What questions should you ask lawyers before you hire them to represent you in your GMO corn lawsuit against Syngenta?

  • What experience do you have in this specific kind of agricultural tort involving genetically-modified crops?
  • How many lawsuits have you personally filed against Syngenta?
  • Will you be the lawyer handling my case from start-to-finish, or will I be referred to another lawyer?
  • Will you provide me with a list of your trial verdicts?
  • What percentage of my recovery will I have to pay for legal fees and expenses?

The billions of dollars lost by American corn farmers because of Syngenta’s choices in marketing its GMO corn strains known as Viptera Agrisure and Duracade Agrisure while they lacked the approval of major export partners has resulted in many lawyers offering to represent those farmers in litigation against Syngenta. Television ads, radio ads, postcards and letters have deluged farmers in recent months. What questions should a corn farmer ask a lawyer before deciding which lawyer is best to represent them in their case against Syngenta?

First, a farmer should ask a potential lawyer, “What experience do you have in this specific kind of agricultural tort involving genetically-modified crops?” The most successful agricultural case in this country’s history concerning genetically-modified crops 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. A lawsuit against a seed company for the negligent introduction of GMOs is a very particular kind of case, one with many challenges and pitfalls that must be overcome. Thus, asking a lawyer for evidence of their involvement in the GMO Rice lawsuit is particularly important. In this vein, a doctor who has spent a career placing casts after setting broken bones may be a fine doctor, but probably is not the best choice for open-heart surgery. Asking a lawyer seeking to represent you in the GMO corn litigation what his or her involvement in the GMO Rice litigation is a primary question that should be asked.

Second, a farmer should ask a potential lawyer, “How many lawsuits have you personally filed against Syngenta?” The reason for this question is to inquire about that lawyer’s capacity to fund significant litigation against a large, multi-national corporation. Filing fees of $400 per farmer are required to file a lawsuit. Our firm filed over 2,000 lawsuits at $400 apiece before we began filing lawsuits with 80-90 farmers in each to simplify the filing process. As of April 15, 2015, we had filed lawsuits on behalf of more than 6,500 farmers and grain elevators. A financial commitment of over $1 million was necessary just to get these clients’ lawsuits on file. If a lawyer has not filed many claims against Syngenta, it may be because that lawyer lacks the financial commitment necessary to pursue these claims properly.

Third, a farmer should ask a lawyer, “Will you be the lawyer handling my case from start-to-finish, or will I be referred to another lawyer?” While joint venture relationships, or referral relationships, between different lawyers are customary and acceptable, it is important to know and understand which lawyer will actually be litigating your case on your behalf. Our firm is handling Syngenta lawsuits ourselves. While we accept referrals from numerous law firms, it is important for those law firms’ clients to know that we will be handling their case.

Fourth, a farmer should ask a lawyer, “Will you provide me with a list of your trial verdicts?” There are more than a million lawyers in the United States; 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 a lawyer offers to represent you against Syngenta, it is a fair inquiry to ask whether that lawyer has 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 ascertain whether the lawyer is one likely to be feared by Syngenta.
Fifth, at the very beginning, the client should ask, “What percentage of my recovery will I have to pay for legal fees and expenses?” The standard contingency fee is 40% of the recovery, but some lawyers require the farmer to repay the litigation expenses out of the client’s share of the recovery. What seems like a 60-40 deal, becomes something much worse than that for the client, as the client’s share is eaten away by the repayment of significant litigation expenses. In our contracts, we make it clear that the client is guaranteed sixty percent (60%) of the total recovery, with expenses being repaid from our 40% of the total recovery.

With the deluge of promotional materials being sent to corn farmers, meeting one’s potential lawyer is important. In this vein, our firm has conducted hundreds of town hall meetings across the corn belt. In addition to providing information about the case and the litigation process, farmers can ask questions face-to-face, and make their own independent judgment as to which lawyer is best for them, their family and their farm.

Written by*:
Mikal C. Watts
WATTS GUERRA, LLP
Four Dominion Drive, Bldg. Three, Suite 100
San Antonio, Texas 78257

* 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.

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