Paul da Costa Harnesses 'Immense Power to Cause Change' as a Trial Lawyer
As published in New Jersey Law Journal, September 22, 2022 Issue
By: David Gialanella
“This representation and the experience that has come from it really has driven me to even work harder because it’s given me more proof and more confidence that I, as a trial lawyer, do have immense power to cause change.”
Paul da Costa has developed a reputation as a formidable trial litigator—a passion that led him from a planned career in public policy to one in law, and one that also led him from doing defense work to plaintiffs-side work early in his career.
Once becoming a lawyer, “I knew right away that I was most comfortable and apt to being on my feet,” da Costa said.
There’s “always inherently a certain amount of ambition, drive, dare I even say cockiness, that has to be brought to bear” in trial practice, he added. “I have an ability to fairly well assimilate to different situations, and that’s what you need when you’re in front of different juries and different judges, and even different adversaries.”
However, it wasn’t da Costa’s work in front of juries and judges that has thrust him into the spotlight in recent years—it has been his dogged public representation of, and ability to reach considerable settlements for, families of those who became seriously ill or died in long-term care facilities. In 2021, da Costa obtained $6.2 million settlement on behalf of 13 clients in litigation against The Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, where dozens of children were stricken by an adenovirus outbreak four years ago. He also was lead counsel in securing a $32 million settlement on behalf of 72 families who had loved ones who became sick or died from COVID-19 while living at the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Homes at Menlo Park and Paramus.
For his high-impact—and highprofile—work on these matters, da Costa is an Attorney of the Year finalist for 2022.
While the matters settled, da Costa’s work on them was hardly behind the scenes. If anything, his representation of the Wanaque and veterans’ homes litigations made him more visible than he’d ever been. He emerged into the local and national media spotlight, and testified in Trenton—an experience that da Costa said has given him a fuller appreciation for attorneys’ power to bring about change.
“This representation and the experience that has come from it really has driven me to even work harder because it’s given me more proof and more confidence that I, as a trial lawyer, do have immense power to cause change,” da Costa said in a recent phone interview.
The resolutions, he said, provided answers, a voice and a measure of closure to clients, in addition to money. “We were able to bring change … above and beyond just a monetary settlement.”
“It very much has been a full circle life moment,” da Costa added.
That’s because public policy and foreign relations, not traditional law practice, was the career for which da Costa had planned. He entered a joint-degree program at Seton Hall University School of Law and the School of Diplomacy and International Relations.
“I didn’t have any intention of per se practicing law, but I did want to try to be involved in bringing change in certain areas of public policy and society,” said da Costa.
Da Costa, who is Portuguese American, said he was driven by being the first person in his family born in U.S., and the first to attend college and law school. “I always wanted to make sure I made their struggle leaving their home worthwhile to them, and I was able to essentially make their sacrifices and hard work and effort to bring their family to this country mean something,” he said of his family.
Notwithstanding plans for a policy career, da Costa entered legal practice after graduating. He was doing defense-side work, practicing in the Newark office of Duane Morris, and quickly developed a taste for taking depositions and arguing motions, he said.
Craving trial experience, he was a midlevel associate when Duane Morris selected him to attend trial advocacy college at the University of Virginia School of Law, which “really was a pivotal moment in my career,” he said.
“It just completely emboldened me,” da Costa said of his time at the trial advocacy college, whose faculty included leading litigator Ted Wells.
Within a year of that program, da Costa had moved to plaintiff's side law. That was eight years ago. Now, a name partner at Snyder Sarno D’Aniello Maceri & da Costa, he leads the personal injury and medical malpractice group. There, he “leads and has overseen a rapid expansion,” one colleague said. “What started out as just himself has grown to include another partner, two of-counsel attorneys, one counsel attorney, four associates, and five paralegals. This growth is attributable to the many settlements Mr. da Costa has obtained while seeking accountability on behalf of his clients.”
So da Costa has developed not only as a litigator, but also as a practice builder—a skill that he said requires hard work, taking some risks, and identifying talent that can fill gaps and strengthen weaknesses. There’s also the need to do right by clients, which means not always saying yes to settlement offers. There’s “no substitution for getting trial results,” and a courtroom win can lead to better settlements for clients down the line, he said.
Another form of advocacy that can leave a lasting impact takes place in Trenton, and da Costa has made himself known there, too. Following the Wanaque litigation, state lawmakers passed legislation requiring that long-term care facilities have written disease outbreak plans in place. He also testified before the Legislature in connection with his representation of the veterans’ homes clients, helping bring about new laws changing the requirements for how such facilities are operated. The litigation and media coverage also helped lead to state and federal investigations.
Da Costa said the experience hasn’t inspired him to take up the new challenge of a career in politics. (”I’m not a political animal,” he said.) But he is actively involved with the New Jersey Association for Justice, the state’s principal plaintiffs’ bar organization, where he is a member of the board of governors. With the NJAJ, da Costa engages in policy work of a different sort, he said.
“When it’s all said and done, maybe it’s behind the scenes but … we all help each other,” he said of the New Jersey plaintiffs bar, by sharing ideas and concepts. Its members, he said, are “working most times, in my experience, for the greater good of the plaintiffs bar.”
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