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.

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Experience & Credentials

Practice Areas

  • False Claims Act
  • Personal Injury and Mass Torts
  • Aviation Accidents
  • Defective Products
  • Environmental Litigation
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
American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California
Bar Association of San Francisco
Bar of the District of Columbia
Consumer Attorneys of California
Fight for Justice Campaign
Human Rights Watch California Committee North
New York State Bar Association
RE-volv, Board Member
San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association
State Bar of California


Holding Corporations Accountable

Robert J. Nelson has played a leading role in the firm's False Claims Act (whistleblower law), automotive, aviation, defective products, mass torts, tobacco, and consumer fraud cases, taking on many of the world's largest corporations and holding them accountable. He has served as court-appointed Lead or Co-Lead Counsel in numerous state and federal coordinated proceedings, as well as in more than 30 class actions.

Robert was 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 the prestigious California Lawyer Attorney of the Year (CLAY) award. The victory against Chrysler was one of the year's largest personal injury verdicts,” California Lawyer noted, and “was the first park-to-reverse case against Chrysler in 25 years to make it to trial.”

Robert chairs Lieff Cabraser's False Claims Act practice group and has spearheaded whistleblower suits that have resulted in settlements totaling over $180 million and changed industry practices. In 2013, Robert served as lead trial counsel in litigation against Sutter Health, one of California's largest healthcare providers, for false billing of anesthesia services. The case settled for $46 million, a record amount under the Insurance Frauds Prevention Act.

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.

In the 1990s, Robert played a lead role in the lawsuits against tobacco companies brought by public agencies and states, which resulted in a settlement valued at more than $200 billion, the largest legal settlement ever. He also served as a lead counsel in six class actions that netted more than $80 million for homeowners who had defective ABS plumbing pipe installed in their homes.

Much of Robert's current caseload involves working closely with government officials throughout the country, investigating cases in which federal and state governments are being defrauded. These cases often involve Medicare and Medicaid fraud, but the investigations extend into literally all areas in which the government plays a role. Robert currently has whistleblower cases filed under seal in the Northern District of California, the Central District of California, the Eastern District of California, the Middle District of Tennessee, and the Southern District of New York.

Robert is a frequent lecturer on class action practice, as well as subject areas such as product liability and whistleblower cases. Before joining Lieff Cabraser in 1994, Robert was an Assistant Federal Public Defender for the Northern District of California for five years, where he tried numerous cases. Prior to that and immediately following law school, Robert served as a judicial clerk for Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Published Works
False Claims Roundtable, California Lawyer, June 2010, June 2011, April 2012, January 2013, August 2014
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
Personal Injury Litigation - Plaintiffs, Product Liability Litigation - Plaintiffs, Best Lawyers, 2012 - 2015
Consumer Attorney of the Year Finalist, Consumer Attorneys of California, 2007, 2010 & 2014
California Litigation Star, Benchmark Plaintiff, 2013 - 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
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
September 25, 2014
Why California Proposition 46 Will Save Patient Lives and Cut Health Care Costs
August 21, 2014
17 Lieff Cabraser Attorneys Listed in 2015 Best Lawyers America
August 15, 2014
Abuse and Fraud by Private Correctional Service Contractors Reported
August 5, 2014
Robert Nelson Discusses Whistleblower Law Trends & Developments
July 8, 2014
22 Lieff Cabraser Attorneys Selected as 2014 Northern California Super Lawyers or Rising Stars

Reported CasesCurrent Cases; Sutter Anesthesia Billing; State Street False Claims

Documents by this lawyer on

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How Anesthesiologists Reduced Medical Errors by Learning from Malpractice Suits and Adopting New Technology
Robert J. Nelson, November 10, 2014
Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S., after heart disease and cancer. As many as 440,000 people die each year as a result of preventable medical errors, often due to a doctor's negligence.

Why California Proposition 46 Will Save Patient Lives and Cut Health Care Costs
Robert J. Nelson, October 8, 2014
The number of persons killed by preventable medical errors each year in the U.S. is shockingly high. Fifteen years ago, the Institute of Medicine released a report on patient safety called To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System. The report estimated that 98,000 patients died each year as a...

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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