Derek S. Whitefield


Derek Whitefield’s passion for defending the decisions engineers make every day dates back to a close personal relationship with his maternal grandfather, who was a line engineer at Ford. His grandfather’s enthusiasm for technology led to a deep appreciation for the competing considerations inherent in product design. From there, Derek developed an abiding interest in applying the law to vehicles and how people interact with them. He combines superior communication with formidable advocacy to have become one of the country’s most prominent lawyers in the automotive and class action defense arena. Recognized nationwide by Chambers USA 2023 for his automotive product liability practice, clients note that Derek is “very client-focused and a very strategic, excellent trial attorney. His knowledge of this field and of defense is incredibly deep.”

A former leader of the firm’s product liability practice and a former member of the firm’s Executive Board, Derek defends product manufacturers, business entities, and insurers in a broad spectrum of individual and class action product liability and mass tort cases. His ability to craft compelling and comprehensible narratives and distill complicated technical issues for judges and juries has resulted in favorable outcomes in numerous matters, both in the courtroom and through negotiated resolutions.

Derek is particularly well-known for his comprehensive understanding of automotive crash safety issues. While a staff attorney at General Motors, Derek spent a substantial amount of time interacting with crash safety engineers, cultivating an appreciation of the biomechanical, technical, and human factors that play central roles in cases involving catastrophic vehicle accidents and product liability claims. As a result, he regularly serves as go-to trial, support, and discovery counsel to numerous automotive and other product manufacturers.

Whether representing automotive industry clients or companies in other sectors facing high-exposure product liability claims, Derek takes a thoughtful, tailored approach to craft effective defense strategies. He considers not only the relevant legal and factual issues but also the plaintiffs’ motivations, the hospitable or hostile nature of the venue involved, and his client’s larger business interests. Responsive and efficient, Derek has earned the trust of his clients and the respect of the attorneys he faces in court.

In high-dollar, high-profile product liability cases, ‘winning’ is not just a matter of outcome but of costs – financial, reputational, and operational. All must factor into the strategy adopted in a case to achieve the best business outcome.
    • Wayne State University, J.D., cum laude
    • Honors College and James Madison College at Michigan State University, B.A., Phi Beta Kappa
  • Bar Admissions

    • Michigan, 1985
    • California, 1993
    • Texas, inactive, 2005
  • Court Admissions

    • U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, 1985
    • U.S. Court of Appeals, 6th Circuit, 1988
    • U.S. Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit, 1994
    • U.S. District Court, Central District of California, 1994
    • U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, 1995
    • U.S. District Court, Western District of California, 1995
    • U.S. Supreme Court, 2011
    • Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America® for Product Liability Litigation - Defendants, 2023 and 2024

    • Named a Nationwide Leading Lawyer in Product Liability: Automobile by Chambers USA, 2020-2023

    • Named a Leading Lawyer (Top 8 Lawyers Nationwide) by The Legal 500 United States for Automotive Product Liability, Mass Tort and Class Action, 2016-2023; Automotive Litigation, 2022-2023; Transport: Rail and Road – Litigation 2019-2021 

    • “Top Verdicts of 2019,” Los Angeles Daily Journal
    • Named a Litigation Star by Benchmark Litigation, 2014-2021

    • Recognized in Southern California Super Lawyers® for Products Liability, Civil Litigation, and Class Action & Mass Torts: Defense, 2006-Present

    • Recipient of an AV® Preeminent™ Rating by Martindale-Hubbell
    • Detroit Bar Association, Barrister of the Year, 1990-1991
    • State Bar of Michigan
    • State Bar of California
    • State Bar of Texas
    • American Bar Association
    • Los Angeles Bar Association
    • Board Member, Los Angeles County Bar Association Counsel for Justice, 2020-present

    • Prior representation of Inmate on Death Row through the ABA Death Penalty Representation Project, pro bono to clients of LA County Bar Association's HIV and AIDS Legal Service Alliance (HALSA)
    • Staff Attorney, General Motors

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