Tom Paoli is a native San Franciscan who received his college and law school education in San Francisco, from San Francisco State University (B.A., Political Science, 1977) and University of San Francisco (JD, 1982).
Tom has been a civil trial lawyer representing injured plaintiffs only since 1986 when he went to work representing workers suffering from asbestos injuries. Since then, Tom has tried several dozen jury trials, resulting in the recovery of millions of dollars in compensation for his clients. Tom's thorough knowledge of pre-trial and trial procedures and protocol enable him to handle a wide variety of serious personal injury cases with a creative innovative approach. Tom's extensive jury trial training and experience has also allowed him to assist other law firms as lead trial counsel in their cases.
Tom's expertise in trial advocacy is complemented by his extensive experience in settling complex cases. He has received formal negotiation and mediation training for the purpose of representing his clients more effectively in the settlement process. He is well schooled in obtaining the best possible results for his clients, through cooperation in mediation and litigation.
For several years Tom has served as a mediator and arbitrator for the San Francisco Superior Court, and in 2010 Tom was accepted as a neutral arbitrator by the Office of Independent Administrator for the Kaiser Permanente Member Arbitration program.
Tom's successes as a civil trial lawyer have also allowed him to commit significant time to providing pro bono legal services to people who otherwise would have no voice in the courts. He has represented for free foster parents and prospective adoptive parents who were trying to help foster children in the juvenile dependency court (an opportunity he owes to his wife Margaret Coyne, who is the executive director of Advokids, a non-profit child advocacy group dedicated to improving the lives of foster children). Tom regularly takes on cases other lawyers with his level of experience typically will not get involved with and gives his time and expertise to help without charge. In 2009, he helped a family involved in a highway accident in which their mother was killed. Tom was able to guide them through the process of securing all of the responsible driver's insurance benefits, and maximize their recovery. He also helped secure a policy limit settlement for a young college student who was badly injured in a highway cross-median head-on accident. In 2010, Tom took on a pro bono case for a young woman with a $15,000 claim which turned into a $165,000 recovery (see December 2010 "Recent News.") In 2011, Tom helped a young woman who chipped her tooth on a foreign object in a pizza obtain a reasonable settlement from the restaurant's insurance company. Tom also volunteers in the Bar Association of San Francisco's Free Legal Advice Clinic program, and for the San Francisco Homeless Connect Project.
Tom lives in San Francisco with his wife Margaret, who he met at USF Law School. They have two daughters, Alanna and Tessa. Tom's love for San Francisco extends to the Bay, where he swims at the South End Rowing Club, and where he has been a member of the board of directors, and Swim Commissioner. Tom is actively involved in supporting affordable higher public education, by financially supporting San Francisco State University, and in the past through involvement as a member of the Dean's Advisory Council of the Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences.
Geerhart is a founding partner of Paoli &
Geerhart and was admitted to the California bar in 1989.
He is a graduate of Cornell University and the UCLA
Law School. Chuck has tried 20 cases to jury verdict.
He has also sat as a juror in three cases in San Francisco County. In addition to his active practice representing injured
people, Chuck is a court-appointed arbitrator and settlement
mediator in the San Francisco Superior Court, and also
mediates cases for the Bar Association of San Francisco's
Early Settlement Program. Chuck Geerhart is a member
of the Board of Directors of the San Francisco Trial
A San Francisco resident since 1989, Chuck Geerhart
grew up in the Washington, D.C., area where he attended
public schools. He was an Eagle Scout and worked three
summers as a staffer at Goshen Scout Camps in rural
Virginia. He received a Naval ROTC full four-year scholarship
to attend Cornell University from 1977-81. At Cornell,
Chuck majored in English literature and was a staff
writer and columnist for The Cornell Daily Sun. This
background in writing, both academically and as a journalist,
prepared him well to write clear, concise and persuasive
Upon graduating from Cornell, Chuck was commissioned
as an officer in the U.S. Navy Supply Corps. After supply
school in Athens, GA, he reported for duty as disbursing
and food service officer on the USS Sylvania (AFS 2)
homeported in Norfolk, VA. This tour from 1982-84 took
Chuck on repeated deployments to various ports in the
Mediterranean Sea. After his sea tour, Chuck was promoted
to Lieutenant and served his last year in his four-year
commitment to the Navy as an aviation supply officer
at Moffett Field Naval Air Station, Mountain View, CA.
