Of Counsel: William K. Koska

William K. (Bill) Koska has done trial work and litigation for over three decades in Southern California. For the past 20 years, Bill’s practice has focused on toxic tort litigation involving land, water and air issues, as well as environmental litigation generally. He has handled matters involving CERCLA, CEQA, Clean Air Act, Proposition 65, federal and state safe drinking water laws, and air quality issues for a variety of clients, both large and small. He has also represented developers, subcontractors and individuals in real estate matters involving construction defect, environmental issues including mold, boundary and partition issues. Mr. Koska has been AV Rated by Martindale-Hubbell for more than 30 years.

As a result of the heavy rains of the late-1970s and early-1980s, Mr. Koska developed particular expertise in the area of flooding damage and landslide issues. As a consequence, he represented numerous developers and landowners in spectacular hillside settings, who were involved in litigation from landslide/flooding damage.

He also became involved in both defending and prosecuting eminent domain and inverse condemnation actions on behalf of developers and individuals. This crossover with structure knowledge, land and water issues led naturally to the construction defect work which Mr. Koska has been involved in from the late-1980s up to the present time.

Mr. Koska’s background with toxic torts spans over 30 years. He first handled an aplastic anemia case involving inhalation of insecticides in 1977 and 1978. In the late-1970s and throughout the 1980s, Mr. Koska was involved in handling matters having to do with abestosis, the early days of mold, inhalation of benzene, and various other products alleged to cause lung disorders, including leukemia and aplastic anemia.

Mr. Koska has handled product liability matters for a variety of clients, including Sunbeam Corporation, Northern Electric, Biddeford Blankets, Oster, Murray, Caterpillar, International Harvester, Navistar, Ciba, McKesson Corporation, Johns-Manville, Sparkletts Drinking Water, Presley Homes, and many others. The cases have ranged from serious burn injuries to inhalation of asbestos, mold or cancer-causing chemicals, loss of body parts and death.

While in Los Angeles, Mr. Koska represented entertainers, recording artists and corporate clients in the television and motion picture industry. A short list of the clients he has represented include Jon Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, singer/songwriter Olivia Newton-John, Aaron Spelling, Spelling-Goldberg Productions, producer Alan Greensburg, entertainer Danny Thomas, actor Beau Bridges, famed divorce attorney Marvin Mitchelson, and many others. The cases have been brought on a variety of different theories, aggressively litigated and resulted in favorable resolutions in every instance including jury verdicts.

Since coming to San Diego some 14 years ago, and with Mr. Koska's background, he has represented individuals and companies involving disputes with city and county authorities regarding permitting and code enforcement. This has gone hand-in-hand with his real estate and environmental background. His trial experience, coupled with environmental and real estate expertise, has enabled him to be an aggressive advocate against city and county permitting authorities. There is a way to handle these matters effectively and economically, and Bill has that ability.

The following brief history is illustrative:

In 1976, following the California Supreme Court's historic finding of comparative fault statewide in Li v. Yellow Cab, Mr. Koska tried the first California case resulting in a published opinion involving a percentage finding of comparative fault. In Rangel v. Graybar Electric Co., the appellate court upheld a finding of 95% fault on the part of the plaintiff; Mr. Koska represented the defendant in the matter.

Mr. Koska defended Dial Corporation in litigation by 100 plaintiffs stemming from a chlorine tank explosion. He successfully prosecuted the responsible parties for Dial and recovered a seven figure settlement.

He served as lead counsel defending more than 200 plaintiffs sued as cross-defendants in a cross-complaint filed by the County of Los Angeles and the State of California following landslides in Malibu, California along the Pacific Coast Highway in the area called Big Rock. The homeowners obtained settlements totaling $95 million.

In 1991, Mr. Koska tried the first of many cases pending against Sunbeam Corp. around the United States for burns and fire damage due to allegedly defective design and manufacture of electric blankets, alleging punitive damages based upon some 500 alleged prior fires. After plaintiffs turned down a large offer, the jury returned a verdict of 50% fault to the plaintiff and a 5-figure verdict for plaintiff, despite his multiple surgeries for 3rd degree burns. The remaining cases thereafter settled.

