American Veteran 01

Douglas Earl Bragg

October 18, 1942 ~ October 8, 2019 (age 76)

Obituary

Douglas Earl Bragg, a longtime Denver attorney whose cases aiding victims of corporate malfeasance gained national attention, passed away on Oct. 8. He was 76.

From the 1970's through the 1990's, Mr. Bragg pursued a series of high-profile cases and won record awards on behalf of victims of defective consumer products, sparking regulatory and corporate reforms. A proponent of justice for the needy and serving others through his law practice, Mr. Bragg also served as president of the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association, as well as the Western Trial Lawyers Association.

Mr. Bragg died at Rose Hospital from complications stemming from a heart bypass surgery in February. A devoted father of four, Mr. Bragg’s life will be remembered at University Park United Methodist Church on Friday Nov. 8. at 5 p.m. A reception for family and friends will follow at Elway’s restaurant in Cherry Creek. Donations in Mr. Bragg's memory should be directed to Public Citizen (www.citizen.org), a consumer advocacy nonprofit based in Washington D.C. with which he worked closely.

Mr. Bragg was born in Denver on Oct. 18, 1942 to Earl Edwin Bragg, a high school math teacher, and Helen Bean Bragg, a kindergarten teacher and homemaker. Mr. Bragg grew up in a home near Observatory Park in Denver and excelled as a student at South High School, where his sister Sharon and brother Michael also attended.

Originally from Elwood, Nebraska, Mr. Bragg's parents placed a great emphasis on education. With the help of his parents’ financial sacrifices, Mr. Bragg was accepted to and attended college at Stanford University, where his father had previously earned a master's degree. Mr. Bragg then attended law school at the University of Colorado, where he was editor of the Law Review.

In the midst of the Vietnam War, Mr. Bragg served in the Air Force National Guard, stationed in Korea. Mr. Bragg then began his legal career with a short stint as an insurance defense lawyer before joining the firm of a law professor, the Hon. James Carrigan, developing a specialty as a plaintiff's lawyer in personal injury, product liability and medical malpractice cases. Mr. Bragg gained a reputation for possessing a dexterous mind for legal nuance and trial strategy. Though extremely detail oriented, he also had ability to command and explain complex subjects to juries.

The case that brought Mr. Bragg national prominence centered on a contraceptive device called Dalkon Shield, a product manufactured by Virginia-based A.H. Robins Co., which proved culpable for at least 17 deaths, plus thousands of cases of infertility, septic abortion and pelvic disease.

In a July 1979 trial in Denver District Court, Mr. Bragg represented Carie Palmer, whose use of the device resulted in an unwanted abortion, severe health problems, and at one point nearly death. Speaking to the jury in closing argument, Mr. Bragg told them, simply: “Teach them a lesson.”

Mr. Bragg set out to prove not only that the device caused health problems and death, but also that A.H. Robins executives had sought to hide problems about its profitable product.

“They went, in effect, from ignorance, to conscious indifference to what was being reported, to a cover-up,” Mr. Bragg told Westword magazine. “Not one officer of this corporation has been criminally indicted. If you take away their profit, they’re not really being punished. They’re even. The only way, really, is punitive damages.”

And indeed, the jury in the Palmer case returned with a $6.8 million verdict, the largest in Colorado history at the time.

Ms. Palmer’s case gained special significance because it was among the first large jury verdicts nationally upheld on appeal - setting a new bar for Dalkon Shield cases across the country. Going up against A.H. Robins, Mr. Bragg’s six-member law firm would go on to represent more than a dozen victims.

Mr. Bragg became aware of what turned out to be his second major case during a meeting in his office in March 1987 with a 23-year-old woman named Rhonda Askew. After pouring a product called Red Devil Lye into a clogged drain, the solution erupted out of the pipe, deeply scarring her face and requiring plastic surgery. Mr. Bragg sued the manufacturer, American Home Products Corp., and uncovered documents showing that about 15 similar lawsuits and insurance claims had been made over the prior decade.

After Ms. Askew’s case was settled out of court, Mr. Bragg led an effort to publicize the company’s history of wrongdoing. In 1989, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America had begun a practice of lawyers themselves becoming whistle-blowers to government regulators. Partnering with Mr. Bragg, the organization's Colorado representative, the national trial lawyers' first initiative was to warn of Red Devil Lye.

“This product infuriated me and I wanted to see if off the market,” Mr. Bragg told the New York Times.

