Omaha attorney Ronald Palagi remembered as larger-than-life figure who bucked stereotype | Obituaries

Prolific Omaha personal injury attorney Ronald Palagi, known for his pioneering advertisements and gregarious spirit, died earlier this month at 75. 

His decades practicing law earned him a reputation as an empathetic attorney, taking on clients he believed had been wronged and, in some cases, winning sizable settlements. Palagi died at home with family on April 3 after health complications resulting from a fall. 

Born in Montana but raised in Omaha, the Benson High School graduate built The Law Offices of Ronald J. Palagi, a well-known personal injury practice. At its peak, the firm had three offices in the Omaha area.







Palagi


Palagi was among the first lawyers to successfully use advertising after the practice was legalized in 1977. His firm’s slogan, “We’re On Your Side,” was on radio and TV commercials by the early 1980s.

In 1992, Palagi told now-defunct Omaha-based Italian newspaper The American Citizen: “It occurred to me in the early ’80s when I was thinking of using TV: If it’s good enough for presidential candidates, the highest office in the land, it should be OK for me.”

Paul Critchlow, a recently retired communications executive and lifelong friend, said Palagi’s interest in law emerged from a painful and frustrating experience as a young adult.

According to Critchlow, Palagi’s early college years focused on business and industrial engineering. His interests took him to Chicago, where he worked as an engineer for UPS Inc.

In 1968, Palagi was hit by a taxi on the streets of Chicago. The driver took him to get medical attention, but he was hospitalized and out of work for several weeks. He suffered back problems throughout life as a result of the crash.

As he recovered, Palagi scrambled to piece together the incident — calling the cab company, which had no record of the incident; attempting to track down passersby; hiring a lawyer. All to no avail. 

“He was frustrated because he just couldn’t pin down what happened,” Critchlow said. “It triggered this interest in representing average working-class people who did not have a voice in the justice system.”

Palagi graduated from Creighton Law School in 1974. He “toyed” with criminal law, as Critchlow described it, but it didn’t stick. He opened a firm as a solo practitioner, tackling everything from divorces to bankruptcies — but Palagi knew that he belonged in court doing trial work. 

He started to specialize in personal injury cases and gained a reputation.

“Large corporations and hospitals took his call with a bit of a shudder,” Critchlow said. “They knew he would have his case well-studied and well-argued. He really was one of the first personal injury attorneys in the Midwest to win some very significant settlements.”

When a chemotherapy clinic in Fremont infected 99 people with hepatitis C due to poor infection control protocols, Palagi represented one such patient and his wife in the first case from the incident to go to trial. The couple won a $685,000 settlement.

More recently, Palagi helped win a $3.2 million judgment for an Omaha couple after the husband sustained severe brain damage during a boating accident. 

Critchlow said that Palagi, having been injured himself, had a certain degree of empathy for his clients that set him apart from the competition.

“I think that’s where he runs counter to the classic stereotype of the personal injury attorney: He was no ambulance-chaser,” Critchlow said. “He really felt that people who had been injured or harmed through no fault of their own deserved to have a chance in court. And that’s why he did it.”

Outside of the courtroom, friends describe Palagi as a larger-than-life figure with a taste for good food, music and conversation. He was twice-married and twice-divorced, and had three daughters: Alisha, 49; Mia Palagi-Glass, 42; and Anna, 29. 

Alisha, an actor and entertainer, said her father was always a source of support and encouragement.

“If one of us had a passion, he would find a way to bond with it,” she said.

Described as “extremely stern” at times but always caring, Anna said her father taught her how to truly enjoy life. 

Mia described his love as “incredible.”

“When he found out he was going to be a grandpa, I swear most of Omaha knew before my first OB appointment,” she said. “When we called and said we were having twins, he called numerous times that evening. ‘Twins? Oh my gosh, twins?'”

Palagi collected art and had an extensive personal library, often typing up pages of notes as he read. When he wasn’t working, he was often reading or entertaining. He loved to gather and cook for people — family and friends, which was all the same to him.

“He was intellectually curious,” Critchlow said. “He loved to talk about politics and the art of just about everything — from science, to medicine, to love.”

Friends and family agree that Palagi’s legacy is one of service. 

“If he made any mark, it was helping people who didn’t have a voice,” Critchlow said. 


Omaha attorney Ronald Palagi remembered as larger-than-life figure who bucked stereotype

Prolific Omaha personal injury attorney Ronald Palagi, known for his pioneering advertisements and gregarious spirit, died earlier this month at 75. 

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