1L Performed Purpose in Historic $82 Million Verdict

It intended he would skip 3 days of college, but Ben Keller took the plunge and booked a previous-minute plane ticket to Tulsa, Oklahoma, when sitting down in Scott Commons just one sunny February morning.

“I was like, ‘Okay, let’s do it,’” the to start with-12 months College of Virginia Faculty of Regulation scholar said of his decision to travel, at his previous boss’ request, to aid with last arguments in a lawsuit he experienced worked on before legislation school. Days later, the verdict in the case — involving a female who died since she didn’t receive suitable healthcare treatment in prison — turned the greatest civil rights loss of life jury verdict in U.S. history.

In advance of Keller used to UVA Legislation, the College of Michigan graduate interviewed to clerk at Smolen & Roytman, a Tulsa plaintiffs’ organization specializing in civil rights, particular injuries and employment discrimination promises. He was looking for a position right after his two-year Train For The usa assignment instructing sixth graders in language arts and social reports ended.

In the course of the job interview, Keller made the case to Daniel Smolen for selecting him as a clerk even however he experienced no lawful practical experience: The son of two lawyers, he’d felt “called” to be a attorney considering that he was a boy or girl. His father was a federal general public defender and his mom labored mainly in labor relations.

The interview went well, but COVID-19 shut down most of the place later that 7 days. Smolen mentioned he forgot about the interview till a prospect face later that summer months, when he bumped into Keller at a mutual friend’s wedding day.

“I [had] interviewed him six months just before and felt really terrible about it,” Smolen explained. “He was trying to make your mind up if he was going to defer regulation college mainly because of [COVID-19] and I instructed him he could function at the workplace with me for a number of months though he produced a conclusion.”

From November 2020 right up until August 2022, Keller labored in Smolen’s place of work on 9 jury trials, but spent a lot of his time on a troubling 10-calendar year-old case that gave him induce to defer his admission to regulation university.

Gwendolyn Young was an inmate at Tulsa County Jail who had been detained for threatening a community official. She experienced a record of coronary heart troubles, and bipolar and stress problems. When in the county jail, there ended up various noted occasions wherever Younger handed out, vomited blood and slurred her speech. Young died in 2013, immediately after just five months in the facility.

The county contracted with Correctional Health care Cos. to give health-related solutions in its jails, but Young’s family members, led by plaintiff Deborah Young, alleged the company unsuccessful to give proper professional medical treatment to Young and others.

Keller got “deep in the weeds” on the Youthful scenario, compiling proof, taking care of exhibits and chatting to Deborah Youthful.

Although Keller, a recipient of the Robert G. Zack Scholarship, commenced his studies at UVA Legislation in the slide of 2022, he ongoing to work on the case, conducting investigation and communicating weekly with Smolen in his free of charge time, which includes more than wintertime crack.

Smolen said he was “blown away” by Keller’s grit and willpower to see the case by way of.

“I think he’s truly gifted,” Smolen claimed. “His skill to grasp complex information is way earlier mentioned average. He’s likely the most successful human being I’ve found at acquiring anything finished.”

Young’s wrongful loss of life assert under Portion 1983 of the federal code, Young v. Correctional Health and fitness Treatment Corporations Inc., was last but not least scheduled for demo in February, just after years of delays.

Following a week of testimony, Smolen’s look at-in arrived with a twist: Could Keller miss out on a number of times from school to attend the closing arguments?

Keller booked his flight, attended his Monday courses the future working day, flew to Tulsa that night and was sitting in the courtroom Tuesday morning.

Soon after catching up with the rest of the staff, Keller begun compiling information and facts for the 90-minute closing argument. He and a different worker stayed up all evening to produce a 50-slide PowerPoint presentation illustrating the most damning proof of a pattern of failures to supply proper health care care to inmates.

Younger was 1 of 28 deaths that transpired in Tulsa County Jail under the health-related provider’s treatment, and immediately after Young’s dying, the county switched professional medical vendors.

Prisoner Damien Tucker described chest soreness for a lot more than a week with out acquiring professional medical remedy and before long died of a coronary embolism. An additional male, Patrick Gibson, died just after Correctional Healthcare Cos. failed to offer his recommended treatment for coronary heart problems.

On the early morning Youthful died, she complained to health care employees that she was possessing trouble breathing.

Prior to this, she experienced questioned to go to the healthcare facility and shown signs like falling, slurred speech and vomiting. She was specified Prilosec, an in excess of-the-counter heartburn pill. She was guided again to her place by two personnel mainly because she was unable to walk on her very own.

A physician called as an specialist witness testified that it was “reckless” not to send her to an emergency area.

Keller crammed his slides for the closing argument with these aspects and extra.

“He was really considerate when it arrived down to how a layperson who’s on a jury could possibly perceive the information,” Smolen claimed. “I’ve been practising for 20 a long time, and I’d by no means experienced a clerk carry as considerably as Ben introduced to the desk.”

After finishing the slides at 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, Keller headed in excess of to the courthouse for the closing arguments. He was however sporting the exact fit he wore the day before.

“I was variety of in a point out of delirium at this stage, but I was experience great simply because I adore this things,” Keller mentioned. “I enjoy attempting to get justice and making heritage.”

The jury deliberated for about 24 hours. As Keller was boarding his aircraft household Friday early morning, there was even now no verdict. Journal tryouts would commence in 6 hrs. At the baggage assert at the Charlottesville airport, he appeared down to see a textual content from an lawyer functioning on the situation.

It read through: “Oh my god.”

Keller could explain to the verdict was in.

“What do you mean?” he wrote back. “Spit it out.”

Not only did Deborah Youthful safe $14 million in true damages for the reduction of her late mother, but the jury tacked on $68 million in punitive damages to prevent these types of carry out by for-revenue healthcare contractors in the long run, Keller reported.

“I did not anticipate that at all,” Keller stated. “I had folks on the lookout at me like I was a crazy person in the airport — I was just overjoyed.”

According to Smolen, it is the greatest standing verdict for a civil legal rights dying declare in the heritage of the United States.

“We could not have finished it with out Ben, actually,” Smolen said. “That’s how vital he is to some of the get the job done that we do.”

Keller has given that returned to the far more predictable life of a regulation pupil. He just finished Assets and Constitutional Regulation and he’ll be sitting down for examinations in the coming days. Subsequent calendar year, he’ll be on the Journal of Regulation and Politics.

His working experience operating with Smolen has influenced him to generate an outlet for UVA Regulation students who are fascinated in practicing plaintiff-aspect legislation just after graduating. He and a handful of other learners lately obtained acceptance from the Law College and the Pupil Bar Affiliation to kind a new scholar organization, the Plaintiffs Regulation Association at UVA Law.

“I contemplate myself really lucky because I figured out what kind of regulation I desired to do in advance of I started out,” reported Keller, who ideas to operate far more with Smolen soon after legislation school. “We really just want to supply an avenue to teach and tell men and women that plaintiffs’ corporations exist much too.”