Notable Cases

$3 Million – Space Shuttle Program Injuries and Deaths

In September of 1984, Nance Cacciatore secured a $3 million settlement of 5 lawsuits for 2 deaths and 3 injury claims against NASA, Pan Am, and Wackenhut Services, Inc. The accident resulted from negligence by NASA in failing to warn of an extended nitrogen purge of the compartment in which the workers/clients were working as part of the Space Shuttle program.

Economic Damages without Permanent Injury

In 1991 Jack Hamilton obtained an $85,000 verdict for the plaintiff who had been injured in an auto accident. The jury found no permanent injury – and therefore no money for pain and suffering – but awarded $85,000 for economic damages (medical bills and lost wages). The defendant insurance company Allstate appealed and attorney Jack Hamilton argued the case before the 5th District Court of Appeals. The appellate court affirmed the verdict and the judgment, making Florida law history. This was the first case the held that a plaintiff can still collect economic damages without there being a permanent injury. This holding has since been adopted by the Florida Supreme Court and is now the law of the land.

The Tobacco Case

The Florida case – which was the second in the nation to be filed – was settled on August 24, 1997, for $11.3 Billion. The tobacco case turned out to be the largest civil case in the history of American jurisprudence and the Florida case was the largest in the history of Florida. At the start, however, it was not obvious that the case had merit or anywhere near that kind of potential. Big Tobacco had had an incredible record of successfully defending cases and defended them with a “scorched earth” policy. They had unlimited resources and hired the biggest and best national law firms to represent them. When the case came to us, it was generally viewed as a “long shot” at best.

Nance Cacciatore was one of only nine law firms chosen by the Governor Chiles to represent the state. The financial commitment of each firm was significant, around $500,000 in up front costs alone (with no guarantee of prevailing). The litigation lasted for over four years and during that time more expenditures were needed by the firms to finance the case. All of the partners in the firm, Jim Nance, Sammy Cacciatore, Ron Duryea and Jack Hamilton worked on the case, shared in the costs, attended depositions and meetings, and ultimately participated in the recovery. Jim Nance was the partner who did the majority of the work and who was chosen by the group of firms to be chief liaison among the attorneys.

The tobacco case was unique in that – unlike traditional tobacco cases where a smoker was suing the tobacco company for damages – we represented the state of Florida against the tobacco industry for the cost of medical treatment for injured smokers. The plaintiff was not an individual smoker (who should have known better) but an innocent party, the state of Florida. We were not seeking “intangible” damages like pain and suffering but rather “actual” medical expense incurred by the state to treat Medicaid recipients for disease caused by their years of smoking tobacco. This made the case different and potentially winnable (Big Tobacco had, up to that point, been very successful in defending individual cases brought by smokers). The Florida case settled in August of 1997 for $11.3 Billion.

The Juliana Mason Case

In 1971 Nance Cacciatore obtained the first $1 Million verdict on behalf of an African American in the United States. The plaintiff Juliana Mason was a concrete worker who was seriously injured when the roof of the Sears building in Melbourne collapsed, causing him to fall some 20 feet. When he awoke, the doctors told him that the news was grim – he was permanently paralyzed from the waist down. The defendants in the case were the building contractors involved in construction of the scaffolding and the roof. There was no settlement offer made before trial. During jury selection, attorneys Jim Nance and Sammy Cacciatore had to deal with many jurors who had deep-seeded prejudice about the prospect of awarding money damages to a black man. The trial lasted over 4 weeks and reporters worked in shifts to cover the story. The jury deliberated for some 33 hours. When the landmark verdict was announced there was an eruption in the courtroom. The headline in the Florida Today newspaper said, “From itinerant cotton picker to millionaire.”

Mason, who was 31 at the time, had grown up in a poverty stricken area around Tuskegee, Alabama. He was the son of itinerant laborers and picked cotton as a boy. He dropped out of school in the 5th grade and moved to Florida to pick oranges. When he landed a construction job making $1.95 an hour, he said, “I was on top of the world. That was more money than I’d ever made before.” Mason promised to give his son opportunities in life that he’d never had growing up.