|by John Dykstra '13 • March 14, 2012|
The essence of a liberal arts education is intellectual curiosity.
Lawyer David Herzog ’77 discussed Tuesday afternoon how his liberal arts education helped him win a $27 million court case. Herzog defended the surviving victims of a 2004 propane explosion in Martinsville, IN. The explosion fatally wounded Steve Fredrick and permanently injured his wife Courtney, his then two year old son Sam, and another two year old girl.
“You can do whatever you want to do,” Herzog said. “Take the learning that you require here at Wabash, stretch it, and report the way of thinking, the intellectual curiosity that you develop here at Wabash, and do whatever you want. Whatever your chosen profession is, make it fun. Whatever your life’s work is, make it fun. Learn all your lives and you are going to be well equipped coming out of Wabash College.”
Former Professor of Ancient History Dr. Jack Charles influenced Herzog’s intellectual curiosity. Charles filled-in as a language professor when the College lacked Spanish professors.
“The administration approached Dr. Charles and asked him, ‘Dr. Charles, can you teach Spanish? We are out of Spanish professors,’” Herzog said. “Dr. Charles said, ‘No, I do not know it, but I can stay a day ahead of the class, so I guess I’ll do it.’ That’s the kind of intellectual curiosity that Wabash fosters. And it is that kind of intellectual curiosity that will serve you well in your career, whatever it happens to be. It’s that what you take with you when you leave Wabash.”
Herzog exercised his intellectual curiosity in the Martinsville propane explosion case. For instance, he expanded his knowledge on gas control valves and post-traumatic stress syndrome to defend his clients.
“I learned enough about gas control valves that I could talk to fluently about them to a jury,” Herzog said. “This gas valve is the only moving part in the gas system.”
“Post-traumatic stress syndrome causes people to re-experience the horrific event that caused the post-traumatic stress anytime they experience stimuli that remind them of the event. I had to learn that.
To do this job required me to stretch, and I’m so grateful that I did it, because I am a much better lawyer now, understanding as I do what it is like to pursue a claim toward damages for personal injuries.”
The jury concluded the propane explosion was a comparative fault. The propane company was 65% at fault for installing a faulty gas valve and not explaining gas hazards to their clients. The home owners were 35% responsible.
Herzog originally argued for $34 million in personal damages to his clients. He argued that the victims should receive a dollar per second that they have been affected by the explosion. That included the loss of Steve Fredrick, permanent injuries, and the pain endured during skin graft treatments. The jury settled on $27 million.
Senior Kyle Bender was taken in by how Herzog connected his liberal arts education with the court case.
"The opportunity to have such a notable and accomplished attorney as David Herzog '77 back on campus was benefit to students and faculty alike,” Bender said. “His talk was entertaining, informative, and straight forward. What I like most was that he connected the process of how he handled the suit back to his days at Wabash - as an intellectually curious young student who learned about a variety of things that he didn't have prior knowledge of. By staying one day ahead of the class.
It was the perfect message for liberal arts students and showed us that our broad-based learning skills can truly be applicable in the real world under a variety of circumstances - including $27 million lawsuits."