Tylenol, Flight 191 tort lawyer Philip Corboy dies
Famed personal injury trial lawyer Philip H. Corboy, whose legal career spanned more than 60 years and included work on one of the nation's worst aviation disasters — American Airlines Flight 191, which crashed near Des Plaines in May 1979 — died early Tuesday at his Chicago home. He was 87.
Hailed by fellow attorneys as a masterful litigator and praised for his temperament, Corboy also represented the families of three of the seven people in Cook and DuPage County who died in 1982 after taking cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules purchased from Chicago area stores. And he and his firm secured millions in settlements from a car accident and a deck collapse in the suburbs.
"He was a master trial lawyer. He had a way with a jury," said Cook County Judge William D. Maddux, presiding judge of the Law Division, who has known Corboy since the early 1960s.
He was also extremely bright and innovative, said Maddux, who recalls trying a case against Corboy years ago. Before the trial began, Corboy got transcripts from Maddux's 15 previous cases, studied his arguments and turned them back on him, Maddux said.
Those were the lengths Corboy went to in order to prepare his case, Maddux said. He said he thinks Corboy's legacy is his preparedness, which he passed on to the many lawyers he mentored at the firm that bears his name.
"He was among the first to recognize how important it was to know everything about a case from start to finish," said Timothy C. Evans, chief judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County.
"There was no detail too minute to pursue," said Evans. "He was a stickler for thorough investigation and preparation."
Corboy co-founded the Chicago firm Corboy & Demetrio. He had served as president of the Chicago Bar Association, president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association and general counsel for the Illinois Democratic Party.
He served as lead counsel for dozens of families of victims who died when American Airlines Flight 191 crashed in Elk Grove Township near Des Plaines. The 1979 crash killed 271 people on board and two people on the ground.
Later, on the eve of the trial involving the fatal Tylenol, Corboy reached a confidential settlement with Tylenol manufacturer Johnson & Johnson.
The $25 million he helped obtain for the family of a man killed in 1989 when United Airlines Flight 232 crash-landed in Sioux City, Iowa, set a record for aviation settlements at the time. His firm handled 39 cases related to the crash, ultimately securing $73.9 million in damages.
In 2005, Corboy represented Sun City residents Wyman and Carol Carey, who were injured in a 2003 car crash in Hampshire. A jury awarded the couple more than $4.5 million for their injuries. At the time, it ranked as the third largest verdict for a personal injury case in Kane County history.
And Lombard-based Town and Country Homes, with Corboy's firm's representation, paid Marisa Costello of Cary $1 million after she suffered injuries when her backyard deck collapsed in 2009. She and her 4-year-old daughter fell 12 feet; she was able to catch her daughter.
A civil litigation pioneer, Corboy represented plaintiffs in personal injury and wrongful death actions involving aviation, the Federal Employers Liability Act, general negligence, maritime law, professional negligence, product liability and railroad law.
He has been listed among the 100 most influential lawyers in the country by the National Law Journal since the survey began in 1985. Only 12 other lawyers nationwide hold that distinction. Corboy has also been listed in The Best Lawyers in America since that list started in 1987.
"He was our local king of torts," recalled Evans, who presided over cases tried by Corboy and his firm. "He specialized in that field and earned a national reputation by virtue of his expertise."
Evans recalled the attorney as a compassionate, humble man who "wanted to help the little guy."
Maddux concurred, describing Corboy as a "hail fellow well met, the kind of guy you'd like to have a beer with. Every time he tried a case, he made a friend."
Corboy graduated first in his class from Loyola University School of Law and was sworn into the Illinois bar in 1949. In 2009, Loyola announced that Corboy and his wife, Mary Dempsey, made the largest single gift ever to the Loyola University Chicago School of Law and renamed the building the Philip H. Corboy Law Center. Over the course of his career, he wrote more than 100 articles on legal and business topics and was the subject of dozens of others.
"Phil was a kind, compassionate and marvelous lawyer and a wonderful husband, and I want him to be remembered as someone who cared about people he loved and people he represented," Dempsey said in a statement released Tuesday.
His firm said Corboy lost only one case during his entire career, and it was eventually reversed on appeal.
"Phil Corboy was an extraordinary lawyer but an even better human being," partner Thomas A. Demetrio said. "His accomplishments in the courtroom pale in comparison to his contributions to his fellow man. His life was long and filled with much love, happiness and success — at all levels. While he'll be missed greatly, his spirit and legacy will live on for generations."
Corboy's funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago.
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