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Eugene P. Okey

Eugene P. Okey
Status: Deceased

(1923 - 2009)

Before becoming a lawyer, in 1941 and 1942 Gene Okey played professional baseball in the Ohio State League pitching one season in the Chicago Cubs farm system. He also played in the Florida East Coast League and the Georgia-Florida League. He served in the U.S. Army in North Africa, Italy, Sardinia, Corsica, France, and Japan as an Intelligence Officer. He attended Kent State University, and while attending law school in 1950 at the University of Cincinnati, he was recalled to active duty during the Korean conflict and was stationed at Charleston, WV as Provost Marshal of the West Virginia Military District. He graduated from the William McKinley School of Law in Canton in 1956. In 1962 he left his job as Casualty Claims Supervisor for General Adjustment Bureau in Cleveland and entered private practice where he was on the cutting edge of major cases, particularly in the products field. He retired from practice in 1997.

During his law practice, Gene was credited with making it easier for individuals to sue companies for injuries and deaths resulting from faulty products. To Gene, "failure was not an option." He broke legal ground in two precedent-setting cases in the early 1980s: the lawsuit he filed on behalf of two injured clients against the American Motors Corps Jeep unit, and another suit related to the death of Yankees player Thurman Munson who was killed in a plane crash in 1979 at the Akron-Canton Airport.

In the first case where he received a $2.2 million verdict with half being unprecedented punitive damages, Gene argued successfully before the Ohio Supreme Court that juries could award a significant amount of punitive damages when they found a company liable. In the second, Gene made the novel argument that a company could be held liable for improperly training someone to fly a plane. Gene sued for $42 million and the case settled for an undisclosed amount during trial.

Gene lived by the principle that the better-prepared lawyer nearly always won. For the Jeep case, he bought a Jeep and crash-tested it. In the Munson case, he learned to fly a plane and got his pilots license.
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