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Indianapolis Mass Ave. firm splits

September 23, 2015
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The front door to the historic Hammond Building displays the names of the two law firms following the split of Price Waicukauski & Riley. The Indianapolis plaintiffs’ lawyers say the split is amicable and they are looking for ways to collaborate. (IL Photo/Dave Stafford)

With the departure of attorney William Riley and two associates, the Indianapolis-based Mass Ave. law firm of Price Waicukauski & Riley has split. The plaintiff’s lawyers, who have successfully handled complex litigation and large class actions, say the separation is amicable and their respective practices will continue.

Riley said his decision to leave the partnership was the result of how his practice had evolved over the 10 years he worked with Henry Price and Ronald Waicukauski. His focus has moved toward class actions and mass torts, particularly medical malpractice. He intends to continue with that focus and build a national presence.

The time was right, Riley said. At age 51, he realized he did not want to look back years later and wish he had opened his own firm.

Riley has joined with attorneys Joseph Williams and James Piatt, former associates at PWR to form Riley Williams & Piatt LLC. Price and Waicukauski promoted their associates, Carol Nemeth Joven and Brad Catlin, to partner and formed Price Waicukauski Joven & Catlin LLC.

The split became official in August.

While now two law offices, the lawyers retain ties. Both continue to practice in the historic Hammond Building on Massachusetts Avenue. They share the conference rooms, some office support staff and certain office expenses.

In fact, Riley said despite being part of a new firm, he is still working in the same office with the same paralegal and secretary and even sitting in the same chair.

The two firms have their own identities, their own clients and their own plans for the future. They anticipate collaborating at certain times whether through client referrals or possibly working as co-counsel.

The nature of the practice

Price said he suspected Riley would hang a shingle.

By nature, plaintiffs’ firms tend to be small and the lawyers often move around to practice with different attorneys. Price has seen this individualistic streak in himself and in colleagues over the course of his 50-plus-year career so he was not surprised by the eventual split.

“I had a feeling it was likely to occur at some point,” Price said. “I wasn’t aware it was going to happen when it did.”

Price said he did not see any reason the former firm could not have continued to be successful since even though Riley was working on different types of cases, the entire firm was still practicing plaintiffs’ law. But, he said, from Riley’s and his new partners’ points of view, it made more sense to divide.

The idea to set out on his own had been percolating in his mind for quite some time, Riley explained. It did not crystallize in a single moment but rather a feeling grew that separating was the right way to proceed. Given how his practice has naturally progressed, starting a new firm did not cause him much worry.

“For me, it’s just a continuation of what I’ve been doing all along,” Riley said.

Talking to his former partners about his plans, Riley said Price and Waicukauski were a bit surprised, but they were gracious.

Price echoed Riley, saying his new firm will continue to try lawsuits, like class actions and legal malpractice claims, just as it did before the split. All the partners have many years of experience and the nature of their practice is not changing.

Riley is growing his firm, having just hired a new associate and planning to hire another soon. Within the next five years, he wants to expand and open offices in other locations around the country. Riley said having staff available in multiple locales will be an advantage when large mass torts and class actions develop.

During its time, Price Waicukauski & Riley built an impressive reputation. It handled major litigation and scored some significant victories.

The firm was co-chair of the multidistrict litigation in Indiana against the New England Compounding Center. Lawsuits erupted after a fungal meningitis outbreak in 2013 was traced to epidural steroids formulated at the Massachusetts pharmacy.

The wins included a $14.5 million verdict in a defamation lawsuit against State Farm, one of the largest defamation awards in U.S. history. Riley led the litigation on behalf of a contractor who claimed State Farm’s false accusation cost him his company.

In February of this year, Waicukauski won $79 million on behalf of landowners who had not been compensated for the fiber optic cables that had been installed on their property without their permission. A federal jury found Sho-Me Power Electric Cooperative failed to get permission from the landowners to lay the lines.•

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