by Lou Mancinelli
When he graduated from the University of Maryland — he had started on the football team as a defensive back as a sophomore, and was an All-American quarterback in high school — John Baldante, 57, a Chestnut Hill resident for the past 21 years, thought he might become a writer.
Instead he has become one of the area’s top lawyers representing clients in personal injury, medical malpractice and product liability law. A quick glance at his successful cases shows a long list of major decisions: a $12 million settlement in a highway construction case and a $7 million sexual abuse case, both in 2013.
And in 1997 Baldante secured a $12 million settlement for a client, Donna Paetzold, who suffered a severe closed head/brain stem injury as a result of a car accident that occurred when she attempted to avoid a Bell Atlantic (aka New Jersey Bell) telephone wire that had fallen from a professional medical building, known as Farm Pediatrics.
Ms. Paetzold was left profoundly brain injured and a partial spastic quadriplegic. Baldante demonstrated that the telephone wire had been negligently attached. New Jersey Bell agreed to pay $10.4 million, and Farm Pediatrics agreed to pay $1.6 million.
But another case almost 30 years ago had a profound effect on Baldante. When he was fresh out of Widener University School of Law, he was representing a woman whose child had died seven years earlier. Her case was beyond the statute of limitations, but Baldante believed she had been victimized by the law and the medical community. He won the case.
On his way out that day, “I could see her eyes swelled with tears,” Baldante said. He too was moved. He asked if everything was OK. “It was that sort of emotional connection with a client that really convinced me.”
That was 1986, and the next year he joined the firm where he has been since, and was named a partner nearly a year later — Levy, Baldante, Finney & Rubenstein. His previous firm often defended doctors and hospitals, the big players. Now Baldante was on the other side.
“I was a blue collar kid growing up, and I wanted to represent people,” he said. Raised in Newark, the family eventually moved to a nearby suburb. During college Baldante “had delusions of maybe making it into the pros (football).” But he got injured his senior year. Although he thought he still had the talent, he felt his life going a different way.
When he graduated from the University of Maryland in 1980, he moved to New York City. The writing didn’t go as planned. He worked as a bike courier at a law firm where lawyers there convinced him to enroll in law school.
“Initially it was something to do while I figured out who I wanted to be,” Baldante said. He moved to Philadelphia and while at Widener, worked as a law clerk. When he finished school he stayed with the firm, LaBrum & Doak, and began his work with personal injury law and medical malpractice. It was there that he identified closely with the plight of the people he represented — when he had a chance to represent a patient who’d been disastrously hurt.
“You get to share the intimacy of strangers,” Baldante said. “You shepherd these clients through emotionally difficult times. The most important thing to do is to be true to the medicine or science or engineering behind the case.”
For every case, the lawyers and sometimes outside doctors and related professionals research what the most recent studies and articles state is the best way to conduct a certain procedure. Or if a chemical is burning someone, why doesn’t that information come with the product?
When there are major mistakes that entirely alter the shape of a person’s life, leading to massive medical costs, these legal cases may provide accountability. A quadriplegic needs a catheter because her bladder doesn’t work right, colonoscopies because the colon doesn’t either. The settlements provide at least a safety net for those costs. And can who measure the true value of a hand or the trauma of a burn that turns one’s face into a scar?
Baldante understands people make mistakes, of course, but that accountability can ease the pain and in some cases even change laws. Baldante used to get a lot of injury cases about forklifts and seat belts. Now all forklifts must have seat belts. The law changed, so he rarely gets those cases anymore.
In 2007 two young mothers each having their first children —friends and teachers at the same school — both died during Caesarian section births at Gloucester County Hospital in South Jersey, 15 days apart. A community’s heart’s broke.
Baldante and his group’s research discovered that even though the percentage of natal deaths in the U.S. was very low, it was still higher than in many other industrialized nations. They found it had to do with compression stockings, which helped prevent clots during C-sections. The literature was relatively clear that this practice had not been adopted in the U.S. Baldante won a major settlement for the families.
Another decision in 2013 provided a $12 million settlement for a client who was hit by a car while setting a lane closure for a construction project. The client had suffered severe brain injuries and visual impairment.
Baldante is convinced that if you educate a jury with enough information, whether the case is about medicine, science or engineering, they will make the right decision. “The burden of the mistake should not be borne by the victim,” he said.
For more information visit levybaldante.com.