Lawyers in Hollywood

dramatic movie lawyer

Why Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore Attorneys are Like Paul Newman & Tom Cruise

The ABA Journal recently published an issue covering “100 Years of Law at the Movies,” exploring Why Hollywood Loves Lawyers. It concluded that “[t]he literature of law values tMovie Lawyershe object lesson over the cheap thrill. Audiences crave universal truths, and by the time the closing credits roll, movies about the law have left behind wisdom to live by.” We agree with that sentiment. Whether it’s Henry Fonda corralling his fellow jurors in 12 Angry Men, or Tom Cruise cornering “you want me on that wall” Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, lawyer movies can and usually do pack a mighty moral wallop. It’s no surprise that Atticus Finch found himself at the top of an American Film Institute list of famous heroes of the last 100 years. As the Institute rightly notes, “Heroism that acquits the falsely accused will hold its own against any nonstop action flick.”

We don’t practice criminal law at Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore, but we feel that our quest for justice is no less rigorous and duty bound than that of Mr. Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird or of Matthew McConaughey in the gripping tale A Time to Kill. We, too, strive daily to see that wrongs are righted. Fortunately, Hollywood agrees that civil practice can be just as compelling – and just as filled with white-hat lawyers making society better and more just, one client at a time.

Below is a short list of some of the great lawyer movies dealing with civil lawyers and our fight to improve the lives of our clients.  We not only love these movies; we are proud of these civil justice-fighters, real and fictional.

Erin Brokovitch: “Not personal? That is my work! My sweat! My time away from my kids! If that’s not personal, I don’t know what is.”

Who doesn’t know of Erin’s true-life story fighting against a massive power company to get justice for hundreds of residents injured by contaminated water? What began as a personal quest for employment culminated in a life-changing verdict for the townspeople poisoned by Pacific Gas & Electric’s dangerous disposal practices. Though she wasn’t a lawyer herself, she and attorney Ed Masry certainly earned their badges as civil law heroes.

A Civil Action: “Now the single greatest liability a lawyer can have is pride. Pride… Pride has lost more cases than lousy evidence, idiot witnesses and a hanging judge all put together. There is absolutely no place in a courtroom for pride.”

Like Erin Brokovitch, A Civil Action is based on a true story of a lawyer who took on a large company responsible for damaging the health of the nearby townsfolk, this time causing terminal leukemia in several children. The story is a wonderful portrayal of a team of attorneys who quite literally risk everything to win justice against all odds.

The Insider: “You are important to a lot of people, Jeffrey. You think about that, and you think about them. I’m all out of heroes, man. Guys like you are in short supply.”

Big Tobacco went to war when a single courageous whistleblower, Dr. Jeffrey Wigand (played by Russell Crowe), agreed to a 60 Minutes interview to expose the dangers of smoking. The Insider tells the tale of the legal battle that followed as Big Tobacco pulled out all the stops to suppress the interview.

Rainmaker: “Every lawyer, at least once in every case, feels himself crossing a line that he doesn’t really mean to cross… it just happens… And if you cross it enough times it disappears forever. And then you’re nothin’ but another lawyer joke. Just another shark in the dirty water.”

A fictional story steeped in legal ethics, Rainmaker tells the tale of a medical malpractice case against an unscrupulous insurance giant. Not every medical malpractice case we take rises to the level of a Hollywood blockbuster – but we never forget that every single case we accept is of enormous importance to the health and life of that individual client.

The Verdict: “I came here to take your money. I brought snapshots to show you so I could get your money. I can’t do it; I can’t take it. ‘Cause if I take the money I’m lost. I’ll just be a… rich ambulance chaser. I can’t do it. I can’t take it.”

Another medical malpractice story starring the fabulous Paul Newman, The Verdict features a once-ostracized lawyer who resists enormous personal and industry pressure to accept a large settlement for his client – because he believes, when no one else does, that his client deserves even more than that. This great movie dramatically illustrates why real-life potential clients should not be unduly “wowed” when lawyers advertise their “big-dollar” settlements – because you never know if that settlement, though large, was really as fair for the client as it was for the lawyer.

At Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore, we work hard every day to emulate the commitment and heroism of the lawyers – real life and fictional – who stand up for the rights of their clients despite the strength of the opposition and against the pressure to settle too early, when doing so is not in our clients’ best interests. If you live near Tampa, Florida, and need a personal injury, medical malpractice, whistleblower, or wrongful termination attorney, contact us today for a free consultation. We may not have Paul Newman’s blue eyes or Tom Cruise’s boyish good looks – but we guarantee that our attorneys will work on your case with the same passion for justice that you see in their movies.


(Movie quotes from IMDb)

good samaritan laws, man helping fallen woman

Good Samaritan lawsGood Samaritans are usually the stuff that fuels stories of heroes. These are the ordinary citizens or the off-duty doctors and nurses who spring to the aid of someone who has been injured. They often save lives with their quick thinking and help end emergencies with better outcomes than might otherwise have occurred. Anyone can try to become a Good Samaritan, whether they have medical training or not, and Florida Statutes section 768.13 – the Good Samaritan Act – seems to offer them a certain amount of protection from civil liability for their actions… at least, when all goes well.

But what if you’ve been injured in a traffic accident or other accident and the would-be Good Samaritan who comes to your rescue actually makes things worse? What if you would have been better off if he’d left you alone? What if she was so incompetent, it seemed like she was actively trying to hurt you? What if he was trying his best, but his negligence caused you serious injury?

Whether you’ve been involved in a Good Samaritan situation as the injured victim or whether you wonder if it’s a good idea to become a Good Samaritan yourself someday, it can be helpful to keep the following points in mind:

Emergency Only

A Good Samaritan is only protected if he provides medical care, treatment, or advice in an actual emergency situation. If there is no emergency, there is no Good Samaritan protection. Keep in mind, however, that even emergencies do not provide blanket protection to someone who does harm under the guise of a Good Samaritan.

