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R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the nation’s No. 2 cigarette maker, has vowed to fight a jury verdict of $23.6 billion in punitive damages in a lawsuit filed by the widow of a longtime smoker who died of lung cancer.

The company’s executive called the damages awarded by a Pensacola jury “grossly excessive and impermissible under state and constitutional law.”

This case is just one of thousands filed in Florida after the state Supreme Court in 2006 threw out a $145 billion class action verdict. That ruling also noted that smokers and their families need only prove addiction and that smoking caused their illnesses or deaths.

Last year, Florida’s highest court re-approved that decision, making it easier for sick smokers or their survivors to pursue lawsuits against tobacco companies without having to prove to the court that Big Tobacco knowingly sold hazardous products and hid the dangers of cigarette smoking.

The damages awarded to the widow after a four-week trial came in addition to $16.8 million in compensatory damages awarded Thursday.

The widow sued Reynolds in 2008 on behalf of her late husband, who died in 1996.

The verdict came the same week that Reynolds American Inc., which owns R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, announced it was purchasing Lorillard Tobacco Co. Lorillard is the country’s No. 3 cigarette maker, and Reynolds purchased them in a $25 billion deal.

The deal is expected to close in the first half of 2015.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court denied cigarette manufacturers’ appeals of more than $70 million in court judgments to Florida smokers. Reynolds, Philip Morris USA Inc. and Lorillard Tobacco Co. was seeking to have cases reviewed in which smokers won large damage awards without having to prove that the companies sold a defective and dangerous product or hid the risks of smoking.

Last year the Supreme Court refused to hear another of the companies’ appeals after they requested the court to consider overturning a $2.5 million Tampa jury verdict in the death of a smoker.

In addition to this lawsuit, other Florida juries have hit tobacco companies with tens of millions of dollars in punitive damages in lawsuits arising from the original class action lawsuit.

A Fort Lauderdale jury awarded $37.5 million, including $22.5 million in punitive damages against Reynolds in August to the family of a smoker who died at age 38 of lung cancer in 1995.

Then in September, the 3rd District Court of Appeals awarded $25 million in punitive damages and $10 million in compensatory damages against Lorillard to a woman whose husband died in 1996 of lung cancer.

8493964179_438d49b6d7_mReynolds has already publicly announced its plan to fight the $23.6 billion award in punitive damages, calling it “grossly excessive and impermissible under state and constitutional law.” The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in the past that when punitive damages are “grossly excessive,” they violate the constitutional guarantee of due process.

However, it is important to note that there is no number that makes punitive damages “excessive.” But, in 2008, the Supreme Court did caution against any award with more than a single digit ratio between punitive and compensatory damages. In this case, the ratio of punitive to compensatory damages is 1,396 to 1. It will be interesting to see how the appeals process plays out and if this award will be found “excessive.”

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A law firm with offices in Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta and St. Louis has allegedly used automation and support staff to sue hundreds of thousands of consumers to collect debts for credit card companies and debt buyers, according to a lawsuit filed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

According to the lawsuit filed against Frederick J. Hanna & Associates and its three principal partners, in many cases the consumers don’t owe any money, or they owe money in lower amounts than claimed.

The CFPB claims that “To produce so many lawsuits, the firm operates less like a law firm than a factory. It relies on an automated system and nonattorney support staff to determine which consumers to sue. The nonattorney support staff produce the lawsuits and place them into mail buckets, which are then delivered to attorneys essentially waiting at the end of an assembly line. The firm’s attorneys are expected to spend less than a minute reviewing and approving each suit.”

8007390609_7dd5c108b9_mThe CFPB alleges that the debt-collection suits are signed with the names of lawyers at Frederick J. Hanna & Associates, though they are not actually involved in the process. The collection efforts are apparently based on faulty or inadequate documentation.

According to a CFPB press release, the suit seeks an injunction barring violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Consumer Financial Protection Act, a civil fine, and restitution for victims.

While Frederick J. Hanna & Associates has offices in Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale and St. Louis, most of their lawyers listed are based out of Georgia. The suit alleges that the firm employs hundreds of nonlawyer staffers but only eight to 16 lawyers.

