Richard Alexander has earned a reputation for championing the underdog
Alexander has never been afraid to stand up for
the little guy, to fight the big fight, and
to do what is right.
BY BRIAN FOLEY
A champion for human safety and health, Richard Alexander is a personal injury lawyer of great energy, impressive general knowledge, and great passion for his clients—many of whom develop lasting and caring relationships with him and see him as a mentor. While his commitment to legal education and equal opportunity for women and minorities in the field has won him prestigious awards, his record as a litigator would be unbelievable, were it not true.
A graduate of the top-rated University of Chicago Law School, where he was a National Honor Scholar, Alexander came to San Jose in 1976 to practice with the legendary local trial attorney James Boccardo, after first working with Melvin Belli in San Francisco. “Dick values people,” says James McManis, a prominent San Jose trial lawyer. “He takes good care of his family, his lawyers, and his staff. When there is an injury or injustice, he is there to help. As a character in the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel March said, for Dick ‘to hear of a hurt is to seek to heal it.’ He is a healer and a fighter, and there is none better.”
Seen by many as the successor to Boccardo, Alexander “has tons of energy, a positive attitude, and enthusiasm that is contagious,” community leader Mike Fox Sr. says. “Trial attorneys are critical to society because they have the ability to keep the largest corporations honest and thereby protect the public from egregious wrongs.”
Alexander has been on the forefront of representing people injured by a wide range of defective products, from Ford Explorers that roll over and easily crumple, to solvents that cause cancer and birth defects, to drugs that cause unexpected strokes, heart attacks, and kidney damage.
Alexander has a long history of being an advocate for women and abused children. As a board member for three years of the Santa Clara County Bar Association, he single-handedly spearheaded a public education project to provide advice for survivors of sexual assault. Fifteen thousand copies of Alexander’s work “Rape Crisis: The Victim’s Rights” were printed and used by rape crisis centers in Northern California for years as a training tool.
After a distinguished year as county Bar president, Alexander was hailed by one judge as the most outstanding Bar leader in the history of the county. Alexander went on to serve three years on the board of governors of The State Bar of California, where he took on the integration of state Bar committees. “Bar committees were 90 percent men at the time,” Alexander says. “When I left, they were 50-50 men and women. A lot of men were upset to be moved aside, but you can’t avoid breaking eggs when you are baking a cake.” The Commission on Women took note of his dedication, and after 25 years of recognizing women of achievement, the organization selected Alexander as its ﬁrst “Man of the Year.”
Civil Rights of Abused Children
Alexander was one of the first legal advocates to champion the civil rights of abused children. For his groundbreaking work suing child molesters on behalf of children, the Santa Clara County Youth Commission awarded him its medal.
Alexander has also fought for the rights of children who suffered as a result of adoption fraud. He led the way in California with a leading case against San Mateo County, and he has prosecuted adoption fraud cases against San Diego, Tulare, and Contra Costa counties.
Cleaning Up Pollution
Alexander has led the fight against the chemical poisoning of the environment. He has sued polluters for building homes in California on land contaminated with arsenic; for contaminating homes in Ohio with radioactive gravel; for polluting Californians’ drinking water with potassium perchlorate, a chemical used in rocket fuel; and for dousing thousands of residents of Richmond with tons of airborne sulfuric acid.
He is well known for representing hundreds of people who have cancer and children with birth defects as a result of exposure to solvents and other carcinogens in electronic industry manufacturing. Alexander also represents children with birth defects caused by being exposed to toxic chemicals while in utero.
In a major case against IBM, which was tried in San Jose, Alexander collected millions of dollars for 250 IBM employees and their families in California, New York, and Vermont. The actual total is confidential.
Dangerous Cars, SUVs, and Other Consumer Products
Alexander was the first lawyer in the United States to successfully sue BMW for major gasoline burns caused by a defective fuel tank design. He proved the BMW’s tank placement and absence of crush protection was dangerous by a crash test that showed fuel spewing after a 17 mph rear end collision and that BMW knew the model 1600 did not meet U.S. safety standards when it was sold in the U.S. He has prosecuted multiple cases against Ford for its highly unstable Explorers that readily “trip” on flat level roads and also against B. F. Goodrich, Firestone and Bridgestone for defective tire designs.
On the consumer front, Alexander was instrumental in a class action lawsuit requiring Nissan to buy back 33,000 defective minivans. Ford had to recall 429,000 defective steering hoses, and Chrysler had to ﬁx 3.3 million vans with defective locks as a result of his cases. In other class actions, General Electric was forced to stop selling 90-watt bulbs as 100-watt replacements, and Bausch & Lomb was required to stop selling contact lenses at inflated prices. He has been responsible for having TCI roll back overcharges for cable TV, and he ended Sears’ system of auto repair fraud. Weyerhaeuser was required to replace defective home siding as a result of his work—and this is only a smattering of his clients.
Insurance Bad Faith
Alexander takes on insurance companies that abuse claimants in what is known as “bad faith” litigation. That’s what happened in the case of George Liu. He was driving a motorcycle when an 18-year-old hot-rod driver made an illegal U-turn two cars ahead of him on a curving road. When the van ahead of him suddenly stopped to avoid hitting the U-turn driver, Liu braked hard and was thrown against the van, breaking his back. The insurance company for the U-turn driver who caused the accident refused to pay its $30,000 policy to Liu, a man with a lifetime personal injury. Alexander charged forward, even though there was no offer to settle, until the Friday before trial, when $1 million was offered. Alexander said “no.” After picking a jury, the insurance company raised its offer to $2 million. Alexander said “no.” Finally after calling all of the eyewitnesses to the crash to testify in trial, Alexander negotiated a settlement of $4.5 million.
“That’s a legal miracle,” Liu says. “The only reason the insurance company paid was because it knew that if I took the case to verdict, I would be coming back against them for punitive damages,” Alexander says. “With this settlement, they put all claims to rest and made us promise not to mention the name of the insurance company. They were very embarrassed. And they should be.”
Ask Alexander what he likes to do best, and he says “fight for people who need and deserve a real lawyer.”
Major Injury Cases
Alexander’s law practice takes on major wrongdoers for people who don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on a lawyer, and he accepts all the risk of not only prosecuting cases, but also paying for the cost of expert witnesses, investigations, and travel necessary in major cases against corporate behemoths, such as IBM, Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, BMW, Nissan Motor, Honda, Pacific Gas & Electric, General Electric, Amtrak, Southern Pacific Railroad, DuPont, Shell Oil, Amoco, Chevron, Dow Chemical, Sears, Nationwide Insurance, Allstate Insurance, Fluor Corporation, the state of California and the United States government— all of whom he has sued at least once. The number of cities, counties, and governmental agencies that he has held accountable are numerous.
For 30 years, Alexander has consistently been recognized by Martindale-Hubbell, which has awarded him its top rating for legal ability and adherence to ethical values. The law firm he founded is listed in the List of Preeminent Law Firms in the United States. Avvo.com—another independent attorney-rating agency—gives Alexander 10 on a scale of 10 and a rating of “superb.” And he is listed in Who’s Who in the World, in America, in California, in the West, and in American Law.
“Lawyers like Richard Alexander make the world a safer and more reliable place for all of us, because, simply put, they make our justice system work,” Mike Fox Sr. says.