By Rasmus S. Jorgensen Compassionate counsel and aggressive advocacy are two key values for Tom Killoren.
The KD Trial Lawyers partner says what he likes most about the law is that it applies equally to everyone; someone with few means has access to the same judicial system as large corporations.
At least in theory. There is still work to be done to ensure that the little guy is heard, and Killoren is part of that effort. In August, the Spartanburg attorney became president of the South Carolina Association for Justice, which seeks to strengthen the civil justice system and protect the rights of individuals.
“It is a great honor to lead an association that is determined to expand judicial access and ensure that the rights of the underdog are heard and preserved,” Killoren told the association’s members. “We are fearless advocates for those who have been harmed by others, and we aim to protect the rights of the individual to seek recourse in open and fair courtrooms.”
Killoren brought nearly 30 years of courtroom experience to the role. After earning his law degree in Chicago in 1994, he sharpened his trial skills in criminal prosecution in Illinois before shifting to personal injury cases. For the past 22 years, he has been a successful personal injury attorney in South Carolina. Lawyers Weekly spoke to him to learn how he will use his experience and mindset to reach his goals at SCAJ.
What personal and professional experiences best prepared you for becoming president of the South Carolina Association for Justice? Trying lawsuits and representing people who need help and learning compassion for my clients who suffered loss or had been injured and carrying that experience over to the association to help the association succeed.
In announcements of your election, you were quoted as saying that you want to strengthen the integrity of the state’s judicial system through education and effective action, expand judicial access, and ensure that “the rights of the underdog are heard and preserved.” What practical steps can you take to make those happen? I think it’s important, this year with the SCAJ, that we take steps to promote access to justice for those who don’t have access to the court system. It’s going to require efforts on behalf of the association and the South Carolina Bar Association to make sure that the funding is available, and the volunteers are available to help people that couldn’t ordinarily get a lawyer or get access to the court system.
You formerly served on the association’s political action committee. How can the association most effectively lobby the South Carolina General Assembly as a whole, its members individually, Gov. Henry McMaster and the South Carolina Bar to meet the association’s goals? The best thing we can do is explain our issues to the General Assembly and communicate our issues to them in a thoughtful and open manner and engage in frugal discussion with them about our issues. We find the General Assembly is always receptive and open and willing to talk to us. And we’re lucky that there is a number of lawyer-legislators that we can talk to, and we’re also lucky that we have a lot of legislators that are really dedicated to the state of South Carolina and what they do.
Your biography at SuperLawyers.com says that you have represented people “who have suffered economic and noneconomic harm due to the negligence or recklessness of other parties.” What case most stands out to you as to when you were best able to undo that sort of harm? I don’t know if there’s a best case where I was able to undo it, but one of the cases that we worked on was the 2013 miniature train collision in Spartanburg that caused injuries to multiple young people and caused the death of a young child. A miniature train was driven at an excessive rate of speed around a track that was made for recreation at a local park. As a result, the train ran off the track and into water and creek nearby. The case was ultimately settled, but it has served as a constant reminder to me in dealing with cases against the government — state government or local municipalities — that the caps still need to be addressed and raised.
Having graduated from law school and started your career in Illinois, what reasons led you to relocate to South Carolina? I started my career in Rockford, Illinois, as a state court prosecutor for three years and I started out prosecuting DUIs and other crimes there. I found myself in a town very similar to Rockford in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and I just felt like I wanted to continue in an area where I could continue to focus on helping people and prosecuting cases for injured people.
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