“Good God, why should they mock poor fellows thus? Let me speak proudly. Tell the constable we are but warriors for the working day. Our gayness and our gilt are all besmirched with rainy marching in the painful field. But by the mass, our hearts are in the trim.”
Those words, spoken by Kenneth Branagh in his 1989 film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry V, still hold special significance for Ken Suggs. The litigation principal at Janet, Janet & Suggs in Columbia, who has represented plaintiffs in med-mal and personal injury cases across South Carolina for more than 40 years, watches the scene—it’s the one where Henry says he will not surrender to France prior to the Battle of Agincourt—before every trial.
“That’s my favorite,” Suggs told us in the 2009 issue of South Carolina Super Lawyers. “That’s usully how I feel [before trial].”
The verdicts Suggs says he’s most proud of are the ones that made the biggest impact on the law. Early in his career when he was practicing at Lee & Suggs in Columbia and the textile industry was thriving in South Carolina, he took on cases involving brown lung disease, medically known as byssinosis.
“We started bringing those cases and developed some doctors that would testify,” says Suggs, citing a case involving Mohasco Corp. (Dixiana Mill Division). “[There were] two little old ladies who worked side by side in the mill, and both of them basically collapsed on the same day with chronic lung disease, and we filed their comp cases,” he says.
Suggs eventually won the case in the South Carolina Supreme Court. “It’s the first case that ended up interpreting the occupational disease law in South Carolina, and it came out so that it was pretty favorable to claimants,” says Suggs. “That was one of the high points.”
Another high point for Suggs was the case that abolished contributory negligence in South Carolina. As a young lawyer trying automobile collision cases, Suggs kept asking judges to charge comparative negligence as opposed to contributory, which stated if the plaintiff was 1 percent at fault no matter how much the defendant was at fault, the plaintiff got no recovery.
“The judges would just sort of laugh at me,” remembers Suggs, who eventually lost a case where that was the only issue on appeal. He appealed it in the early 1980s, and the South Carolina Court of Appeals wrote an opinion abolishing contributory negligence.