The firm collects debts on behalf of credit card issuers and debt buyers, according to reports. The lawsuit alleges that in Georgia alone the firm has filed more than 350,000 debt-collection suits from 2009 through 2013. One lawyer at the firm apparently signed an average of about 1,300 collection suits a week.

Most of these debt-collection suits resulted in a default judgment or settlement. The firm usually backed down once consumers responded. In fact, since 2009, lawyers voluntarily dismissed more than 40,000 of the Georgia collection suits, which equals to more than 155 cases a week, according to the CFPB suit.

The law firm’s managing partner said that the firm has cooperated with the CFPB and is disappointed by the lawsuit.

Collection agencies have recognized the potential profit that can be made from consumer debts that have gone unpaid. If you have been contacted by a collection agency or a law firm about an old debt, or a debt that you are not legally obligated to pay, a Florida Injury Lawyer at Whittel & Melton can help. Unlike other law firms, each and every single one of our cases is personally handled by our team of attorneys with the assistance of paralegals and investigators. We take pride in helping all of our clients receive a successful outcome, which is why we do not cut any corners when it comes to our legal work.

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Tracy Morgan has filed a lawsuit against Walmart following the catastrophic trucking accident that left him severely injured and killed another passenger. The New Jersey accident happened in June and ended up making national headlines after a truck driver smashed a tractor trailer into the rear end of the comedian’s limousine.

The lawsuit was filed on July 10th in the U.S. District Court in New Jersey. Morgan, along with three other survivors filed the suit naming Walmart as the defendant. The complaint alleges that Walmart was negligent and responsible for the driver that crashed into the limousine.

Tracy MorganAccording to a report released last month, the truck driver was traveling at 20 miles per hour above the speed limit on the New Jersey Turnpike when his tractor-trailer struck the rear of the Mercedes limousine van. Morgan suffered multiple fractures that required several surgeries. Morgan has since been released from the rehabilitation center and is continuing his recovery at home. The comedian will also have to endure aggressive outpatient treatment. The lawsuit names additional plaintiffs, including Morgan’s wife, who was eight months pregnant when the accident happened. The crash also killed 63-year-old comedian James McNair, who was better known by his stage name Jimmy Mack.

When a trucking accident occurs, it is very important for an independent investigation to be conducted in order to determine the exact cause of the accident and identify all responsible parties. A Florida Auto Accident Attorney at Whittel & Melton can uncover the facts of your car accident and pinpoint who is responsible.When a vehicle that is involved in an accident is owned by a company, such as Walmart, it is very important to consult with an attorney who can aggressively protect your rights. In cases like these, the driver can be considered an agent of the company, which means both can be held liable for accidents and injuries.

The lawsuit alleges that Walmart knew about or should have known that the 35-year-old Georgia driver had been awake for more than 24 consecutive hours at the time of the crash. In fact, federal trucking regulations restrict the number of hours a driver can work behind the wheel without sleep. Any federal trucking violation can be used as evidence for negligence in a personal injury or wrongful death claim. The initial investigation into Morgan’s crash revealed that the driver had not slept for nearly 24 hours before the crash occurred. The truck driver was actually arrested following the accident.

The state of New Jersey has found the truck driver criminally liable for the accident, charging him with one count of death by auto and four counts of assault by auto. The driver has entered a not guilty plea. If the driver is found guilty in the criminal case, the results can be used as evidence of negligence in the civil lawsuit.

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A tourist from the United Kingdom was hospitalized Thursday morning following an accident on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

The tips of the man’s ring finger and his pinky finger on his right hand were severed, according to the Reedy Creek Fire Department.

The man was apparently holding on to the outside of the boat during the ride. It’s unclear what hit the man’s hand and caused the injury.

According to a Disney spokeswoman, the ride was briefly closed and has since been reopened.

3982929852_91b14c2e38_zA verbal safety message sounds each time the Pirates of the Caribbean ride is launched that warns guests to keep hands and feet inside the ride at all times. It’s not yet clear if the message is pre recorded or if a Disney employee is responsible for warning riders.

