In response to the billions of dollars lost by American corn farmers caused by Syngenta’s decision to market a GMO corn seed before it was approved by our major export partners, many lawyers are offering to represent farmers in litigation against Syngenta. Postcards, letters, TV and radio ads have flooded the Corn Belt in recent months, and farmers should know key pieces of information before signing up with an attorney. What questions should you ask? Here are the top five questions a corn farmer should ask their potential Syngenta GMO Corn lawyer:
What experience do you have in agricultural lawsuits involving genetically modified crops?
A lawsuit against a seed company for negligently introducing GMOs is a very specific type of case—one with many unique challenges and pitfalls that must be overcome. The most successful GMO case in this country’s history involved rice farmers’ claims against Bayer Crop Sciences for its negligent introduction of a GMO rice strain that was not approved. Rice farmers won all six of the cases tried before Bayer entered into a nationwide settlement paying the rice farmers $750,000,000. I spent almost two months personally negotiating the first of two settlement documents with Bayer, and worked with others on the second such document, both of which required the payment by Bayer of this $750,000,000
How many lawsuits have you personally filed against Syngenta?
This question will examine the lawyer’s ability to fund major litigation against a large, multi-national corporation. A $400 filing fee per farmer is required to start a lawsuit. If a lawyer has not filed many lawsuits against Syngenta, it may be because that lawyer lacks the financial support to pursue these cases properly. Our firm filed over 2,000 lawsuits at $400 apiece before we began filing cases with 80-90 farmers in each to simplify the filing process. As of April 15, 2015, we had filed cases for more than 6,500 farmers and grain elevators. A financial commitment of over $1 million was necessary just to get this first group of clients’ cases on file.
Will you be the lawyer handling my case from start-to-finish?
It is important to know which lawyer will actually be litigating your case on your behalf. Joint venture relationships or referral relationships between lawyers are a common and acceptable practice. However, to make a truly informed decision you will need to know who is going to steer your case. Our firm is handling Syngenta lawsuits ourselves. While we accept referrals from numerous law firms, it is important for clients of referring law firms’ to know that we will be handling their case.
Will you provide me with a list of your trial verdicts?
There are more than a million lawyers in the United States; but very few of them try cases frequently. Lawyers who are known to win jury trials are the lawyers who drive large settlements from corporate defendants. When an attorney offers to represent you against Syngenta, it is a fair question to ask whether they have a history of trying cases or a history of pushing paper. By asking for a list of a lawyer’s trial verdicts, a farmer can decide whether the lawyer is one likely to be feared by Syngenta.
What percentage of my recovery will cover legal fees and expenses?
The standard attorney contingency fee is 40% of a potential settlement or jury award. But some lawyers additionally require farmers to repay case expenses out of the client’s share of the recovery. As the client’s share is eaten away by the repayment of significant litigation expenses, what seems like a 60/40 deal becomes something different for the client. In our GMO corn contracts, we make it clear that the client is guaranteed 60% of the total recovery, with case expenses being repaid from our 40% of the total recovery.
Our firm has conducted hundreds of town hall meetings across the Corn Belt. We understand the importance of meeting your potential lawyer and asking the hard questions. In these town hall meetings we provide information about the case and the litigation process, but most importantly farmers can ask questions face-to-face, and make their own independent judgment about which law firm is best for them, their family and their farm.
* This information is provided to supply relevant information concerning the GMO corn lawsuit, and should not be received as legal advice. Legal advice is only given to persons or entities with whom Watts Guerra LLP has established an attorney-client relationship. If you have another lawyer in the GMO Corn lawsuit, you should consult with your own attorney, and rely upon his or her advice, rather than the information contained herein.