Nicole Girard 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Beer & Toone, P.C. Thomas L. Toone Aviation Pioneers As the 48th state to be admitted to the union, (and the last of the contiguous states) the details surrounding Arizona’s infancy are still fresh in the collective memory of its residents. Thanks to people like Thomas L. Toone, trial attorney and shareholder with the Phoenix-based aviation firm, Beer & Toone, P.C., we have a direct line to the pioneering desert dwellers that helped make the Grand Canyon state what is today. At the onset of the twentieth century, Arizona’s sparse citizenry, dwelling between an endless bounty of sunshine and earth, served as the perfect environment to support a fledgling aviation industry. The dry, dusty, bare land made for fertile soil for aviation and aviators alike, to grow and develop. “That’s what started the real population growth here,” Toone said. The 40’s era war effort was preoccupied with flight. It increased the influx of aviators to the Valley of the Sun immensely. The construction of Luke and Williams Field Air Force Bases helped to inspire a generation of flight enthusiast transplants. After their military training, countless veterans decided to settle down in the Valley where they could continue flying as a recreational pastime. “All the sunshine makes for perfect flying conditions. Pilots can fly here almost anytime unlike many places that are covered in fog or rain,” he said. “That was a big plus.” The prosperity that followed World War II saw the American public beginning to buy planes for personal recreation. A cottage aviation industry grew up in the private sector. Renowned pioneering aviator, Frank W. Beer, moved to Arizona from Florida in the early 1920’s. It was Beer’s wish to join the desert dwellers’ growing ranks so he could freely pursue his passion for flight. At the time, aspiring lawyers were only required to pass the bar exam. As long as they had experience under an existing lawyer, they did not have to secure a law degree in order to practice in the new state. Beer passed the bar exam in 1928, and was admitted to practice law. During his career, he served as a state representative, and an assistant attorney general. He was in private practice both before and after his public service. In 1933, Beer tried the first reported court case on crop dusting damage in the United States. He served as commander of the Civil Air Patrol for Arizona during World War II. “He just flew a lot, and if you were flying in the twenties and thirties, that was very odd,” Toone said of his predecessor. “There were very few airports, and no aviation fuel stations. Beer had to land on a dirt road near a town and ask someone to go get him some gas.” By 1956, Beer was able to meld his two passions in the form of a law firm built around his highly sought-after aviation expertise. When the firm first opened, specialty aviation law firms didn’t exist. That changed as the new industry had taken root, and was now cropping up militarily, commercially, and recreationally, all over the desert. This flight friendly environment proved to be the equivalent of a magnet for aspiring pilots; some of who were good trial lawyers. “It’s rare that an entire firm will be devoted to aviation. There are sometimes lawyers in firms who are involved in aviation, but it’s not usually the entire firm,” Toone said. “Our firm was the first.” This love of aviation was passed to his son, Paul, who learned to fly while attending the aviation program at Phoenix Union High School. He soon entered the Air Force and was admitted to practice two years later. He immediately joined his father’s firm. The aviation insurance industry developed in the 60’s, creating a demand for lawyers that were familiar with aviation rules and regulations like the Beers. The aviation litigation industry followed suit. By the 70’s it was in full swing. For decades, Beer & Toone was known throughout the region for being “the” aviation firm. As a pilot, Beer had flown many different kinds of planes and had vested interests in the development of local airports and airlines. If there was ever an accident or emergency, the Beers were engaged. Then in 1975, a fresh-faced Texas transplant named Tom Toone moved to Arizona. He joined the firm and became a pilot shortly after. By January 1, 1980, the firm came to be known in its current form, as Beer & Toone, P.C. In its current capacity, Beer & Toone covers both aviation, and non-aviation related personal injury, wrongful death, products and premises liability, and more. “Our presence for aviation is known nationally,” Toone said. “If there is an accident, we’ll likely be involved in some way. We’ll usually get retained early on.” In July of 2007, two Phoenix news helicopters collided above Steele Indian School Park. The event prompted Toone’s speedy retainer. The AS-350 AStar helicopters from KNXV-TV (the area’s ABC affiliate) and KTVK, (an independent news station,) collided in mid-air while covering a police pursuit. No one on the ground was injured but both pilots and accompanying photographers were killed. “I was called and retained within hours of that tragic accident,” Toone said. Toone Over the years, Toone said he has seen the aviation litigation business go the way of the Wright Flyer due to mass commercialization and regulation. “Times have changed and like a lot of industries, aviation has become more conducive to bigger business in the form of commercial airlines and corporate jets,” he said. “Personal pleasure aircraft use has dwindled. The business has changed. There’s not nearly the volume of aviation accidents anymore.” In the late 80’s Toone became a judge protem of Arizona Superior Court. It was this experience on the bench that prompted Toone to become one of the first in Arizona to preside over mediation and arbitration cases. “I’d always done other things,” he said. “Aviation was the primary source of business, but I’ve always done a lot of other types of law.” Toone, who is a certified specialist in personal injury and wrongful death, was asked by the Superior Court to conduct a number of settlement conferences. “I did that for many years as a volunteer,” he said. “I wasn’t getting paid. It was just a way to give back to the court.” Although Toone said he did enjoy serving as a judge, he never really aspired to be on the bench. He liked his practice too much. “I just wanted to get another perspective,” said Toone, who does between six to eight arbitrations and mediations a week. Their practice has evolved along with their state. Throughout the years, they’ve litigated everything from airport liability to FAA enforcement proceedings and a great deal in between. They’ve lent their representative expertise to cases involving both commercial and private airplanes including gliders, ultralights, helicopters and balloons. “I wanted to do trial work,” he said. “The opportunity presented itself and I took it.” Upon reflection, Toone said he found his particular calling in somewhat of a circuitous manner. “I really didn’t start out with a background in aviation,” he said. He was interested in trial law, and was armed with a pre-med degree in zoology from the University of Texas at Austin. He worked his way through college in various political capacities such as a Senate assistant to a Texas state senator and as counsel for the oil and gas Senate committee. He then went to work for the secretary of state as an elections attorney when he decided to get out of politics. The idea of a job in aviation law, and a profound love for the desert, horses and skiing, was ultimately what led a young Toone to the desert; and to Beer & Toone where he continues his work as partner in a historic Arizona firm. While Toone loves his profession, he has not forgotten about the other elements that drew him to the desert as well. For the past 30 years, Toone unwinds through the rodeo sport of team roping. It is something he does competitively on the weekends to this day. “The outdoors, the horses, the skiing,” he said. “That’s what I do.
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