There are also signs posted in the area where guests wait to board the ride that say, “For your safety remain seated with hand, arms, feet and legs inside vehicle. Supervise children.”

Disney, along with other area theme parks voluntarily report “significant injuries” suffered on their attractions per an agreement with the state that exempts them from public ride-safety regulation.

In order to be classified as a significant injury, a guest must have been hurt on a ride and the injury must require an immediate hospital stay of more than 24 hours for more than just observation.

In its most recent report, Disney reported five guest injuries in the last quarter of 2013.

The Magic Kingdom logged three of these injuries: a 75-year-old woman who fell and broke her wrist while exiting the Mad Tea Party, a 48-year-old man who became ill after riding Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and a 35-year-old man with a pre-existing condition who experienced heart pain before and after riding The Haunted Mansion.

Additionally, a 29-year-old woman fell ill and suffered disorientation and slurred speech after riding Expedition Everest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and a 68-year-old man broke his toe on the outer wall of Castaway Creek in the Typhoon Lagoon water park.

The last time someone was hospitalized after riding the Pirates of the Caribbean ride was in 2012. Reports indicate that a 71-year-old woman experienced dizziness, chest pain and mouth numbness.

Operators of amusement park rides have a duty to riders and guests to warn them about staying safe on rides. At this time it is unclear whether the injured tourist heard or disregarded the audio or failed to read warning signs on the Disney ride. However, if he plans to file a claim against the park, because of these warnings, he could actually be found negligent.

Based on Florida’s laws on comparative fault, if someone sues for damages and is found negligent, each party involved can be held liable for the portion of damage related to their fault. Meaning, if a lawsuit is filed and Disney was found to be only 10 percent at fault for the man’s injuries, then Disney would only be legally required to cover 10 percent of the damages.

Disneyland, Disney World’s California cousin, has actually been sued more than 100 times for injuries from 2007 to 2012. Most of these cases were settled out of court. It is not clear at this point whether this man will attempt to seek damages for his severed fingertip, however, Disney will likely add this incident to their “significant injuries” report for the year.

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A St. Petersburg Fire Rescue crew saved a man after he fell into a deep hole at a construction site Wednesday morning.

The 57-year-old man was working with a construction crew on top of a concrete lift station at 92nd Avenue N and 3rd Street. Authorities believe he may have backed into the 2-foot-by-2-foot opening before falling some 25 feet.

The accident occurred around 9:40 a.m. The man was trapped for around an hour.

8530434571_8eebb37dd3_mRescue officials used heavy equipment and a basket to retrieve the man. He suffered fractures to his arms and legs and was taken to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.

Officials were very concerned about the possibility of rain since there was already sewer water in the hole, but fortunately that was not an issue.

Construction work is considered to be one of the most dangerous professions in the United States. Construction sites contain many hazards such as heavy machinery, demolition, elevated heights, crowded work sites and other dangers that can leave a worker or passerby seriously injured. Construction accidents almost always result in injuries, and even when all safety guidelines and precautions are followed accidents can occur from poor planning, improper training, lack of communication and even failure to warn employees of pending dangers on site during a project. Slip, trip and fall accidents are quite common because of uneven ground, holes and other various trip hazards. Unfortunately, hard hats do little to protect workers from suffering a head, brain or spinal cord injury. If you have been injured while working on a construction project in Florida, a Florida Injury Attorney at Whittel & Melton can help.

Construction work is not only demanding, but it is very dangerous. Any type of construction accident has the ability to result in catastrophic personal injuries and even death. After suffering an injury, your medical bills can continue to pile up, and your inability to work can place a severe financial strain on your and your family. A Florida Injury Lawyer at Whittel & Melton can help hold construction companies responsible for their negligence. We will work tirelessly to make sure that you get the justice you deserve and that your family has everything they need so that you can focus on your health and recovering.

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The National Safety Council delegates the months of June and July to focus on fireworks safety, since fireworks injuries are most common between June 1 and July 4 each year.

