Law firms fined $9.16 million for filing frivolous tobacco complaints | Business News | journalnow.com


A federal court in Florida has fined two personal-injury law firms a combined $9.16 million for pursuing 1,250 Engle progeny lawsuits against U.S. tobacco manufacturers that were determined to be

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Law firms fined $9.16 million for filing frivolous tobacco complaints

A federal court in Florida has fined two personal-injury law firms a combined $9.16 million for pursuing 1,250 Engle progeny lawsuits against U.S. tobacco manufacturers that were determined to be frivolous complaints.

The sanctions from the Middle District of Florida were levied Thursday against The Wilner Firm and Farah & Farah, both of Jacksonville, Fla.

The Engle cases sprang from a decision in 2006 by the Florida Supreme Court that decertified a class-action lawsuit initially filed by Howard Engle. That ruling allowed former class members to file individual lawsuits stating that cigarettes caused their respective illnesses.

The Wilner law firm, having had trial success in a 1996 Engle-related case, was swarmed afterward with potential clients. It eventually filed Engle claims for an estimated 4,432 individuals, according to court documents.

“While $9,164,404 is a large number, it is that large only because of the breathtaking scale of Wilner’s and Farah’s wrongdoing,” a four-judge panel wrote.

The cases filed by the two law firms represented one-third of the original 3,765 wave of Engle lawsuits from early 2011 to mid-2013.

“If we did not cite Wilner and Farah for unprofessional conduct committed on such a grand scale, how could we continue to insist upon professionalism in our other cases?” the panel of judges wrote.

In September 2014, a federal appeals court in Florida dismissed 750 Engle cases — nearly 10 percent of the total at that time — citing improper claim submissions by Wilner.

The court ruled in issuing sanctions that the law firms’ actions were “willful and reckless” in filing “frivolous complaints” involving plaintiffs that they either lost track of, were dead, were never smokers, never lived in Florida, were not authorized to file by the plaintiff, or the complaints were previously adjudicated.

“Monetary sanctions are necessary to impress upon Wilner and Farah, and all others who litigate in this court, that the court cannot tolerate the type of conduct they have displayed in these cases,” the judges wrote.

“Non-monetary sanctions, such as a reprimand, will not suffice,” although the law firms were reprimanded.

The court is guaranteed to receive the fine since the law firms have $15.6 million in attorney’s fees held in the federal Engle settlement fund. The money will be withdrawn from their escrow accounts Nov. 1.

The judges came up with the fine amount primarily by determining that each frivolous lawsuit cost about $6,983 in court resources.

“Wilner’s attitude throughout the (December 2016 sanctioning) proceedings has never reflected contrition,” the judges wrote.

“Counsel’s conduct infected the entire Engle litigation. Counsel’s actions also delayed, perhaps by years, plaintiffs with meritorious cases from having their claims heard.”

The appellate judges said in September 2014 the claims filed by Wilner “parroted the original Engle complaints,” presenting counts for strict liability, breach of warranty, fraudulent concealment of the health effects of smoking, civil conspiracy to do the same, negligence and loss of consortium.

The appeals court said the “root of the problem in all these cases is simple. Back in 2008, when these cases were originally filed, the law firm that brought them didn’t have the time or resources required to fully investigate all the complaints.

“Over and over, plaintiffs’ counsel explained that these problems were the result of the unique logistical difficulties involved in managing so many individual lawsuits.

“And over and over the District Court reminded counsel that a lawyer’s responsibilities to the court are not diluted even by an ocean of claims.”

How the Law Office of Scott A. Ferris, P.A. Can Help

If you, a friend or a family member find themselves in a situation such as this, please call the Law Office of Scott A. Ferris, P.A. at 305 670-3330 right away. Scott A. Ferris, Esq. is a licensed personal injury attorney who has been practicing law since 1987. He is available whenever you need him to defend your rights. Please learn about our firm at www.FerrisLawFirm.com.

Republished by the Law Office of Scott A. Ferris, P.A.

 

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