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William R. Garmer

Founding Member
In Memoriam (1946-2021)

Founding partner Bill Garmer was a leader in the legal profession, a groundbreaking advocate who changed the course of Kentucky law, a champion for his clients, and a mentor to countless lawyers across the Commonwealth. His work as a lawyer and teacher had a profound impact on his clients and other attorneys alike, though his supreme loyalty was to his clients.

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In a career spanning more than 45 years, Bill secured innumerable courtroom victories for his clients, and some of those cases led to major decisions of higher courts. But perhaps more importantly, he was a lawyer’s lawyer: a leader of the bar who was respected and admired in both his professional and personal lives by his many clients, colleagues, and friends.

In Hilen v. Hays, as the plaintiff's attorney, Bill secured a victory before the Kentucky Supreme Court leading to the adoption of comparative fault for all tort claims in Kentucky. It is hard to overstate the importance of this decision, which was a fundamental change to Kentucky’s system for achieving justice for people who have been injured. The decision has helped countless plaintiffs in Kentucky courts over the intervening decades. In 2018, that case was named the "No. 1 Civil Jury Verdict of in Kentucky of All Time" by the Kentucky Trial Court Review.

Bill was never one to shy away from trying a case or back down against even long odds, and Hilen v. Hays was just one of many important trial and appellate victories he achieved across the span of his remarkable career. In 2016, he successfully argued a landmark case before the Kentucky Supreme Court, Saint Joseph Hospital v. Thomas. In that case, Supreme Court affirmed a jury verdict for punitive damages of over one million dollars for the family of a man who died as a result of medical malpractice, even though the indigent victim had been awarded only a small amount of compensatory damages. In its opinion, the Court changed the law’s focus in punitive damages cases so that courts could more thoroughly consider the fact that the conduct of the defendant was "reprehensible" when reviewing punitive damage awards.

Of course, there were many more such victories. As the plaintiff's attorney in Williams v. St. Claire Medical Center, Bill's successful argument in the Kentucky Court of Appeals led that Court to recognize the doctrine of apparent agency for independent contractors in hospital cases, as well as the independent liability of hospitals that failed to follow their own policies and procedures. The decision in Hensley v. Haynes Trucking, LLC, which Bill argued in the Supreme Court, has become the leading case on certification of class action lawsuits in Kentucky.

Bill was one of five attorneys selected to the trial team to represent the families of the passengers of Comair Flight 5191, which crashed on takeoff from Lexington, Kentucky, in August 2006. Bill represented the family of a victim of nursing home abuse resulting in an $8 million jury verdict in Louisville. As a plaintiff's lawyer, Bill dedicated his entire career to protecting the rights guaranteed to every citizen by the Constitution.

Bill earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Kentucky. He attended the University of Kentucky David J. Rosenberg College of Law, where he graduated with his Juris Doctor in 1975. After his admission to the Kentucky Bar in 1975, he worked for two years as a law clerk to the Honorable B.T. Moynahan, Jr., Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. Bill was selected to the University of Kentucky College of Law Hall of Fame in 2014 and served as president of the Kentucky Bar Association and president of the Kentucky Justice Association.

Bill was a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and a member of the Melvin Belli Society, which is a recognition of attorneys who have “distinguished themselves as trial lawyers” and are “dedicated to the principles of education on an international basis.” Throughout his career, Bill was a member of the American Association for Justice, where he has served as Chair and Vice Chair of the Council of State Presidents and was on the Board of Governors from 1998 through 2010; the Kentucky Bar Association, where he was a member of the Board of Governors from 2011 until 2015, vice president in 2015-2016, president elect in 2016-2017, and president in 2017-2018; the Kentucky Bar Foundation; the Kentucky Justice Association, where he served as president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer, and for several decades served on the Board of Governors; the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice; the Southern Trial Lawyers Association; the Federal Bar Association, and the American Bar Association.

