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Miles J. Zaremski Headshot

A Legal Stalwart Is Gone: Philip Corboy

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The nationally known and highly acclaimed Chicago-based personal injury lawyer, Philip Corboy, has now passed away. His life and times were reported in a front page story of the Chicago Tribune on June 13, 2012 (When disaster struck, victims turned to him). While there were many who opposed his positions in representing clients who suffered grievous injuries or death at the hands of others, and who opposed his thinking and policies on issues affecting the rights of citizens and state or federal legislation, I came to respect him not from being one of his adversaries early on in my nearly 40-year-legal career now, but as a result of something that the media will never report on or that rises to the level of public awareness. My respect grows out of an apology he gave me at what is now the Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. years after an occurrence between us and our respective clients at the time. So, in a way, this is my "eulogy" to Phil.

His office and my firm were engaged in a medical malpractice lawsuit. He was representing an injured party by the name of Cindy Chang and we were representing Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, where she had been treated for a medical condition. If memory still serves me now, his office had filed two separate lawsuits for her claimed injuries, one first in federal court, then one that followed in state court. The case in federal court had been reassigned to then new sitting Judge Susan Getzendanner (long since retired). Without getting bogged down in a whole lot of legal mumbo-jumbo, the case in state court was dismissed on a statute of limitations violation. We then took that dismissal to Getzendanner and filed a motion to dismiss the federal case on a legal doctrine called res judicata (the issues between the same parties had already been decided in a previous lawsuit). Phil showed up in court that late August day in the summer of 1982 by himself. Her Honor granted our motion -- even though Phil and his firm had brought the case. [In case anyone is interested, the decision was published in a legal reporter whose cite is, 549 F. Supp. 90 (N.D. Ill. 1982)]. We leave the courtroom and walk down the hallway without saying a word to one another, and -- to this day I will never forget this -- when we both arrived at the bank of elevators serving the floor and without anyone else present and way out of earshot of the courtroom, Phil gave me a mouthful of language not fit to print here, I suspect. After all, I was a punk lawyer probably still wet behind his ears per Phil's experience and I just had a federal judge dismiss a Corboy case. In the end, though, I believe Phil's client did receive a measure of justice when his firm went back into state court following the federal court dismissal.

Back to Reagan Airport. We accidentally bumped into one another at the same gate, waiting to take a flight home to Chicago. Phil was quite congenial and we exchanged small talk. But the importance of our conversation was not in its informality or small chitchat, but in Phil recollecting how he conducted himself before me in front of those elevators in federal court and offered a sincere apology for how he acted. What a mensch. In my eyes at the time -- and to this day -- it takes a person of integrity who is well grounded to admit an error in previous conduct or thinking affecting another. That day at the airport, Philip Corboy displayed such a measure.

Somewhat tangential to the story I just scribed is that Phil was chair of the American Bar Association's (ABA) special medical professional liability committee on which I sat. As expiration of his term of office was coming up, he was asked to nominate someone to succeed him. He asked me, and I accepted. I chaired that committee (becoming an ABA standing committee under my leadership) for the next five years, the longest ever served by any leader of that committee. We accomplished much and in no small measure to Phil's insights and commentary. During that time, he and his wife, Mary Dempsey, also hosted our committee for an unofficial get-together during ABA mid-year or annual meetings when held in Chicago. They could not have been more cordial and hospitable.

Yes, the Chicago (and nationwide) legal communities have lost a legal stalwart.