In a case I've held back my reporting on, my good friend and co-founder of The Legal Broadcast Network, is all over the headlines today as a result of a major verdict in Portland, ME yesterday. The case was a legal malpractice claim on the part of a group of small water bottlers who had sued Poland Springs Water, a wholly owned unit of Nestle.
The facts of the case, as laid out in the articles, were that a group of attorney's created a class action suit against Poland Springs Water company based on the claim that they didn't actually use spring water, but in fact used well water and were thus mislabeling their product. As the claim of spring water was an integral part of their marketing, it damaged other smaller bottlers in the state who competed with Poland Springs.
A tentative settlement was reached by the lawyers representing the bottlers and just prior to agreement two of the attorney's in the matter abandoned the bottlers, according to their claims, and went and filed class action suits in five other states, causing the agreement between the bottlers and Nestle, valued at $39 million, to collapse. The bottlers sued the attorneys who left them for the more lucrative class actions in other state, Hagens Berman Sobol, Shapiro LLP, and the trial pitted Jan Schlichtmann as a witness for the bottlers against his former partners and colleagues.
The verdict of $10.8 million is likely the largest in Maine history for a legal malpractice case, and raised a host of ethical and legal issues regarding the duties and obligations of attorneys working on class action cases. The judge will resume the punitive damages aspect of the trial on March 30th, and at that time the full impact of the verdict will be known.
I expect once Jan is available we will have him on both Civil Action Radio and here on the Settlement channel to discuss the case, the legal implications, and it's impact on class action cases going forward.