Theodore (Ted) Babbitt
Ted Babbitt appreciates good writing. “To be successful as a trial lawyer, you have to be a good writer,” says the founding partner of Babbitt Johnson Osborne & LeClainche, P.A. in West Palm Beach. “You have to state things concisely in a way that makes sense and be persuasive at the same time. You can have all the oral talent and not be successful if you can’t put the right words down on paper.”
Today, Babbitt writes a monthly column on cases for the Palm Beach Bar Association and spends plenty of time at the computer preparing arguments on behalf of his clients. He has successfully tackled some of the most challenging personal injury cases in Florida and obtained numerous high profile, multimillion-dollar recoveries for his clients.
In 1973, he became the youngest member to be elected to the Inner Circle of Advocates, an invitation-only group of 100 top plaintiffs’ lawyers. He has also been named to the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, and The American College of Trial Lawyers, making him just one of a handful of lawyers who have been named to all three organizations. Babbitt has also written more than 100 articles that have appeared in national and local publications, given lectures for other attorneys, and chaired nearly a dozen professional committees.
But it took Babbitt many years to develop the skills that have made him a successful trial lawyer. A native of New York, Babbitt came to Florida in 1955 when he was 13 years old. “I was a terrible student in high school, and took classes like wood shop, metal shop and mechanical drawing,” he recalls. “I was convinced into joining the U.S. Marine Corps. When I got out, I decided I wanted to do something else.”
Although his friends tried to talk him into going to trade school, Babbitt applied to Palm Beach Junior College and worked on his English and math skills. Next came the University of Florida, where Babbitt majored in psychology. “My family is filled with teachers, and I had planned to become a guidance counselor,” he says. “But my advisors felt I was too aggressive for that.”
By then Babbitt was married and looking at other possibilities for his career. He took the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) and stayed in Gainesville. “My first professor told us that only one-third of the students would graduate and I didn’t expect to finish,” he said. “It was a real challenge for me, but I applied myself and earned my law degree.”
Because of his background in psychology, Babbitt initially decided to go into family law, acting as a counselor in domestic relations. He joined Farish and Farish, which handled family matters and personal injury cases. “They gave me about 50 divorce cases, where the spouses wanted to kill each other,” he recalls. “I hated that, so I started doing PI work.”
To learn more about the medical aspects of the law, Babbitt earned an emergency medical technician (EMT) license and soon found himself handling the first medical malpractice case in Palm Beach County. That was in 1967, a time when “people just didn’t sue their doctors,” Babbitt says.
Opening a New Firm
That same year, Babbitt opened his own firm with partner Sam Phillips and focused his practice on medical malpractice cases. He soon obtained a million-dollar verdict for his client, whose photo was featured on the cover of Time magazine. Over the next 45 years, Babbitt continued to win multimillion-dollar verdicts and settlements in a wide range of cases, including product liability, drug litigation, medical malpractice, and other personal injury matters.
About five years ago, Babbitt and his partners decided to broaden the six-attorney firm’s PI practice, which had primarily focused on medical malpractice cases. Now, Babbitt’s legal work includes mass torts, other types of PI matters, and commercial contingency cases.
“To be a good trial lawyer, you need confidence and the will to win, along with your oral and written skills,” Babbitt says. “You have to be willing to work hard. I’m known for my preparation. When I file a suit, I’m ready to go to trial. For me it is very satisfying to take apart the chairman of a prestigious medical school and decimate the other side’s witness.”
In keeping with that competitive spirit, Babbitt played handball and racquetball for 30 years. Now, he enjoys skiing, biking, running and lifting weights, exercising every day of the year. He’s also an accomplished commercial pilot and flight instructor with ratings in single and multi-engine as well as glider. Since 1969, he has logged more than 4,000 hours as a pilot, including volunteer flights as an “angel” to allow sick people to get needed treatment, and “Pilots and Paws” flights for injured animals.
But the most important cause in Babbitt’s life today is finding a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a degenerative nervous system condition that is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. “My wife Adrianne has ALS, and I know what a terrible disease this is,” he says. “Scientists are now on the edge of a cure, and we’re helping them by raising money for the ALS Foundation.” The Babbitts have two children, and five grandchildren.
Babbitt is also a founding board member of Florida Children First, an organization of attorneys who specialize in helping at-risk children in the state’s social services system, particularly those in foster care. “We lobby the Legislature and file suits to obtain rights for these kids,” he says. “It’s a big part of my practice and pro bono work as well.”
In the legal profession, Babbitt has served on three task forces appointed by Florida governors and three commissions appointed by the Supreme Court. Now, he is concerned about the continuing pressure from the state Legislature to stop “frivolous” lawsuits and put caps on damages in medical malpractice cases. “The facts are clear,” he says. “Putting caps on damages does not affect the number of cases filed or the amount of verdicts.” However, there is a clear correlation between insurance premiums and the stock market, he adds. That’s because insurers make their money by investing their premiums, and when the returns are low, they make it up in premiums, according to Babbitt.
In addition, medical malpractice carriers don’t rate individual doctors, Babbitt says. As a result, a neurologist in Miami with no claims for 40 years winds up paying the same premium as a colleague with half a dozen claims in 10 years. “That’ very different from auto insurance,” Babbitt says. “It’s not fair to the good doctors and it’s not conducive to correcting the underlying problem, which is malpractice — not lawsuits.”
South Florida Legal Guide Midyear 2012 Edition
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