Bill received numerous recognitions from the legal community. In 1998, he was awarded the Kentucky Justice Association's Peter Perlman Trial Lawyer of the Year Award. Martindale-Hubbell rated him as AV-Preeminent®*, the highest rating an attorney can receive. He was listed in The Best Lawyers in America from 1987 until his death, Who's Who in American Law from 1991 until his death, and was named to Kentucky Super Lawyers every year from 2007 until his death. For several of those years, Bill was named to the "Super Lawyers: Top 10 Kentucky lawyers" list, including being ranked number one on the list in 2020 and number three in 2019 and 2021. Just before his death, he learned he had once again been named to the "Top 10" list. Before that he had been named to the "Super Lawyers: Top 50 Kentucky Lawyers" list ten times.

Among Bill's most impactful accomplishments, he mentored generations of young lawyers. Bill was as an adjunct professor of law at the University of Kentucky David J. Rosenberg College of Law for more than 20 years, teaching courses in litigation skills and in healthcare law. He was a sought-after lecturer in continuing legal education programs in Kentucky and around the United States.

Bill served on active duty in the United States Air Force as a Staff Sergeant from 1969 to1973. He was formerly a Deacon, moderator of the Diaconate, and an Elder in the First Presbyterian Church of Lexington, Kentucky, and was later a member of Second Presbyterian Church. He has served as a Board Member of both the Opportunity Workshop in Lexington and the University of Kentucky College of Law Alumni Association, and was also member of the Visiting Committee of the University of Kentucky College of Law. He was chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party in 2004. Always an advocate for public education, Bill was a member and officer of the Board of Governors of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. He was also a member of the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels.

Bill’s legacy, from the lawyers he mentored, to the clients he helped over his long career, will live on in our collective memory.

This case was settled for a confidential amount prior to an appeal.


J.D., University of Kentucky College of Law, Lexington, Kentucky, 1975

B.A., University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, 1968

Professional & Bar Association Memberships

American Bar Association
Member Since: 1994

American Association for Justice
Board of Governors - 1998 - 2010
Past Chair and Vice Chair of the Council of State Presidents

Kentucky Justice Association
Board of Governors
President, 2017 - 2018
Past President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer

Kentucky Bar Association
Past President (2017-2018)
Board of Governors (2011-2018)

Kentucky Bar Foundation

Southern Trial Lawyers Association

Federal Bar Association

University of Kentucky College of Law Alumni Association
Visiting Committee

Melvin Belli Society

Kentucky Democratic Party
Chairman, 2004

Classes / Seminars
  • Adjunct Professor of Law, Litigation Skills, University of Kentucky
  • Adjunct Professor, Healthcare Law, University of Kentucky
  • Guest Lecturer, Continuing Legal Education Programs nationwide
Past Employment Positions
  • Chief Judge Bernard T. Moynahan, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, Law Clerk, 1975 - 1977
  • United States Air force, Staff Sergeant, 1969 - 1973
Fraternities / Sororities
  • Phi Delta Phi
  • Sigma Chi

*Martindale-Hubbell is the facilitator of a peer review rating process. Ratings reflect the anonymous opinions of members of the bar and the judiciary. Martindale-Hubbell® Peer Review Ratings™ fall into two categories - legal ability and general ethical standards. AV®, BV®, AV Preeminent® and BV Distinguished® are registered certification marks of Reed Elsevier Properties Inc., used under in accordance with the Martindale-Hubbell certification procedures, standards and policies.

Client Reviews
I was involved in a head on collision with a school bus. During my rehabilitation, a friend suggested that I needed a law firm to invistgate. After much research was done by my friend, I was advised to call Garmer & Prather, PLLC ATTORNEYS AT LAW. Working with Garmer and Prather during this difficult time was truly a blessing. They are kind, compassionate, studious and have the utmost diginity. It was my pleasure to work with such an oustanding law firm. I very highly recommend Garmer & Prather Law Firm for any needs regarding personal injury representation. P. M.
My husband was involved in a rear-end collision at a stoplight caused by an equipment transport truck sandwiching him between it and the car in front of him. We contacted Garmer and Prather for a review and advice. From beginning to end, they exhibited professionalism, tenacity and a total commitment to pursue all avenues to a successful conclusion. They truly went above and beyond anything we expected. We would like to thank Garmer and Prather and their excellent team of skilled, competent legal staff. D. W.