The High Price of Frivolous Filings

If the facts recited by a federal court in its 148-page order are correct, two Florida plaintiffs’ law firms have given new meaning to the term frivolous filing. As a consequence of the filings, the court imposed sanctions of $9.1 M, in addition to a public reprimand and an ethics referral to the Florida bar.

How frivolous were the filings? The firms’ approximately 3,700 cases against tobacco companies included 588 personal injury complaints for dead plaintiffs, 15 unauthorized complaints, 18 plaintiffs revealed to be nonsmokers, 36 plaintiffs who never lived in Florida, 28 cases that had been previously tried, 90 cases barred by the statute of limitations, and 572 plaintiffs who failed to respond to the court’s questionnaires to confirm the legitimacy of the cases filed on their behalf.

The absurdity of the situation was amply demonstrated when, in the middle of one of the trials, sitting juror Shirley Larramore discovered to her surprise that she was listed as plaintiff in another of the cases. Not only had she not authorized the case; the lawyer’s own notes revealed that she had told him not to pursue it.

The court is confident that it can collect the $9.1 M because it still holds $45 M in escrow from the $100 M settlement in 2015. The two firms that were fined are entitled to an as-yet-undetermined part of the $45 M.

The case is In Re Engle Cases, No. 3:09-cv-10000 (M.D. Fla.).

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