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Home / Supplements and Special Sections / Missouri Lawyers Awards 2020 / Legal champion: Doug Gentile, Rouse Frets White Goss Gentile Rhodes

Legal champion: Doug Gentile, Rouse Frets White Goss Gentile Rhodes

When Doug Gentile first received a product liability referral on a case involving a young boy injured in a child car seat, he certainly wasn’t an expert on the issue.

“It was the first time I’d ever even thought about child-seat litigation,” he recalled.

Doug Gentile

Gentile

It wouldn’t be the last.

After originally practicing with a defense firm, he transitioned to plaintiffs’ work. From that initial case, Gentile, a co-founding partner at Rouse Frets White Goss Gentile Rhodes, began to learn more about the development, regulation and testing of the automotive safety devices into which millions of parents strap their children every day.

What he found was that they often were designed more for visual appeal than engineering quality, he said.

“It infuriated me,” said Gentile, a native of Kansas City and graduate of the University of Kansas. “I was shocked by it and almost felt betrayed because I had trusted my own kids to these products.”

Today, this niche area represents most of his practice. He estimates that he’s recovered at least $150 million to $200 million representing children who have suffered everything from paralysis to brain damage.

“I’ve had cases against all of the principal manufacturers of car seats,” he said. “All different types — infant seats, convertible seats, booster seats.”

He’s also accumulated an impressive reputation as an authority in the field. As a frequent speaker at seminars and a noted author of papers on the topic, he has been selected to sit on the Safe Kids Worldwide panel on child seats. He also is the only trial attorney on the Children in Autonomous Vehicles Blue Ribbon Panel.

“What we’re working on is recommendations to policymakers, federal and state governments on what to do and how to protect children in autonomous vehicles,” he said. “They aren’t going to be building these cars for just you and me. We know to put our seatbelts on and keep them in place, but a 4-year-old doesn’t.”

His nominator calls Gentile a “true champion in child safety.”

“Some trial lawyers dream of making a difference outside of [the] courtroom,” the nominator wrote. “Doug is one of the dreamers, and one who has made a real difference. If you compare the car seats of today with the ones on the market when Doug started his practice, you will see an obvious move to safer design.”

It hasn’t been easy.

Gentile said that each case has its own specifics, and a single matter could involve dozens of experts and hundreds of thousands of pages of documents. That’s why he rarely deals with more than three or four of these complex, multilayered cases at a time.

Then there is the emotional impact.

“That never gets any easier,” he said. “I just channel that to motivate me. That emotional upset is just channeled into working harder for my clients.”

Beyond helping to promote better design, the important thing is to gain some measure of justice for clients. A substantial award can mean money to make homes and vehicles handicapped-accessible and obtain top-quality care for injured children so their parents can return to work.

“Many of these cases settle for significant amounts, and they almost always make a huge difference for the family,” he said. “We’re definitely changing the lives of these children in a positive way, and that’s a very satisfying thing.”

Even more satisfying is seeing the changes in design that help to prevent injuries in the first place. Better car seats mean fewer cases reaching Gentile’s desk — and that’s just fine with him.

“I can’t wait until I’m out of work, to be honest with you,” he said.

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