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David Berger, 94; a pioneer in class-action litigation

February 26, 2007|From the Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — David Berger, a pioneer in class-action lawsuits who won major cases stemming from the Three Mile Island nuclear accident as well as disputes with oil companies, has died. He was 94.

Berger died Thursday at a hospital in West Palm Beach, Fla., of complications from pneumonia, said one of his sons, Jonathan.

In 1971, he filed a nationwide class-action suit against all major oil companies, demanding that service station operators be given the right to sell any brand of gasoline. In a 1984 settlement, his 50,000 clients won that right along with $37 million in damages.

"He was a bright, bright lawyer," said Richard A. Sprague, a prominent Philadelphia criminal attorney who practiced with Berger in the 1970s. "The world didn't realize the potential of class-action litigation until Dave Berger came along."

He helped win $25 million for people who lived near Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island nuclear power plant after its partial meltdown in March 1979. He also won $5 million for a public health fund to study the effects of the low-level radiation the residents had been exposed to.

"In all these cases, we were always up against the toughest, best and richest lawyers in the country," Berger told the Associated Press in 1985. "It was a forced-march, scorched-earth battle all the way."

As Philadelphia's city solicitor, he helped establish the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. In 1969, he ran as a Democrat for district attorney and lost to current U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).

A native of Archbald, Pa., Berger was the son of immigrant Jewish peddlers from Austria. He earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Pennsylvania and later graduated first in his law class at the same university.

Berger served on aircraft carriers in the Pacific during World War II. He was a survivor of the sinking of the Hornet in 1942 and later served on the staff of Adm. William F. Halsey.

He retired in 2004, when he began to suffer from Alzheimer's disease.

In addition to his son Jonathan, Berger is survived by another son, Daniel; two brothers; and two grandchildren.

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