Robert J. Nelson: Lawyer with Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein, LLP

Robert J. Nelson

Robert has played a leading role in the firm’s tobacco, aviation, motor vehicle, defective products and qui tam (whistleblower) litigation over the past 16 years, taking on many of the world’s largest corporations and holding them accountable.
Phone415-956-1000 Ext. 3322

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Experience & Credentials

Practice Areas

  • Personal Injury
  • Defective Products
  • Securities & Investment Fraud
  • Environmental Litigation
  • Aviation Accidents
University London School of Economics, General Course, Graded First, 1980-1981; Cornell University, A.B., cum laude, 1982 Honors: College Scholar Honors Program; Honors: Order of the Coif; Honors: Root-Tilden Scholarship Program
Law SchoolNew York University School of Law, J.D., cum laude, 1987; Law Review: New York University Law Review, Articles Editor
Admitted1987, California; 2001, New York; 1999, District of Columbia; 1998, U.S. Court of Appeals, 6th Circuit; 1995, U.S. Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit; 1988, U.S. District Court, Central District of California; 2006, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California; 1988, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California; U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York; U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York; U.S. District Court, Northern District of Ohio; U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio; U.S. District Court, Middle District of Tennessee

Professional Associations and Memberships

American Association for Justice

American Bar Association

Bar Association of San Francisco

Bar of the District of Columbia

Consumer Attorneys of California

Fight for Justice Campaign

New York State Bar Association

San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association

State Bar of California


Holding Corporations Accountable

Robert has played a leading role in the firm's automotive, aviation, defective products, mass torts, tobacco, and qui tam (whistleblower) litigation, taking on many of the world's largest corporations and holding them accountable. Mr. Nelson has served as court-appointed Lead or Co-Lead Counsel in numerous state and federal coordinated proceedings, as well as in more than 20 class actions.A passionate and experienced advocate for airplane and vehicle accident victims

Since the late 1990s, Robert has worked tirelessly in numerous aviation disaster cases on behalf of victims and the surviving family members of those killed in airplane crashes and other aviation accidents. In addition to obtaining favorable confidential settlements in cases such as the 2003 Air Algerie crash near Tamanrasset, the 2004 Flash Airlines crash off the coast of Egypt, the 2005 Helios Airways crash near Athens, and the 2006 Gol Airlines crash in the Amazon jungle, Robert is presently working in litigation relating to the China Eastern Airlines crash of a Bombardier CRJ-2000 that led to the deaths of 30+ passengers in Mongolia.

Robert served as lead trial counsel in a wrongful death action involving a defect in Chrysler vehicles that resulted in a punitive damage verdict of $50 million against the company. For his work on the case, Robert received a California Lawyer Attorney of the Year (CLAY) award and was Finalist for both the Consumer At­torneys of California Trial Lawyer of the Year award and the San Francisco Trial Lawyer Association's Trial Lawyer of the Year award. California Lawyer called the victory against Chrysler, one of the year's largest personal injury verdicts, and noted this was the first park-to-reverse case against Chrysler in 25 years to make it to trial.

In 2010, Robert accomplished the extremely rare feat of receiving a second CLAY award. He was recognized for his work as lead trial counsel in obtaining a $78.5 million whistleblower settlement against the University of Phoenix. The settlement is believed to be among the largest ever achieved under the False Claims Act in a case in which the U.S. Department of Justice did not intervene. Robert also played a lead role in firm's litigation against the tobacco companies by the attorney generals, which resulted in a settlement valued at more than $200 billion, the largest settlement in history.

Robert is a frequent lecturer on class action practice, as well as subject areas such as product liability and whistleblower cases. Before entering private practice, he served as a judicial clerk for Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and conducted numerous trials as an Assistant Federal Public Defender for the Northern District of California.

Published Works

False Claims Roundtable, California Lawyer, June 2010, June 2011, April 2012, January 2013

Product Liability Roundtable, California Lawyer, December 2007, July 2009, June 2010

Co-Author, Class Action Treatment of Punitive Damages Issues after Philip Morris v. Williams: We Can Get There From Here, 2 Charleston Law Review 2, 2008

Contributing Author, California Class Actions Practice and Procedures (Elizabeth J. Cabraser editor in chief, 2003)

The Importance of Privilege Logs, The Practical Litigator, ALI-ABA Publication, Vol. II, No. 2, March 2000

To Infer or Not to Infer a Discriminatory Purpose: Rethinking Equal Protection Doctrine, 61 New York University Law Review 334, 1986

Honors and Awards

California Litigation Star, Benchmark Plaintiff, 2013 - 2014

San Francisco's Best Lawyers, Best Lawyers, 2012 - 2014

Super Lawyer for Northern California, Super Lawyers, 2004 - 2014

Legal 500 recommended lawyer, 2013 - Present

Lawdragon Finalist, Lawdragon, 2009 - 2011

California Lawyer Attorney of the Year (CLAY) Award, California Lawyer, 2008, 2010

Consumer Attorney of the Year Finalist, Consumer Attorneys of California, 2007, 2010

San Francisco Trial Lawyer of the Year Finalist, San Francisco Trial Lawyers' Association, 2007

Past Employment Positions

Judge Stephen Reinhardt, U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Law Clerk, 1987 - 1988

Northern District of California, Assistant Federal Public Defender, 1988 - 1993

University of California-Hastings College of the Law, Legal Research and Writing Instructor (Part-time position), 1989 - 1991

In the News

July 8, 2014
22 Lieff Cabraser Attorneys Selected as 2014 Northern California Super Lawyers or Rising Stars

July 18, 2013
23 Lieff Cabraser Attorneys Selected As 2013 Northern California Super Lawyers Or Rising Stars

June 14, 2013
Legal 500 Recognizes Lieff Cabraser as Having One of the Nation's Top Plaintiffs' Employment Groups

April 1, 2013
Robert Nelson to Discuss Trends in Class Action Law at ABA-Sponsored Automotive Liability Conference

Current Cases

Sutter Anesthesia Billing

State Street False Claims


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Abuse and Fraud by Private Correctional Service Contractors Reported
Robert J. Nelson, August 27, 2014
Abuses by private correctional service contractors of non-violent probationers is a growing problem, according to numerous media reports. These probationers have typically committed low-level offenses, such as failing to pay traffic tickets, driving without proof of insurance, shoplifting, or...
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Office Information

Robert J. Nelson

275 Battery Street, 29th Floor
San FranciscoCA 94111-3339


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