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Robert L. Parks: The Trial Attorney Who Makes a Difference

Trial attorney Robert L. Parks is committed to building a better future for his clients, their families and the entire South Florida community. Since being admitted to the Florida Bar in 1964, he has represented hundreds of victims of aviation, resort, cruise line, manufacturing and automobile negligence in the Americas and around the world.

“One of the primary purposes of our legal system is to ensure there is an avenue to compensate people whose lives have been changed by those at fault,” said Parks, who has long been recognized as one of the nation’s top trial attorneys. “Many advancements in safety, such as automobile seatbelts and air bags, are a direct result of plaintiffs’ victories in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits.”

Through the years, Parks has also helped hundreds of pro bono clients who could not afford the services of an attorney, while teaching trial skills to younger lawyers. He also serves on the board of the National Judicial College, which provides training courses to state court judges around the country.” I’m proud to be part of the college, which is dedicated to upholding the high standards of our judicial system,” he said.

In South Florida, Parks is an active volunteer leader in environmental causes, including serving on the board of Everglades Foundation, which is dedicated to a restoring the health of the region’s unique “river of grass.” As he said, “We are dedicated to finding solutions to complex restoration issues and maintaining our region’s supply of drinking water without burdening taxpayers. Serving on the foundation has been a labor of love for me.”

Handling varied cases

At The Law Offices of Robert L. Parks, P.L. in Miami, Parks and his associate, Gabriel Garay, handle offshore resort litigation, aviation, premises liability, negligent security, maritime/admiralty litigation, and commercial litigation cases on a selective basis

“We are doing quite a bit of work in resort litigation,” Parks said. “Many U.S. travelers fail to understand the risks involved with vacation travel, and focus only on the enjoyable aspects. That puts them at a legal disadvantage if a death or serious injury were to occur.”

Resort operators, hotel companies and cruise lines do everything possible to reduce potential liability, Parks added. One of the key disclaimers in a travel contract involves the “choice of forum,” so if a serious accident occurs in The Bahamas, Mexico or Jamaica, for example, the law of that country will apply to the case.

“Depending on the individual circumstances, an injured party may be able to file a lawsuit in the United States, significantly improving the odds of a favorable jury verdict or financial settlement,” said Parks. “After all, many leading travel providers are U.S. companies or have substantial U.S. operations or assets.”

Parks has been successful in bringing a number of those forum non conveniens and forum selection clause cases to U.S. courts, including a $3 million ruling in the case of Megan Sands v. Kawasaki for injuries suffered at a resort in The Bahamas. 

Long considered an authority on aviation matters, as well as resort, cruise line and boating cases, Parks has been involved in most major airline disasters and has handled over 200 general aviation crashes. “There has not been a major crash of a U.S. commercial carrier since 2008 – a remarkable record of safety,” he said. Referring to the recent death of a passenger on a Southwest Airlines jet. Parks said, “ Pilots have lost engines before, but the cowling fracture that broke a window and caused cabin decompression makes this case different from others.”

Becoming a lawyer

A native of the Bahamas, Parks moved to Florida as a child and became a naturalized citizen in 1952. He enrolled at the University of Florida, planning to join the U.S. Foreign Service. “In my senior year, I found out that I couldn’t apply because I hadn’t been a citizen for 10 years,” Parks said. “I decided to go to law school at Georgetown University because I could work my way back into the international field.”

While in law school, Parks took a Saturday course in trial practice, taught by a volunteer Washington, D.C., litigator. “We covered everything from selecting a jury to preparing witnesses to closing arguments,” Parks said. “I did well in that course, and the instructor encouraged me to consider trial law as a career.”

Parks took his advice, and moved back to Miami, where he could enjoy the warm climate and be close to his family. “As a young trial lawyer in the 1960s and early ‘70s, I was in court several times a week,” he said. “The judges wanted to move the cases through the system, and attorneys got a lot of trial work. Today, most litigation cases settle before trial, and a lawyer might only go to court a few times a year.”  

So, what makes a good trial lawyer? “The two keys are preparation and determination,” said Parks. “I believe that 99 percent of success is due to preparation, and the Internet, artificial intelligence and machine learning are contributing to that process.”

Early in his career, Parks served as pro bono appellate advocate for an indigent man charged with sexual assault. In his appeal of Mills v. Florida, Parks argued that his client’s arrest was illegal under Florida’s outdated vagrancy statute, and was successful in getting the statute declared unconstitutional – a key victory for the state’s homeless population.

In the early 1990s, Parks was involved in nationwide litigation on behalf of hemophiliacs who became infected with HIV/AIDS because of lack of screening by blood services, including brothers Ricky, Robby, and Randy Ray from Arcadia, Florida. “One of the reasons blood banks and blood mobiles are so carefully regulated these days is because of those cases,” Parks said.

Parks has received numerous awards and accolades for his legal accomplishments, including being named a Distinguished Fellow by the invitation-only International Academy of Trial Lawyers in April. Last year, he was named “Plaintiff Lawyer of the Year” by the Florida Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates. Other honors include “Legal Legends Award” from History Miami’s 11th Judicial Circuit Historical Society (2015); “Perry Nichols Award” from the Florida Justice Association, given annually to a Floridian who has fought with distinction for justice throughout his life (2012); and the “War Horse Award,” the highest honor by The Southern Trial Lawyers Association in 2011.

Parks has also been a community leader for many decades, serving as chairman of the state’s Environmental Regulation Commission from 1978 to 1986 as the first chair of the Miami River Commission in 1998. The National Audubon Society named him “Environmentalist of the Year,” and he received the National Service to Youth Award from Boys and Girls Club of America in recognition of 30 years of devoted volunteer service.

South Florida Legal Guide May 7, 2018

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