Karen Bartlett Receives Public Justice’s new Illuminating Injustice Award
Public Justice recognized Karen Bartlett of New Hampshire as the recipient of its new Illuminating Injustice Award and presented her with a $25,000 award at its Gala and Awards Ceremony Sunday.
“As children, we dream of growing up to be the hero, the good guys,” said Janet Varnell, member of the award’s Selection Committee, said in presenting the award. “So many of us in this room work every day to ensure that people who are injured, cheated or otherwise denied justice have a chance to fight back, and we are the good guys. And our clients, the heroes.
“But sometimes the good guy loses. With all the right lawyers, with all the right arguments, the good guy loses because the free reins of our justice system are no longer in our hands. Public Justice’s newest award shines a spotlight on how, despite all of your best efforts, the justice system is slipping from our hands.
“As a member of the selection committee, I was devastated – no, I was outraged – as I read a succession of tragedies and travesties. Let this award tonight be our battle cry. We see what is happening. We will not turn a blind eye. We will do what it takes until there is justice for all.”
In 2004, Karen Bartlett took a generic medication, sulindac, which burned two-thirds of her body. She was diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare and sometimes fatal drug reaction. She was left disabled and legally blind. Great lawyers, Keith Jensen, Eric Roberson, Steven Gordon, Christine Craig and David Frederick, fought for her.
They sued the drug maker for inadequate warnings and design defect. A New Hampshire jury said the drug maker should pay $21 million for her pain, for her suffering, for the loss of enjoyment of her life, and for the serious medical and legal expenses. But in 2013, the United States Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, decided to let the generic drug maker off the hook because of federal preemption. And, just like that, the reins of justice slip from our hands, and Karen will never see justice served in her case.
Varnell, of Varnell & Warwick, P.A., in Lady Lake, Fl., presented the award with Synergy Settlement Services’ CEO Jason Lazarus at the 2014 Gala and Awards Ceremony at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. She challenged herself and the audience with a wish that Bartlett’s heroism would be the spark that “ignites a fire among us, with the wisdom and the will, to ensure that this never happens again.”
After the Gala, Bartlett’s husband sought out Varnell and asked her to come speak with his wife. What Bartlett said moved her:
“I wanted to hug you and speak to you when she came up on stage, but I couldn’t see you,” Bartlett told her. “I truly appreciate everything that you said about what is happening in the justice system today and, more importantly, that you all are committed to doing something about that.
“Will you please tell everyone at Public Justice how much I appreciate what they do and that their promise to fight for everyone’s rights is worth more to me than this money?”
The award was created to help those who have suffered a significant injury, but have received only a limited recovery. This award highlights just one of the many seriously hurt clients who have suffered a catastrophic injury but were unable to get the just compensation they deserved.
The award was sponsored by Synergy Settlement Services’ Foundation for Those with Special Needs, a 501(c)(3) that provides monies to charitable organizations that promote and protect the civil justice system.
“We hope this award helps in some small way to deal with the injuries you have suffered,” Lazarus said.