This year, lawsuits didn’t take a summer break in Florida. Nope, just as surely as tourists flock to the beaches, lawsuits continued to flock to Florida courts. Here are just a few from the summer that caught our attention. These stood out as part of an increasing trend of so-called “deceptive trade” and “consumer protection” lawsuits being filed against products and companies over labeling and advertising. These types of suits have sprung up around the country as a lucrative gravy train for personal injury lawyers but increasingly seem to be finding a home in Florida courts. Perhaps because our courts seem happy to reward these efforts with lucrative verdicts?
The claim: In June, a federal court in Florida pushed through a lawsuit that accused Anheuser-Busch of misleading consumers into thinking that Beck’s beer was imported from Germany when it is produced in the U.S. The settlement is worthy of one who’s had a few too many. Under the settlement, any individual who purchased one of the beers in question is eligible for a refund ranging from $0.10 per individual bottle to $1.75 for a 20-pack. While each household’s potential refund was capped at $50, the settlement allows the four trial lawyer firms representing the plaintiffs to hop away with $3.5 million in attorneys’ fees.
The claim: In July, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a $50 million settlement against Duracell’s parent companies, alleging that the battery company misled customers about the battery life of certain products. The settlement will pay eligible plaintiffs $3 per battery. The personal injury lawyers will get $5.7 million. What a supercharged deal for the trial lawyers for such a paltry payout to the plaintiffs.
- Tom’s of Maine
The claim: The class action lawsuit, originally filed in 2009 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, accused Tom’s of Maine’s toothpaste products of not being sufficiently “natural.” The victory for the “injured” consumers who were so misled: $4.00 on up to seven of Tom’s products, while the trial lawyers who drummed up the lawsuits get to sink their teeth into $1.5 million in fees. Talk about leaving a bad taste in the mouth.
The claim: A class action lawsuit was filed in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals against Bayer claiming a vitamin did not contain enough of a certain ingredient to be considered a metabolism booster. Despite concerns about how to determine whether a consumer actually belonged to the class — a rather critical “ingredient” for establishing a class action — the lawsuit was eventually given class certification. To settle the lawsuit, Bayer will pay customers with valid claims and receipts up to $250 and will pay customers with no receipts up to $15. $125,000 will be paid to personal injury lawyers.
Who’s really winning in these “consumer protection” lawsuits: consumers, or personal injury lawyers?
This is just a small snapshot of what’s coming out of Florida courts but it reinforces concerns over a litigation climate that provides a welcoming home for questionable lawsuits and that rewards personal injury lawyers for bringing them. It also underscores why Florida is ranked as one of 10 worst legal environments in the nation and is in little danger of losing its designation as a “Judicial Hellhole” any time soon.