Eye injuries are a noteworthy concern when it comes to projectile fireworks like bottle rockets and Roman candles. According to Prevent Blindness America, eye injuries are common with fireworks, as are burns and other very serious injuries. Most of those who suffer fireworks-related eye injuries are children under the age of 15 since they do not fully understand the dangers of these hot explosives, but it is important to point out that anyone can be harmed by fireworks.

fireworksLast year there were eight deaths and about 11,400 injuries nationally from fireworks, according to a recent report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. To help protect yourself and those you love from fireworks injuries this summer, please familiarize yourself with the following safety tips:

  • Check the fireworks laws and ordinances where you live. In the state of Florida, consumer fireworks are illegal. However, state lawmakers passed an exception to this rule allowing fireworks to be purchased by farms and fish hatcheries. In order for vendors to sell fireworks to customers, all they have to do is have purchasers sign forms saying they’re buying under an agricultural or other exemption.
  • Never let children play with fireworks. While most people tend to think hand-held fireworks like sparklers are safe enough, know that these can reach temperatures over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which can cause serious burn injuries. Do not let your child play with, hold or light off fireworks of any kind.
  • If you are going to light off fireworks, make sure to set up a fire-resistant area. Everyone else should be kept several yards away from this area. Also, have a fire extinguisher or hose handy in case fireworks get out of control.
  • Leave the fireworks to the professionals. Rather than lighting off your own fireworks at home, head to professional fireworks shows. While you could still possibly be injured at one of these shows, the risk is much lower than if you choose to light your own fireworks off at your house.

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There are way too many drivers in Florida and across the United States that are taking their eyes off the road while behind the wheel and placing lives at risk. That is why officials with the National Safety Council have dedicated week four of National Safety Month to putting an end to distracted driving.

Our Florida Auto Accident Attorneys at Whittel & Melton know that thousands are killed each and every year as a result of drivers using cell phones while driving and engaging in other distractions. According to, 3,328 people were killed in distraction-affected crashes in 2012. In that same year, another 421,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver.

distracted drivingWhile it may seem shocking, officials estimate that around 20 percent of all injury accidents involve a distracted driver. And these are just the accidents that are reported. Officials believe that the real number is much higher due to the fact that most drivers do not openly admit that they were irresponsible and that their distracted driving caused an accident.

To help put an end to this deadly driving behavior, officials with the NSC are asking drivers to:

  • Place cell phones and hand held devices out of sight while operating a motor vehicle. Place your phone in the back seat, in a purse or briefcase or in the glove compartment. When your phone is out of sight, it’s also out of mind.
  • Familiarize yourself with the dangers of distracted driving. The more you are aware of and understand, the less likely you are to engage in these risky behaviors.
  • Spread the word! Talk with your friends, family members and neighbors in your community about how dangerous distracted driving is. Changing driver behaviors is a group effort.
  • If you are on the phone with someone while they are driving, tell them that you will speak with them once they have stopped at a safe location.
  • Pledge to drive cell phone free. Encourage your friends and family members to do the same. Taking just this small step is all part of creating a larger change.

The truth is that drivers who use cell phones and hand held devices are about four times more likely to get into a serious crash resulting in injuries than drivers who put their cell phones away. Likewise, texting drivers are about 23 times more likely to get into an accident.

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As National Safety month continues throughout the month of June, week 3 focuses on being aware of your surroundings.

According to the National Safety Council’s “Injury Facts” for 2014, contact with objects and equipment was responsible for 15.1 percent of workplace deaths in 2011. This was also the second leading cause of missed days from work in that same year. These injuries can happen due to falling objects or mistakably being hit by a moving vehicle, like a forklift or car.

To help avoid injuries from contact with objects or equipment, the Florida Personal Injury Lawyers at Whittel & Melton recommend the following for situational attentiveness and workplace safety:

  • Neatly store any and all materials.
  • Store all items at heights that are secure.
  • Heavy objects should be stored close to the floor.
  • To prevent a tip over, only open one filing cabinet drawer at a time.
  • Wear proper attire for your workplace setting, such as steel-toed footwear.
  • Do not overload moving equipment.
  • Do not operate any machinery or equipment that you are not trained to use.
  • Always exercise added caution when coming around corners or when you are near doorways.
  • Make sure all safety devices on equipment are in good working order before using them.
  • Exercise added caution when walking around corners and near doorways.

workplaceThe NSC’s mission during the month of June is to prevent unintentional injury and death by drawing attention to safe practices. As part of this effort, our personal injury attorneys in Florida urge everyone to be attentive and conscious of their surroundings.