After leaving the Navy, Chuck attended the UCLA School
of Law, where he was a member of the Moot Court Honors
Program and was a summer clerk at the U.S. Attorney's
Office and several law firms.
After graduation from UCLA, Chuck passed the bar and
moved back to the Bay Area to work for Sedgwick, Detert,
Moran & Arnold, one the leading civil defense firms
in California. There, he cut his teeth on a wide variety
of defense cases, including groundwater contamination,
construction defect, product liability, construction
injury cases, and numerous automobile accident cases.
He learned the law of product liability while defending
The Stanley Works in automatic door cases and defending
PG&E in a massive power plant explosion and asbestos
release caused by the rupture of a defective product
(a desuperheating steam attemperator). There were over
400 plaintiffs in this case.
In 1995, Chuck made the move to a smaller defense firm,
Arnelle Hastie McGee, which at the time was the largest
minority-owned firm in California. He continued to handle
civil defense cases, and became a partner of the firm.
Much of his work at the Arnelle firm involved defending
Ford Motor Company in product liability cases, including
two trials. It was as a result of this work and subsequent
work for plaintiffs that Chuck became an expert in product
In late 1997, Chuck Geerhart and Tom Paoli had a long
talk about forming their own law firm. In early 1998,
Paoli & Geerhart was born, handling mostly automobile
and premises liability cases, with Chuck Geerhart continuing
to do some defense work. In 1999, Chuck's practice became
100% representation of injured people. Here is his philosophy:
"I love representing individual
people, and I could never go back to a defense practice.
I look back now on my years as a defense lawyer as valuable
training and absolutely necessary in showing me what
it's like to represent companies and insurance interests.
It's made me a better lawyer now, because I understand
how the other side (my opponent) thinks. I can get inside
my opponents' heads and figure out where they are going
with a case. My defense history also makes me incredibly
grateful to be representing and helping injured people.
It is so much more personally fulfilling than being
a pen pal to faceless corporate interests. When I succeed
for my clients now, I know I have made difference in
a real person's life, rather than helping an insurance
carrier or automaker save a few bucks."
Most of Chuck's roughly 20 trials have been for plaintiffs.
In addition to work with Paoli & Geerhart, Chuck
volunteers pro bono for the Bar Association of San Francisco's
Legal Advice and Referral Clinic, which helps hundreds
of citizens who cannot afford legal advice.
Chuck also gives of his time as a court appointed arbitrator
and settlement mediator in the San Francisco Superior
Court, and also mediates cases for the Bar Association
of San Francisco's Early Settlement Program. This makes
him a better advocate for his own clients in mediations
and settlement conferences.
Chuck Geerhart is a member of the Board of Directors
of the San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association (SFTLA).
As a leader in the plaintiff's bar, Chuck helps plan
programs and attends all major educational and training
events run by SFTLA. He is a regular writer for the
SFTLA magazine (see link to articles on this website).
Chuck lives with his wife, Cathy, and
dog, Rolo, in San Francisco's Crocker Amazon neighborhood.
In his free time, he hikes and jogs throughout the McLaren
Park and San Bruno Mountain trails. He enjoys live music,
especially classic rock and the jam bands of the 1960s.
He's a news and pop culture junkie- don't get him started on these subjects. He and his wife also
enjoy camping and backpacking.
Chuck receiving an award as an outstanding volunteer in public service from California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron George.
In 2011, Chuck was again honored for his pro bono community service. Pictured with Chuck are Judge Katherine Feinstein, Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court Tani Cantil-Sakauye, and Judge Terrence Mahoney.