Mr. Bragg was known for adopting the risky strategy of taking cases to trial, rather than accepting less generous settlements from corporate bad actors. He focused on taking the highest quality cases in order to set precedent for other lawyers’ cases and his firm would routinely share evidence and strategy with attorneys across the country. Mr. Bragg avoided class action settlements, which he felt could be unfair to victims. To avoid exhaustion in the resulting months-long trials, Mr. Bragg would run, swim or play basketball at the YMCA during lunch breaks.

Mr. Bragg "loved the risks of going to trial with big dollar settlements on the table," recalled his former law partner, John Baker. "I think the risk thrilled him."

Mr. Baker recalled that while he and a third partner, Jim Cederberg, would play jokes on one another in the office, Mr. Bragg attempted to keep them under control and served as the "adult in the room."

"Doug was a terrific mentor to me and the opportunity he provided and his guidance and influence shaped my life and enabled me to reach my potential and provide a good life for my family," Mr. Cederberg recalled. "He had a profound effect on me for which I am forever grateful."

Mr. Bragg remained an advocate for victims throughout his career. Appearing on MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour in 1995, for instance, Mr. Bragg argued against a push in Congress to make victims pay corporations' legal fees if the victims' cases were unsuccessful.

“Effectively, that destroys the ability of the middle class to make claims, no matter how serious the wrongdoing, no matter how seriously they are injured,” Mr. Bragg argued.

In his personal life, Doug was a father who showed unconditional affection for his children, patience, and led with quiet wisdom.

Mr. Bragg, who was married three times, is survived by four children: His eldest daughter, Ann Michelle Bragg Rosensitto, who lives in California; twins Elizabeth Bragg, who lives in Denver, and Christopher Bragg, who lives in New York; and his youngest son, James Bragg, who lives in Denver. He is also survived by his companion of 22 years, Victoria Kendrick. In the mid-90s, the couple rekindled a relationship that had begun 20 years earlier. From that time, Mr. Bragg and Ms. Kendrick lived in a house in the Hilltop neighborhood of Denver.

Doug loved all things Denver, particularly its sports teams. He was a decades-long season ticket holder to the Denver Nuggets and the University of Colorado football team, and along with his son, Chris, witnessed some of the defining moments in Colorado sports history, including Colorado football’s 1990 national championship run; the improbable 1994 Nuggets’ playoff run, where the team became the first No. 8 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed; and the 2007 Colorado Rockies’ miraculous 13 inning playoff play-in-game win over the San Diego Padres, which lasted nearly five hours. His favorite time of year was the March Madness college basketball tournament.

A history major at Stanford, Doug was a lifelong intellectual who read countless books about presidents, war and politics. He could be found practically any morning over scrambled eggs, toast, orange juice and a cup of coffee, reading the Denver Post or Rocky Mountain News, followed by the Wall Street Journal, then NPR, and PBS NewsHour in the evening. He shared that love of learning with his children, during dinner retelling stories from history or about the law.

Mr. Bragg had a wry sense of humor, a trait he maintained even in the difficult final months of his life. He loved the low-brow movie comedies enjoyed by his children, the mysteries of the author Lee Child, and old television shows like Gunsmoke or movies such as Lawrence of Arabia. He was a lover of jazz, a passion he developed as a young man visiting clubs in San Francisco. In his earlier years he was a skier who took trips during college with friends to Tahoe, and also an adept tennis player. As a father, he coached Chris' youth basketball team, attended countless of Michelle's equestrian events, James' choir concerts and Elizabeth's dance performances.

Doug loved taking vacations to Disneyland, not only with his own children, but also later with Michelle's three children who lived in southern California: his grandchildren Joseph, Christopher and Isabella Rosensitto. His grandchildren also loved taking trips to Denver and sledding with their grandfather the steep hill of Robinson Park.

In February, Mr. Bragg underwent heart bypass surgery and suffered several significant complications. While the ordeal was trying for both Mr. Bragg and his family, they were afforded the opportunity in his final months to see him extensively and express their appreciation and love.

Special appreciation from the family goes to the staff at Rose Medical Center for their kindness and professionalism. A fighter to the end, Doug gained a reputation for toughness among the hospital staff after overcoming several improbable health obstacles.

A special thanks from the family also goes to Doug’s daughter, Elizabeth, who moved to Denver to care for her father and spent countless hours a week by his side and advocating on his behalf. After a career of fighting for the injured, Doug was lucky to have his daughter fighting for him in his final months. In the end, Elizabeth was by Mr. Bragg’s side comforting him in his final moments, when he passed without apparent pain and in peace.

Celebration of Life: November 8, 2019 5:00 pm

University Park United Methodist Church
2180 South University Blvd
Denver, CO 80210

(303) 722-5736


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