By Nancy Drucker
NEW BEDFORD – He is a tough, aggressive lawyer who recently won a $1.7 million award from Hathaway Machinery. The result: The 75-year-old New Bedford company has filed for bankruptcy.
Twenty years ago, that same lawyer was just as aggressive. A company that insured 100 New Bedford fishing boats – including boats on which several of his injured clients had worked – went bankrupt. In a couple of cases, he went to court, had the boats seized and forced the owners to post bond to cover his clients’ injuries.
Meet Michael B. Latti.
He is medium height, slim, neatly dressed and soft-spoken. He considers fishermen his friends and thinks they are misunderstood. While he feels his first duty is to his client, he says he would be hurt if he won a large award for a client and found out later the claim was phony. He works 18 hours a day – just ask his wife – and still manages to swim each morning and has helped raise four children.
Latti, 50, of Concord, is considered one of the top maritime attorneys in the state, most recently winning the $1.7 million for a Boston seaman injured by a 47-year-old Hathaway Machinery winch and $1.2 million for the families of three lobstermen lost at sea when a National Weather Service buoy failed to work. Latti has offices in New Bedford, Boston and Gloucester. Although he works strictly on a contingency fee basis, getting one-third of each award he wins for a client, it is not pure profit: A chunk of it goes to pay his seven salaried associates. He also employs five paralegals, six secretaries and an office manager.
His office has 1,200 maritime litigation cases pending, not including 800 suits against asbestos manufacturers handed over to him by the federal court. His largest victory – for four plaintiffs – was $2.75 million. The New Bedford boat Eugene H. was cut in half by a steamer that left the scene of the collision. The award was made in 1977.
All this from a man who, 25 years ago, did not know the difference between port and starboard.