Robert Mongeluzzi, the Philadelphia plaintiff's lawyer representing families of two Hungarian tourists killed in the duck-boat accident, is known both for his surgically precise trial technique and for the hundreds of millions of dollars he has won in verdicts and settlements for clients.
Mongeluzzi is a founding partner of his firm, Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky P.C., of Center City, and chairs its workplace-accident and product-liability practice groups.
His trial trademarks: preparing meticulously and putting complex issues of legal negligence into simple, emotionally accessible language that jurors can relate to.
"He is able to be very diplomatic, but he is also very aggressive when it comes to causes that he believes in," said Steven G. Wigrizer, a plaintiff's lawyer with the firm of Wapner Newman Wigrizer Brecher & Miller who has known Mongeluzzi for decades. "I have heard more than one defense attorney say their clients are better served by getting out of his way."
Mongeluzzi was the lead lawyer for victims in a garage construction accident at the Tropicana Casino Resort in Atlantic City that resulted in a $101 million settlement, the largest of its kind in U.S. history, the firm says.
In another case filed by Mongeluzzi, a Philadelphia jury awarded $75.6 million in 2004 to a road construction flagman who was hit by a drunken driver and became paraplegic as a result.
All told, Mongeluzzi, 56, says he has won settlements or verdicts totaling $1 billion or more over his career.
Mongeluzzi, known to his friends as "Mongo," leads a three-lawyer team representing the families of Dora Schwendtner, 16, and Szabolcs Prem, 20, who were killed when a barge rammed their Ride the Ducks amphibious vehicle, which had stopped in the Delaware River to deal with engine trouble.
A National Transportation Safety Board study found that on the day of the accident, July 7, 2010, Matt Devlin, first mate on the tug, was using his cellphone and laptop to deal with a medical emergency involving his son as he was piloting the tug. Mongeluzzi focused much of his opening remarks on what he said was a failure of the tug company, K-Sea Transportation Partners, to ensure that operators and other employees avoided such distractions while on duty.
And he opened with the dramatic claim that one of the victims, Schwendtner, tossed a life preserver to a duck boat employee who had jumped overboard as the barge bore down on them, which he said could be seen on a video of the accident.
After months, if not years, of preparation, Mongeluzzi clearly relishes going to trial.
He graduated from Fordham University Law School after doing his undergraduate work at the University of Pennsylvania, where he played football and lacrosse. His main focus over the years has been construction accidents, a practice that emerged serendipitously in the mid-1980s and which has grown through referrals.
"Someone asked me the other day, `Doesn't it bother you to go to trial?'," Mongeluzzi said. "My whole life I played lacrosse. Practicing was nice, but playing the game was really fun. Practicing law is fun, but trying a case is great."
Mongeluzzi is one of 27 lawyers at Saltz Mongeluzzi, which, in addition to construction accidents and product liability, also focuses on medical malpractice, sports and recreation accidents, and motor vehicle accidents, among other cases. Among its employees are registered nurses who assist in evaluating potential medical-malpractice law suits. The firm also consults with outside physicians on medical-malpractice claims.
Michael Barrett, a firm shareholder who handles medical-malpractice cases, said that although the number of cases in Pennsylvania had dropped substantially in recent years thanks to tightened filing procedures implemented by the state Supreme Court, medical-malpractice lawyers at the firm remained very busy, likely because other firms with less experience no longer file such cases.