Steven J. Sharp Public Service Award
The Steven J. Sharp Public Service Award is presented annually to those attorneys and clients whose cases tell the story of American civil justice. Their cases help educate state and national policy makers and the public about the importance of consumers’ rights.
Who is Steven J. Sharp?
The award is named for Steven J. Sharp of Richland, Oregon, who lost both of his arms in 1992 to a defective tractor hay baler when he was 17 years old. The tractor manufacturer knew one person had been mangled, and another decapitated, by this defectively designed product. Yet company executives did nothing, even though a small 70 cent part would have fixed the problem. For 70 cents, Steven could still have his arms. At the time of Steven’s case, legislation was pending that would have barred him from taking his case against the manufacturer to court. He spoke out to show lawmakers how legislation to limit access to the courts would deprive people like him of justice. Steven’s case had a positive effect on Capitol Hill and ultimately helped convince President Clinton to veto this unfair legislation. What happened to Steven shouldn’t happen to anyone else. But if it does, they should have a chance to seek justice too.
2001 Steven J. Sharp Public Service Award
Attorney David P. Willis (Houston, Texas), an attorney who has been practicing law in Texas for over 25 years, was among those lawyers honored by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA), at the organization’s annual convention in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on July 14, 2001.
Mr. Willis was among a group of attorneys recognized with AAJ’s Steven J. Sharp Public Service Award for their role in helping to substantially advance the knowledge of the Ford Explorer/Firestone Tire catastrophe that led to the recall of millions of Firestone Tires. These cases helped educate Americans about the need for safe products and truthful information from manufacturers; identified for lawmakers the value of regulation in promoting safety; and made clear to all the essential nature of the civil justice system in holding wrongdoers accountable.
ATLA President Fred Baron said, “The story of Firestone tires and Ford Explorer rollovers has received unprecedented attention. The experiences of our members’ clients have resonated with the American public and our political leaders, re-invigorating discussions about safety, secrecy in settlements, the public’s right to know, and the importance of preserving the civil justice system.”
Mr. Willis said, “The combination of defective tires on an unstable and rollover prone vehicle is too much for the average driver to deal with in an emergency situation. As a lawyer I get tired of seeing lives lost, families destroyed, and victims suffering lifelong disabilities as a result of dangerous products. It is especially troubling when safer product designs were available at little additional cost in the first place. It is only through filing suit against these wrongdoers that we can force a change for safer products in the future and try and compensate those whose lives have been destroyed.”
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