Awarded Sharp Public Service
The Steven J. Sharp Public Service Award is presented annually to those attorneys and clients whose cases tell the story of American civil justice and help educate state and national policy makers and the public about the importance of consumers’ rights.
The award is named for Steven J. Sharp of Richland, Oregon, who lost both arms in 1992 to a defective tractor hay baler when he was 17 years old. The tractor manufacturer knew one person had been mangled, and another decapitated, by this defectively designed product. Yet, company executives did nothing, even though a small 70-cent part would have fixed the problem. For 70 cents, Steven could still have his arms. At the time of Steven’s case, legislation was pending that would have barred him from taking his case against the manufacturer to court. He spoke out to show lawmakers how legislation to limit access to the courts would deprive people like him of justice. Steven’s case had a positive effect on Capitol Hill and ultimately helped convince President Clinton to veto this unfair legislation. What happened to Steven shouldn’t happen to anyone else. But if it does, they should have a chance to seek justice too.
David P. Willis, an attorney who has been practicing law in Texas for 25+ years, was among those lawyers honored by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America ATLA, at the organization’s annual convention in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, July 14, 2001
Willis was among a group of attorneys recognized with AAJ’s Steven J. Sharp Public Service Award for their role in helping to substantially advance the knowledge of the Ford Explorer/Firestone Tire catastrophe that led to the recall of millions of Firestone Tires last August. Nicholson has been involved in Firestone-Ford litigation since July 1998. These cases helped educate Americans about the need for safe products and truthful information from manufacturers; identified for lawmakers the value of regulation in promoting safety; and made clear to all the essential nature of the civil justice system in holding wrongdoers accountable.
ATLA President Fred Baron said, “The story of Firestone tires and Ford Explorer rollovers has received unprecedented attention. The experiences of our members’ clients have resonated with the American public and our political leaders, re-invigorating discussions about safety, secrecy in settlements, the public’s right to know, and the importance of preserving the civil justice system.”
Willis said, ” The combination of defective tires on a unstable and rollover prone vehicle is too much for the average driver to deal with in an emergency situation. As a lawyer I get tired of seeing lives lost, families destroyed and lifetime of hurt and disabilities for victims of dangerous products. It is especially troubling when safer product designs were available at little if any additional cost in the first place. It is only through filing suit against these wrongdoers that we can make a change for safer products in the future and try and compensate those whose lives have been destroyed.
In 1997, Mr. Willis was involved in one of the nation’s first Firestone ATX Radial Tread / Belt Separation and Ford Explorer rollover cases which occurred in Texas. A products liability lawsuit was filed in 1998 against Ford and Firestone due to the Ford Explorer going out of control and rolling after the back left Firestone ATX radial tire’s tread came off. After a long battle with Ford and Firestone a very significant confidential settlement was reached by all parties. On July 17, 2001 Mr. Willis was recognized as one of a very select group of products liability attorneys in the nation and was awarded the prestigious Steven J. Sharp Public Service Award for his contributions in investigating and gathering evidence pertaining to tire belt separation and vehicle rollovers in Firestone Tire and Ford Explorer Cases.
Willis is a graduate of Baylor University in Waco, Texas and the South Texas College of Law in Houston. After law school, Willis was selected as a small handful to be a a briefing attorney on the Supreme Court of Texas in Austin and since 1985 has been actively representing injured workers and victims of defective and dangerous products, drugs and victims of negligence & gross negligent conduct of others. Willis is licensed in Texas and New York and maintains a national practice. The efforts by these selected attorneys and others helped lead to the largest recall in U.S. history.