John Coale

Senior Advisor, Center for Litigation

John Coale has long been a crusader for private citizens adversely affected by the negligence of large corporations and a leading advocate of social and institutional reform through the court system. Coale was profiled on CBS’s 60 Minutes by Ed Bradley, who described him as “at the top of his field . . .” His work has been showcased in many books, magazines, and newspapers, including The National Law Journal, GQ, People Magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal.  Coale was named a life member in the National Registry of Who’s Who and was listed in Who’s Who in Executives and Professionals. 

Coale entered the ranks of the Nation’s top tort lawyers in 1984 when he took on Union Carbide on behalf of thousands of victims of the tragic gas leak in Bhopal, India. As Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) stated on the floor of the United States Senate, John Coale is “one of the leading plaintiffs’ lawyers in the country,” and referred to him as “a person who has pursued to the full limits of the law virtually every plaintiffs’ litigation that has taken place over the last 25 years.” (Congressional Record, May 21, 1998, S5267) His resume is a testament to his dedication to the rights of tort victims and his quest for corporate accountability.

In the Imperial Foods Chicken Plant fire, where the owner of the processing facility locked the emergency exit doors, Coale not only obtained millions of dollars for his clients but, more importantly, was instrumental in getting Congress to hold hearings concerning plant safety. At the hearings, many of Coale’s clients testified to the horrors they experienced locked inside a dark building surrounded by smoke and fire and to the unsanitary and unsafe working conditions that led up to that fateful day. As a result of the hearings, Congress made significant changes to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration enforcement framework. He also successfully pressed for the criminal prosecution of the plant owner, who ultimately pled guilty to multiple counts of manslaughter.

Most notable among Coale’s accomplishments is his role in obtaining billions of dollars in payments from the tobacco companies to the states and forcing a significant change in how tobacco companies do business. As a member of the Executive Committee for the Castano Tobacco Litigation, he was part of a pioneering effort to hold the tobacco companies responsible for misleading the public about the dangers of cigarettes and nicotine addiction. 

Coale was one of the principal negotiators in the $386 billion tobacco settlement reached in June of 1997, which ultimately led the tobacco companies to agree to pay billions of dollars to the states and reform their advertising and marketing practices. Coale has also taken on the handgun industry and, through litigation, has focused public awareness on the role of the gun industry in promoting violence in America’s cities.

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