard in October 2011. In January 2012, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision (Pacific Operators Offshore L.L.P. v. Valladolid) providing for fair workers' compensation benefits to offshore oil workers, regardless of where the accident causing their injury or death occurs.

In 2010, when it became apparent that the case would be heading to the U.S. Supreme Court we associated with a remarkable appellate lawyer, Joshua T. Gillelan, and reached out to the Supreme Court Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law and they “adopted” the case. Through them, Michael F. Sturley, one of the top academic commentators on maritime law, and David D. Frederick, one of the most sought after Supreme Court advocates joined us in the fight.

This was a real “David vs. Goliath” case. Our opposition was the off shore oil industry. We represented a widow from Long Beach, California. The industry could hire as many lawyers as they wanted and pay them whatever rates they charged. For the claimant, under OCSLA all her lawyers had to take the case on a contingency, with fees to be awarded by the court only if the prosecution was successful. The power differential was remarkable, but the experience left me with the strong feeling that the people who put this country together did a pretty good job. By the time we got to the Supreme Court the playing field felt pretty level. And as it turned out, it was.

Please contact Eric S. Daniel if you would like to nominate someone for a future member spotlight.

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