Jacksonville law firms fined over $9 million in tobacco litigation

By: Action News Jax

Updated:

A panel of judges sanctioned two Florida law firms, which included a prominent Jacksonville firm, for more than $9.1 million for filing baseless claims against tobacco companies accused of hiding the dangers of cigarettes. 

According to the four judges in the panel, the Jacksonville law firms of Farah & Farah and the Wilner Firm, together filed 1,250 frivolous suits on behalf of plaintiffs who died before the suits were filed, people who never authorized the suits, people who never lived in Florida, nonsmokers, and people whose cases had already been tried.

The investigation into the issue was first discovered in 2012 after the court sent questionnaires to the names of plaintiffs, according to the ABA Journal

In the order, released by the courts on Oct. 18, 588 personal injury action that were filed for dead plaintiffs should have been filed as wrongful-death or survival actions.

However the lawyers “insisted that they were in contact with their clients.”

The ABA Journal stated that the court surmised that 572 suits weren’t authorized because the plaintiffs didn’t return a court questionnaire, and in 15 of the 572 cases, questionnaires couldn’t be mailed because the law firms didn’t have a mailing address for the plaintiffs.

According to the order, the $9.1 million fine is to compensate the court.

The judges recommend a further ethics investigation by the Florida Bar. 

Holland & Knight, which is representing the attorneys, sent Action News Jax a statement:

"Our clients respectfully disagree with the Order and fully intend to continue to defend themselves as they have successfully advanced the legal rights of thousands of tobacco related victims.  They have dedicated their professional careers to the representation of those in need and will continue to do so.  Without lawyers willing to take on difficult cases against formidable opponents, more preventable injuries and deaths will occur.  They will remain zealous advocates for their clients while respecting the role of the judiciary."

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