Paul D. Nelson

Of Counsel, San Francisco Office

Direct Dial: 415.352.2766
Fax: 415.352.2701

Practice Areas


Bar Admissions

  • California, 1974
  • Oregon, 1975

Court Admissions

  • U.S. District Court, Central District of California
  • U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California
  • U.S. District Court, Northern District of California
  • U.S. District Court, Southern District of California
  • U.S. District Court, District of Colorado
  • U.S. District Court, District of Idaho
  • U.S. District Court, District of Oregon


  • University of Oregon, School of Law - J.D., 1974
  • Lewis & Clark College - B.A., cum laude, 1971

Practice Experience

Paul D. Nelson is an experienced trial litigator and appellate lawyer with an emphasis on complex civil cases, including major class actions, insurance coverage, business disputes, mass tort, product liability, and catastrophic injury matters.

Paul was lead counsel for the defense through trial and a successful appeal in the first major industrial pollution coverage action tried in San Francisco (Syntex Corp. v. Lowsley Williams & Cos.), a matter arising from cleanup of the infamous Times Beach, Missouri dioxin disaster. He has acted as lead defense counsel in a number of other pollution coverage and mass tort cases.

Paul also has represented both plaintiffs and defendants in catastrophic injury trials. Recently he won a defense verdict in a very serious burn product liability trial for a domestic manufacturer of propane heaters involving damage claims exceeding $70 million. For more than 25 years, he acted as supervisory and lead trial counsel to one of the principal liability insurance programs for the ski industry, trying dozens of catastrophic ski injury cases nationally, and acted as counsel to the California Ski Industries Association. He has tried numerous negligence and product liability cases for defendants outside of the recreational field, ranging from sudden vehicle acceleration to industrial equipment. For a plaintiff, he obtained a $30 million recovery ($52 million gross damages) for a seriously injured client, one of the largest compensatory damage awards in California history, which he successfully upheld on appeal.

Paul has acted as lead counsel in five major consumer and business class actions, including winning one of the largest class action trials in U.S. history following a nine-month jury trial. His class action cases have involved issues ranging from automotive defects to dental and medical device safety.

As an appellate lawyer, Paul has handled more than 25 appeals in seven states. He was instrumental in the judicial acceptance of primary assumption of risk as a defense to sports injuries in California through his appellate representation of the California Ski Industry Association and the National Ski Areas Association in the landmark California Supreme Court case of Knight v. Jewett. He maintains a national appellate practice in catastrophic injury in vehicle rollover accidents, and served as appellate counsel in securing the affirmance of a $25 million plaintiff's verdict for a quadriplegic plaintiff.

For more than 30 years as a partner with Hancock Rothert & Bunshoft, Mr. Nelson regularly represented London market insurers and insureds in a variety of major liability and coverage matters, including acting as excess insurer counsel in the MGM Grand Hotel (Las Vegas) fire insurance coverage litigation, lead trial counsel in the first environmental coverage suit tried in San Francisco, California and defense counsel for the owner of a construction crane that collapsed in downtown San Francisco.

Admitted to practice in California and in Oregon, Paul is a 1974 graduate of the University of Oregon School of Law and a cum laude graduate of Lewis and Clark College.

Professional and Civic Involvement

  • American Bar Association (Member)
  • American Law Firm Association (Former Officer & Director)
  • Association of Ski Defense Attorneys (Founder)
  • Bar Association of San Francisco (Member)
  • University of Oregon School of Law (Member, Dean's Advisory Council)

Awards and Honors

  • AV® Preeminent™, Peer Review Rated by Martindale-Hubbell

Publications and Presentations

  • Speaker, "Class Action Litigation in California," Section Conference (2005)
  • Author, "Verdicts & Settlements: Top 10 Verdicts of 2000," The Daily Journal (2001)

Representative Appellate Decisions

  • Syntex Corp. v. Lowsley-Williams & Cos.
  • Knight v. Jewett
  • Weinstat v. Dentsply International, Inc.
  • Danieley v. Goldmine Ski Associates, Inc.
  • Raimondi v. Ford Motor Co.
  • Buell-Wilson v. Ford Motor Co.