If you or a loved one has suffered an injury or death due to another person’s carelessness or negligence, contact a Florida Personal Injury Attorney at Whittel & Melton for help. Our personal injury law office handles all types of accident, injury and wrongful death cases.

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Slip, trip, and fall accidents are a primary cause of injury in the United States for people of all ages and genders. June is National Safety Month, which is why it is important to address these risks, and for all of us in Florida to strive to help prevent future accident injuries.

The Second Week of National Safety Week Is Dedicated to Fall Prevention

Caution_wet_floorThe National Safety Council has dedicated the second week of June to raising awareness about slip and fall and trip and fall injuries. There are many ways we can prevent serious injuries and fatalities throughout our Florida communities, including the following:

  • Report any Risks or Hazards Immediately. If you see anything that could lead to an unnecessary accident, such as uneven pavement in front of a home, poor lighting at an apartment complex, liquid on the floor of a grocery store or an obstructed walkway at a restaurant, make sure you report the property danger to the property manager or owner. Once the owner or manager of the premise is notified of the threat, they must fix the problem. If they do not remedy the situation and an accident occurs, then they can be held liable for all damages.
  • Continue to Help Raise Awareness of Fall Injury Risks. You can show your support by downloading free posters, printing free home checklists and even posting social media sites using the hashtag #NSM14.

Slips, trips and falls often occur when dangerous conditions are present, such as cracked sidewalks, uneven steps, slippery surfaces or objects on the floor. While these accidents usually result in minor injuries like bumps and bruises, they can lead to more severe injuries such as traumatic brain and head injuries, broken or fractured bones and neck, spine, and back injuries.

Most slip and fall or trip and fall accidents are preventable, however, accidents can still happen at a moment’s notice. If you or a loved one has suffered harm in a slip and fall or trip and fall accident, please call a Florida Injury Lawyer at Whittel & Melton today at 866-608-5529 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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St. Petersburg police believe gun shots fired at the Onyx Premium Nightclub may have left one man injured last night, but they can’t be sure.

The apparent victim arrived at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg shortly after police were called to the club about 3:15 a.m. According to reports, the 31-year-old refused to tell police how he ended up with a gunshot wound in his right leg.

nightclubA police spokesman claims the victims was “very uncooperative” and told officers to leave him alone.

No one else at the club or nearby it was able to provide police with details.

The same club, under its former name, The Scene, was the site of a February 2012 shooting where at least one man was injured. Following that incident, at least three negligence claims were filed against the club’s former owners in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court.

When people go out to bars and nightclubs in Tampa and St. Petersburg, they expect to enjoy their evening and have a good time. Unfortunately, there are too many times when a night out on the town ends in a violent attack, unnecessary injuries, beatings, shootings and even death. In certain situations, people may have been subjected to unreasonably dangerous conditions that harmed them. If you have been the victim of an act of violence that caused a terrible injury at a nightclub or bar, a Tampa Negligent Security Injury Lawyer at Whittel & Melton can help.

Under the law of premises liability, owners and supervisors of nightclubs and bars can be held liable for any violent crimes that occur on their property, including shootings, accidents, assaults, injuries and wrongful death. Bar security staff, bouncers, restaurant and bar managers and other employees may also be held accountable for violent acts when extreme force is used.

If you or someone you love was the victim of an attack, beating, shooting, accident, injury or even death at a nightclub or bar, you may be infuriated and unsure of how to obtain justice. Opportunely, the law allows those who have been the victims of nightclub or bar negligence to seek compensation for damages including past, present and future medical care needs, lost past and future wages, emotional pain and suffering, hospital and ambulance bills and other expenses through what is known as a personal injury lawsuit.

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