In Alabama legal circles, Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton is known as one of the pre-eminent plaintiff ’s law firms in the state. From their diligence and thoroughness in pre-trial discovery, dedication to outstanding legal research and the expertise to handle some of the nation’s most complex cases, Hare Wynn, which dates to shortly after the founding of Birmingham, stays ahead of the game.
“We are known as the go-to firm for plaintiff ’s work. Just about anyone who is practicing plaintiff ’s law in the state would agree Hare Wynn is an excellent place to be,” says Ashley Peinhardt. She ought to know. As the first female attorney hired at the 125-year-old firm, Peinhardt blazed a trail that soon led to the hiring of other female attorneys. The firm now has seven, bringing it near the national average in the male-to-female attorney ratio.
But the young Cumberland School of Law graduate had little expectation of such a plum job when she graduated with the class of 2010. “When I graduated the market was terrible. Many firms were in a hiring freeze. I worked really hard to find a job. “
After clerking at the firm for a few months, Peinhardt knew Hare Wynn was where she wanted to be. “I absolutely fell in love with the people, I fell in love with the mission, but never thought I’d get a job here. I thought I would just go to work for another firm, polish my resume and see if I could come back someday.”
Then she made a bold decision.
She walked in Managing Partner Leon Ashford’s office and asked him to find a place for her. At first, nothing happened. A few months later, however, he called her back with a staff attorney position.
“I really owe my start to Leon,” Peinhardt says.
Eagerly embracing her new position, she accepted the challenge of filing a class action suit on behalf of the firm. “I was the point person on the case, got the class action certified, and as we went along, every hearing went our way, and the case proceeded.”
Arguing a Landmark Case
That success not only bolstered her confidence, but raised eyebrows among the partners, who were now ready to give the still-fledgling attorney her next test. Hare Wynn represented a 15-yearold boy who had been severely injured when a car he was riding in ploughed into a tree, killing a 13-year-old boy in the back seat. The driver, an underaged teenage girl who survived the accident, was intoxicated. Earlier in the evening she had bought alcohol at a BP gas station in nearby Bessemer that had for years been notorious for selling alcohol to minors.
Hare Wynn filed on behalf of its client under Alabama’s Dram Shop Act, which allows lawsuits against stores or restaurants that sell alcohol to minors. When the attorney who was handling the case had a conflict and had to recuse himself, the partners decided to give Peinhardt her next real test.
“They said, well, they were going to give me a case to try on my own,” she says.
“I was so excited to try my own case,” she says. “Our client was badly injured and was stopped from continuing his high school football career or pursuing his goal to enter the military. In the end, we were able to get a $15 million verdict on behalf of our client.”
That verdict, one of the largest in Alabama legal history, got the attention of the legal community and sealed Peinhardt’s reputation as a tough young attorney who could go up against anyone. And when the case was appealed, eventually winding up in the Alabama Supreme Court, the partners again turned to Peinhardt.
The case had by now become well known, garnering large amounts of news coverage. The Alabama Supreme Court chose to have the case argued orally in front of all the students at Cumberland Law School. “Now, I’m not an appellate lawyer, and we do have appellate lawyers here,” she says. “But they told me this was something I needed to do because I had tried that case by myself.”
The weeks and months of preparation paid off. Upon appeal, the $15 million verdict was upheld, including $7 million in punitive damages.
“To my knowledge that was the largest punitive damage award in the state’s history,” Peinhardt says.
Peinhardt gets emotional when describing the case. “That station was profiting off selling alcohol to underage kids who were drinking and driving and killing themselves. It was a case of greed and exploitation by the owners. Justice was upheld.”
Its cases like these that remind Peinhardt of her initial ambitions toward the law. “In middle school, I was bullied by some of the other girls. They would ignore me in the lunchroom or runaway from me on the playground. The bullying compelled me to want to help others. In this case, I’m defending clients from being bullied by insurance companies or other defendants. I want to stand up against big corporations and help those who can’t do it on their own.”
At Hare Wynn, Peinhardt mainly focuses her practice on cases involving women and children whose lives have been turned upside down on account of medical malpractice.
“I’m just naturally drawn to those cases, as I feel a personal connection to these women,” she says.
She recalls a particular case in which a mother suffered a placental abruption because a C-section was not performed, and subsequently delivered a stillborn. “As a mom, I could see the pain and suffering this woman will endure for the rest of her life.”
“These mothers are lost when they come to us,” she continues. “They don’t understand what happened. They just know that something was wrong with the way their child was cared for in the hospital, but nobody tells them anything. Often, it’s not in the records. No one wrote down what happened. We help them figure out what happened.”
In the final analysis, Ashley Peinhardt knows it’s all about empathy. “Despite our differences, we all basically have the same fears and desires at our core, and understanding that leaves so much room for empathy. Like Mr. Rogers said, ‘Frankly there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.’”