Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Robert K. Crawford, RIP

Robert was a friend of my family, and an excellent attorney. He hired me as a paralegal for my first legal industry job, excluding work-study subsidized externships for non-profits. He was among the best in trial, with a commanding presence as a large Irishman who looked quite a bit like Brian Denehey, tempered with a deep compassion.

Unfortunately, he was also a severe PTSD victim after losing nearly 50 people under him in the Vietnam War during a military intelligence operation. The experience and subsequent depression hampered him for the rest of his life, despite a brilliance that should have made him a larger player in law.

He was made famous by the same case that ruined him. He took on Firestone Tires in a case that is now hornbook law in terms of emotional distress caused by serious cancer risks resulting from toxic negligence. The case also established future medical monitoring costs as legitimate damages in such a case where cancer remained speculative, though likely. The case arose from an incident in which Firestone negligently poisoned some neighboring water, and the plaintiffs sued despite not having any physical manifestations of illness at the time.

The case was won at the jury trial stage with a cross-examination of the defense expert witness consisting of four questions. I am paraphrasing the exchange from memory.

Crawford: So Doctor, is it true that you conducted experiments with thousands of rats?

Expert: As I've testified, yes.

Crawford: And you caused the rats to ingest the water of the subject source?

Expert: Yes

Crawford: And as you testified, "only," a small percentage of these rats contracted cancer.

Expert: I believe that was the point of my testimony, yes.

Crawford: So tell us again Doctor, how did these rats get cancer?

That was it. Case won. Well, of course there was much more to it, but it was certainly a "there you go again" type of moment. If brevity is indeed the wit of the soul, the fact was exemplified in Bob's style.

The verdict was for millions, but unfortunately he never saw a cent of it as he was defrauded by co-counsel as detailed in his SF Chron obituary. Brilliant as he was in a courtroom, his disability made it very difficult for him to maintain focus to keep a practice open, and by the time I was working for him in 1992 he had already been evicted from his posh Maiden Lane office in San Francisco and was working out of his home in Burlingame. He had already filed for one bankruptcy and was on his way to a second. I was on a hard learning curve, and learned precisely how not to run a law practice. My paychecks were far and few, and the stress began to get to me as well. Unfortunately, we did not part on the best of terms, although we had some reconciliation in recent years. The VA had taken him out of practice, and somehow his family recovered financially. He was apparently enjoying life. He loved his wife and sons dearly. He had a great sense of humor, and despite his difficulties he was always deeply committed to his clients.

In his retirement he took up scuba diving spelunking (am I spelling that right?). He used some gear known as "rebreathing" equipment, which involves some recycling of air instead of sending it out as bubbles. I guess it's equipment used by Navy Seals to conceal their movements. I don't know why he was using it recreationally, and I don't know how he got separated from his group, but while on a Mexico spelunking trip he did not emerge from the cave with his fellow divers. It took several days to locate his body.

Photo source.

a rebreather is only safe down to 25 t 30 feet.
Well, maybe you can answer a couple of questions.

1. What's the advantage of it over tanks if you're not on a stealth mission?

2. How does it work?

3. What can go wrong?
No advantage really, other than the bubbles don't go to the surface. It's a rebreather, it recycles the same oxygen. The only real use is a military or tactical application. I guess if you were caving the bubbles could limit your visibility??

It's been a while since I've read up on it but it's called a Dreager and it allows you to re-breath expended air. Safe use is 25 feet and under. Although I have read where Dreagers were used for 30 minutes or more at 50 feet without injury. Not logical for recreational use. I don't know of any civilians that have a Dreager, but who knows in Mexico.
PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Ooops. Thanx!
Correction to your article. Bob was lost at sea in Monterey Bay, CA not Mexico where he did often dive as well.
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