Jim Ferraro fights for the rights of people who otherwise have no one on their side. He has negotiated more than a billion dollars in settlements through his lucrative law firms. Here he talks to Haute Living about his home, his passions and his causes, all which revolve around one main idea: make the world a better place.
By Stephanie Wilson / Photography by Diego Tosoni
“I think that money gives you the power to make the world a better place.” His actions speak louder than his words ever could.
During the holiday season, James L. Ferraro receives hundreds of letters from widows around the country. These letters express heartfelt thanks from women who otherwise would have lost everything after losing their husbands. But thanks to Ferraro, they were given hope and restitution, and that is something these women will not soon forget.
Jim Ferraro is a trial lawyer, fighting to protect the rights of people in the areas of product liability, wrongful death, personal injury and medical malpractice. He has negotiated more than a billion dollars in settlements during twenty-four years of practice. He is always fighting for someone who, without him, wouldn’t stand a chance. He offers a voice for people that would otherwise be unheard, giving them hope and justice.
Ferraro invited Haute Living into his opulent three-floor penthouse in Coral Gables. The home, featured in Florida Architecture Magazine, was created in an Italian-Renaissance style. With marble floors, velvet curtains, and cream colored Venetian stucco walls, it offers a haven to Ferraro where he can escape his busy world and be with his three children: James, Andrew, and Alexis. It seems fitting that Ferraro resides on the top three floors of the building, being that he climbed his way to the top of his field after humble beginnings.
Although his home is representative of his Italian-heritage (Ferraro is three-quarters Italian, one-quarter English), he is a third-generation American. Born and raised in Greenwich, Connecticut, Ferraro received his bachelors in business administration from the University of Miami in 1978, followed by a masters in accounting and business in ’79. He began working as a CPA while he attended law school at night. “My dad was the first college graduate of the family… I am the first one to go to law or graduate school,” says Jim. “I came out of law school in 1983 in the hole because of school loans. I basically started out negative.” It didn’t take Ferraro long to get on track, and after spending a few years working for other firms, The Ferraro Law Firm was founded in May, 1985.
The first years of his career were spent pursuing trial law, and representing some major athletes, before switching to the much more lucrative area of mass tort litigation. In 1989, he represented a worker who had developed lung cancer from working with asbestos. Despite being a very complicated trial, Ferraro won, and was catapulted into the national spotlight. He began receiving calls from workers and unions across the country hoping to be represented. Ferraro explains, “In a matter of two years, I went from 100 cases to 4000.” This led to Ferraro opening a firm in Cleveland with his good friend Michael Kelley, aptly named Kelley & Ferraro LLP; the firm will celebrate its tenth anniversary this year. Currently, the two law firms have more than 40,000 asbestos cases, which is the largest inventory of such cases in the US. He explains, “I am representing blue-collar workers going against major companies. We put up the money, and if we lose, we get nothing, but if we win, we get a percentage. It seems almost too good to be true that I am helping these people, and making a lot of money doing so. I feel so fortunate to be in this situation.”
THE BIG MATCH
He has successfully tried many cases that resulted in multi-million dollar verdicts, including the largest compensatory award in Florida history for an asbestos case. In 1997, he was named one of the ten finalists for Trial Lawyer of the Year after winning the first and only verdict ever in the world against a chemical company for a birth defect. He tells us the heart breaking tale: “A woman named Donna Castillo came into my office in 1993 with a child that had been born with no eyes. During her pregnancy, she had been sprayed by a DuPont fungicide, and she was convinced that was the reason her child had no eyes.” Ferraro found a study at the University of California involving a test of the fungicide on pregnant rats that confirmed her suspicions: 43% of the rat offspring were born without eyes. He took the case and went to trial against DuPont, working tirelessly on the case for years, and traveling around the globe to take 63 depositions in four countries. He spent millions of his own dollars in hopes of finding this woman some justice. “We went to trial in 1996. The whole thing took six weeks, and was broadcast on Court TV. DuPont had 10 lawyers from three different firms; I did every witness myself. I opened the trial, I closed it… And we won!” The verdict was later affirmed by the Florida Supreme Court.
All of his work has paid off in a big way, but he has never lost sight of his main objective, which is helping others. He says, “I think that money gives you the power to make the world a better place.” His actions speak louder than his words ever could.
Ferraro gives major support to 40-50 different charities each year, and is on the Board of Directors of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Florida. Norman Wedderburn, President and CEO of that organization’s Southern Florida chapter, says, “Jim’s passion for the mission of the Make-A-Wish Foundation knows no bounds. More than 75 children have realized their greatest dream come true thanks to his generosity.” Four years ago at the annual Fundraising Ball, the foundation had only sold seven wishes, which cost around $5000 a piece. When Ferraro was asked to help, he did the first thing that came to mind: “I got the microphone and said ‘I will personally buy 20 wishes on one condition: that everyone in this room at least matches it!” The foundation promptly sold thirty more wishes, bringing the total for the night to over fifty. “Now this has become an actual part of the event, ‘Match Jim’s Wishes!'” he says with a laugh. “I like to instigate people to do good things.”
He is also on the Board of Directors for the Children’s Home Society of Florida. A few years ago, he was given the Man of Valor award, and during the gala, a co-ed at the University of Florida gave a speech about how she had lost both her parents at a young age and owed all of her success to the Children’s Home Society. During the night’s auction, Ferraro bought a two-week cruise to the Greek and Italian Isles, and gave the trip to the young girl. “That really created a fire-storm of emotion in the place. They actually got up on stage and raised $5000 so she could buy clothes for the trip!” he recalls.
Last year, he was an honoree at a fundraising gala for his contributions to the Arc of Palm Beach, an organization dedicated to helping children with severe disabilities. This year, he will be co-hosting the event along with Donald Trump.
He brings his passion for helping others into his work in politics. He firmly believes that a country as great as ours should offer three basic things: healthcare, a minimum wage that is above the poverty level and access to public education through the college level. His reasoning for this is basic: “If you guarantee everyone their health, and you have a reasonable minimum wage, and the ability to get a decent education, then it is up to you to do what you want with your life.” It is because of these beliefs that he gives generously to democratic causes. A golf-buddy of President Clinton, Ferraro is also actively involved in President Clinton’s Global Initiative, a cause that raises billions of dollars a year to help people all around the world.
It isn’t all work and no play for Ferraro. His homes are his passion, and he is currently building the largest estate in Martha’s Vineyard, complete with 14-bedrooms, a tennis court, basketball court, nine-hole putting green, a gym the size of a Gold’s, a movie theater, and a private beach. He can fly in and out of the Vineyard on one of his three jets, which are mainly used to get Ferraro around to his many clients across the country at a moment’s notice.
He also owns the Las Vegas Gladiators Arena Football Team, Phantom Boxing Gym with Antonio Misuraca, and is co-owner of Randazzo’s Little Italy in Coral Gables. “In 2002, I was having dinner at my friend Mark Randazzo’s house, and I said, ‘Mark, you are such a great cook, you should start a restaurant.’ He said that was always a dream of his. I said I would put up the cash, and he was hesitant about me losing money in the restaurant business, but I convinced him it would be a great idea.” Randazzo’s Little Italy is now a staple in Coral Gables restaurant scene. He says, “I think that if you have the ability to help someone, be it money or whatever your source might be, it is important that you do so.” His is an example we should all follow.