Lawyer seeks better care for disabled

Cerebral palsy gift meant for victims he represented in court

May 22, 2001|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

For two decades, lawyer Stephen L. Snyder has gone to court on behalf of families whose lives have been thrown into disarray by such disabilities as cerebral palsy. Now, after winning millions of dollars in settlements and verdicts, he's helping these families in another way.

He's laying the financial cornerstone for better delivery of the services on which they rely.

Snyder has donated $2.5 million to United Cerebral Palsy, with $2 million to go to the charitable organization's Central Maryland chapter. It is the largest donation ever to the chapter -- and the first in a campaign to raise money for a $10 million "one-stop" resource center for the disabled in Baltimore.

"That really gets the ball rolling," said Linda Rinehart, chief operating officer of UCP of Central Maryland. "Our goal is that folks with disabilities and their families have access to the resources they need."

Snyder is senior partner of Snyder, Jacobs, Slutkin & Lodowski, a firm that has claimed more than $400 million in settlements and judgments for families who contend their children's cerebral palsy was caused by substandard medical care. He said he donated the money to United Cerebral Palsy because he has seen the challenges that come when a child is born with cerebral palsy.

"I've been, on a personal level, blessed with five healthy children; and on a business level, I've been exposed for 20 years to families that have suffered catastrophes, families that perceive they are going to have a blessed event but have a devastating result at the hands of a third party," he said. "It's also brought me into contact with United Cerebral Palsy, and I've seen the great work they do."

Cerebral palsy describes any of a group of chronic conditions affecting movement and muscle coordination, caused by damage to one or more specific areas of the brain, according to UCP. It can be caused by a number of factors, including prolonged oxygen deprivation during birth. An estimated 500,000 children and adults in the United States display symptoms of cerebral palsy, UCP says.

Doug Miller's 4-year-old son, Jordan, was 15 months old when the condition was diagnosed. He said the boy's cognitive abilities exceed the norm for his age, but he requires special equipment, whether walking, talking or eating. The boy attends the preschool program at United Cerebral Palsy's Delrey School.

"Nobody would really understand how important the money is unless they have a child with a disability, and know what is required to have a child with a disability function every day," said Miller, a resident of Pikesville, who was represented by Snyder in a malpractice case that was recently settled.

The new UCP resource center, which is to be named for Snyder, is planned for the Seton Industrial Park in Northwest Baltimore. With more than 57,000 square feet, the facility will consolidate services offered in four of the six centers the organization now operates.

"Now, you have to do an awful lot of running and calling and digging to find out what's available to you and your family. Our goal is to have anything you could possibly need under one roof," Rinehart said. "You walk down one hall and you go to therapy. You walk down another hall, and you get employment assistance."

Rinehart said UCP is seeking a $1.4 million grant from the state health department and hopes to raise money from corporations and foundations to allow construction to begin by next summer.

Snyder made what is believed to be the largest online charitable donation ever, using a credit card to pay $100,000 of his multimillion-dollar gift during a news conference last week in Washington. He said he hopes others will understand that it is convenient and secure to give online.

"This is about challenging others to contribute," he said.

Francis B. Burch Jr., who is co-chairman of Piper Marbury Rudnick & Wolfe LLP, has sometimes found himself on the other end of a case against Snyder. But he praised Snyder for the donation to UCP, saying, "It sets a great example for the leaders of the legal profession. ... I hope more people, consistent with their means, follow his lead."

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