For over ten years, beginning in 1997 and culminating in the summer of 2007, Mr. Koska served as lead defense counsel for American States Water Company in the successful defense of tort cases involving allegations by 3,000 plaintiffs of ingestion of contaminated water over a 20-year period. All cases were dismissed in favor of Mr. Koska's client on motion in Los Angeles and in Sacramento, following remand from the California Supreme Court in Hartwell v. Superior Court (2002). The cases in Sacramento were not appealed.

The cases in Los Angeles were appealed, and the landmark opinion rendered on August 24, 2007, In Re: Groundwater Cases, affirmed the dismissal in favor of Mr. Koska's client. The ruling confirmed that California has a safe harbor for PUC-regulated water utilities against suit as long as the utilities are in compliance with all federal and state safe drinking water laws.

During the same time frame, Mr. Koska prosecuted cases against the State of California and Aerojet General Corp. for contaminating American States' well fields in Sacramento. The cases resulted in settlements valued at over $100 million.

PRESENTATIONS:

A highly sought-after speaker, Mr. William K. Koska has shared his experience in groundwater litigation with a number of national and regional industry associations, including the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC), the Southeast Regional Water Purveyors Association, the National Conference of Regulatory Attorneys and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC).

Following his presentation at the 2008 annual meeting of the NARUC Committee on Water, the NARUC Board of Directors adopted a resolution encouraging states to consider legislation or regulations that would provide a safe harbor from liability for water purveyors providing water in compliance with federal and state drinking water standards, similar to the California safe harbor confirmed by In Re: Groundwater Cases.

SELECTED RECENT PRESENTATIONS:

  • 31st Annual National Conference of Regulatory Attorneys, “A Safe Harbor for Water Companies: From Litigation to Legislation,” June 2008, Charleston, South Carolina
  • National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners Committee on Water, “A Safe Harbor for Water Companies that Comply with Safe Drinking Water Standards: State Legislation,” February 2008, Washington, D.C.
  • National Association of Water Companies, 2007 National Drinking Water Symposium, “Relief From Tort Liability for Drinking Water Providers,” October 2007, La Jolla, California
  • American States Water Company, Officers and Senior Management, “Managing Electronic Information and E-Discovery,” October 2007, San Diego, California
  • National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, Staff Subcommittee on Accounting and Finance, “The Effect of Environmental Lawsuits,” September 2006, Portland, Maine

PUBLICATIONS:

  • “From Litigation to Legislation: A Safe Harbor for Drinking Water Providers” (APWA Reporter, August 2008)
  • “Wastewater Systems in 20 States Face Serious Funding Crisis” (April 3, 2008)
  • “Unanimous Supreme Court Permits Private Parties to Sue for Cleanup Expenses Under CERCLA Section 107" (July 11, 2007)
  • “Suing over Sewage: The Future of San Diego's Coastal Waters” (San Diego Transcript, May 2, 2002)

EDUCATION:

  • B.S. Business Administration, University of Florida, 1968
  • J.D., University of Arizona, 1971

CLERKSHIPS & PREVIOUS AFFILIATIONS:

  • Partner, Haight Brown & Bonesteel LLP, Los Angeles, California
  • Partner, Bacalski, Koska & Ottoson, LLP, San Diego, California
  • Partner, Solomon Ward Seidenwurm & Smith LLP, San Diego, California
  • Partner, Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, LLP, Nashville, Tennessee

PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS AND/OR ACHIEVEMENTS:

  • Member, California State Bar
  • Member, Tennessee State Bar
  • Member, Nashville Bar Association
  • Member, San Diego County and Los Angeles County Bar Associations
  • Former Chairman, Litigation Section of the Santa Monica Bar Association
  • Member, Federation of Defense and Corporate Counsel
  • Member, Association of Trial Lawyers of America
  • Member, Association of Southern California Defense Counsel
  • Member, Consumer Attorneys of San Diego
  • Member, ABA Environmental Section
  • Member, CBA Environmental Section
  • Member, CBA Real Property Section
  • Member, National Association of Water Companies
  • Member, American Ground Water Trust

CIVIC & OTHER ACTIVITIES:

  • Member, Infrastructure Committee of the San Diego County Regional Chamber of Commerce
  • Former President, Santa Monica Republican Club
  • Elected to Los Angeles County Republican Central Committee

COURT ADMISSIONS:

  • United States District Court: Eastern District of Tennessee, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Sacramento
  • Tennessee Supreme Court
© 2008 Campbell Volk & Lauter