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Lawyer Arthur O. Kane, established workers’ comp laws, dies at 98

The law can sometimes be a dry profession.

But attorney Arthur O. Kane had a few courtroom tricks.

When one man claimed he suffered hearing loss on the job, “Art would talk lower and lower and lower,” said colleague Greg Ahern. “I’m sitting next to [Mr. Kane], and I couldn’t hear him — and yet the [plaintiff] on the witness stand could.”

Another time, his comments sparked rage from a man who said he’d been hurt at work. “He had reason to believe the employee was faking,” said Kane’s stepson, James Steinback. “He said something inflammatory in the courtroom, and the employee leapt out of his chair and ran over to attack him. . . . Art, being unflappable, turned to the jury and said: ‘Notice how agile he is?’”

Though he often defended employers, Mr. Kane was also a pioneer for workers. He won the first asbestosis case in Illinois, according to his alma mater, the law school at the University of Chicago, where he and his wife, Esther, donated $3 million in 1996 to build a 10,000-square-foot wing.

And his cases helped establish legal principles requiring employers to furnish lifetime care for injured workers, said his stepson.

Mr. Kane, 98, died Oct. 1 at his Lake Shore Drive home.

He grew up in Edgewater, the son of Eastern European immigrants who attended the University of Chicago. His mother, Beatrice, earned a history degree. His father, Henry, also was a lawyer. His dad bred German shepherds, which contributed to Mr. Kane’s affection for dogs and his donations to Guide Dogs for the Blind, the Humane Society and the Anti-Cruelty Society.

“If he saw a dog on the elevator, he was petting it,” said Esther, his wife of more than 30 years.

After graduating from Senn High School, he entered the University of Chicago at 16, she said. Using his violin and command of the Big Band songbook, he started a group to play campus gigs.

He enjoyed himself in college. Decades later, as he bestowed gifts to the university, “it amused him that he had achieved the means to do all this, despite having graduated second-to-last in the Class of 1939,” said Steinback.

Young Arthur spent a couple of years practicing at his father’s law firm until being drafted into the Army in World War II.

Mr. Kane, who attained the rank of captain in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, served at Fort Custer near Battle Creek, Michigan, and in Alexandria, Virginia, relatives said.

In 1963, he founded Kane, Doy and Harrington. At one time, the University of Chicago reported, “the firm’s 10 attorneys had nearly 6,000 active cases . . . handling as many as 10 percent of all of the workers’ compensation cases in Illinois.”

Esther and Arthur Kane, who married when they were both in their 60s and had been widowed. They enjoyed more than 30 years together. / supplied photo

Esther and Arthur Kane married when they were both in their 60s and had been widowed. They enjoyed more than 30 years together. | family photo

He lost his first wife, Bernice, to a stroke. He and Esther started dating in their 60s after both were widowed.

On their first date, they went to see “The Flamingo Kid,” featuring the grandson of friends: Fisher Stevens. Conversation flowed. Esther, then a widow for seven years, found herself intertwining her arm with his. “It just felt so natural, so right,” she said.

Their song was “(Love is Lovelier) The Second Time Around.”

Mr. Kane enjoyed movies, including Westerns and classics like “The African Queen” and “From Here to Eternity.” He loved the smoky scene where Bette Davis and Paul Henreid light each other’s cigarettes in “Now, Voyager.”

A sharp dresser, he could never understand lawyers who didn’t look their best for court. “He was from that greatest generation. He stood tall when he walked into a room,” said Connie Hibberd, his office manager. “He was brilliant in his field.” Mr. Kane liked to quote George Bernard Shaw: “One man that has a mind and knows it can always beat 10 men who haven’t and don’t.”

At the University of Chicago, he’ll be remembered for his generosity. “His gift to create the Arthur Kane Center for Clinical Legal Education moved our clinics out of cramped basement offices into a modern, spacious legal center that is the envy of clinical programs nationwide,” professor Jeff Leslie said. “We were equally grateful that Arthur stayed in consistent touch with the clinics . . . teaching alongside us for a long stint in the Intensive Trial Practice Workshop.”

And he and his wife were benefactors of the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind, the Hadley School for the Blind, the Jewish United Fund, the Greater Chicago Food Depository and the Legal Aid Society.

Mr. Kane is also survived by a stepdaughter, Barbara Buskin, and four grandchildren.

He enjoyed the bracing bite of a good vodka. At his Oct. 7 service, his stepson said, “Everyone at the graveside shared a bottle of vodka and the remaining contents of the liquor were put in the grave with Art.”

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