Good Faith

Good Samaritans provide their services for free and act in good faith. Someone who is trying to get something for herself by “helping” you won’t qualify, and someone who neglects to show proper care won’t be fully protected.

Consent of the Injured

An injured person can refuse the help of a Good Samaritan. If that injured person is able to make decisions on their own, the Good Samaritan cannot force the person to accept any medical treatment. If the injured person says to stop, the Good Samaritan likely will not be protected.

Ordinary Reasonably Prudent

Good Samaritans offering assistance have to act in the same way that an “ordinary reasonably prudent person would have acted under the same or similar circumstances.” The definition of how “ordinary reasonably prudent” people act in a given circumstance, however, can be hard to define for every situation. Not every action of a Good Samaritan is prudent, and many injuries caused by would-be Good Samaritans are actionable by the victims. Thus, this qualification must be examined on a case-by-case basis, with a full understanding of the law and legal precedents.

If you’ve been involved in an accident and you believe that the actions of a would-be Good Samaritan on the scene made your injuries worse, it is best to consult with a qualified attorney – both about your accident and about the possibly negative actions of your “rescuer.” At the Tampa, Florida law firm of Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore, we have been representing injured plaintiffs since 1967, and we have the experience to help you through all aspects of your case. Contact us today for a free consultation.

contingency fees

Contingency fees are used in many personal injury cases as a substitute for up-front retainer fees or pay-by-the-hour fee arrangements. Under the typical contingency-fee contract, you pay no money up front. Instead, your attorney collects a fee through a percentage of the amount rewarded to you in the case. If you lose the case or do not receive an award by way of Contingency Feessettlement or trial judgment, then your attorney does not get paid a fee.

In 1986, the Florida Supreme Court approved a Statement of Clients’ Rights to help plaintiffs in contingency-fee cases fully understand their rights and their attorneys’ obligations. This statement must be read and signed by clients and attorneys in most contingency fee cases, and it is a source of valuable information for any plaintiff seeking an attorney. Here, in short-hand, are some of the most pertinent provisions:

The Contract

You have the right to bargain with your attorney – and with other attorneys – until you are satisfied with the attorney’s fee. You may also question each attorney about their experience handling cases similar to yours and any special training or knowledge they have. Your lawyer must tell you about any other attorneys that might be involved in your case before signing the contract. You can cancel within three days of signing the contract for any reason and pay only the actual costs your attorney accrued during that time. If you cancel after that period, you may be required to pay a fee for the work your lawyer completed.

Money Matters

You should know in advance how fees will be handled. Discuss whether your lawyer’s percentage comes out of the gross reward or after costs are paid. If you lose the case, you should know whether you will be responsible for any portion of your own attorney’s costs or the fees, costs, and expenses of the other side. If you may be responsible for any costs, you have the right to a regular accounting of how your pre-paid money is spent or how much your attorney is spending on your case. You should receive a closing statement at the end of the case covering all expenses, the amount recovered, and the lawyer’s fee. You must approve this statement before any of your reward is disbursed.

Information and Decisions

Your attorney must respond to your reasonable questions about the progress of the case to the best of his or her ability. He must communicate any and all offers to you and let you make the final decision whether or not to accept the offer(s) and settle the case.

At Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore, we want our clients to feel confident that their case is in the right hands. To that end, we ensure that our clients understand their rights, and we are happy to answer any questions you have. If you have been injured in an accident, contact us today for a free consultation.


hazardous occupations

Hazardous OccupationsWork with the skilled Tampa OSHA attorneys!

Most jobs have some possibility for injury. Office workers might slip and fall on a wet office floor or slam their fingers in heavy doors. Fast food workers can be burned by grease or cut by knives. Gardeners can suffer from heat stroke and nurses can be exposed to deadly diseases. Almost no one in our society is entirely safe at work, which is why most employers are required to carry Worker’s Compensation insurance sufficient to cover the potential injuries of that workplace.

In most worker’s compensation claims, you must prove that your injury was work-related and that you weren’t intoxicated or trying to hurt yourself at the time you were injured. There is, however, a category of jobs considered by Florida lawmakers to be “hazardous occupations.”. Chapter 769 of the Florida Statutes  explains that a slightly different standard applies for employers who engage in one of the hazardous occupations listed.

Called the Fellow Servant Act, Chapter 769 applies to employers engaged in “railroading, operating street railways, generating and selling electricity, telegraph and telephone business, express business, blasting and dynamiting, operating automobiles for public use, boating, when boat is propelled by steam, gas or electricity.” When an employee or agent working in one of these fields is injured or killed, they – or their heirs – can take advantage of Chapter 769 to aid them in seeking compensation.

Ordinary and Reasonable Care and Diligence

When someone is hurt or killed in one of the listed occupations, the law assumes that the employer did not exercise ordinary and reasonable care and diligence. Instead of the employee having to prove that the accident wasn’t his fault, the law requires employers to prove that they – together with their agents and servants – were doing everything required by ordinary and reasonable care and diligence. If the employers can’t prove it, they will be held liable for the damages to the employee.

Shared Fault

If the employer can prove that the injury resulted partially from the negligence of the injured employee, together with any negligence of the employer, then the employee and the employer may be required to share the damages between them.

Can’t Claim “This is what they signed up for”

Employers can’t escape liability for their negligence by claiming that the employee knew it was a dangerous job. Nor can they limit their liability in an employment contract. Any clause seeking to limit employer liability is deemed void.

Dangerous jobs are an important part of our society, and those who work in those industries have necessary additional protections from injury and death. At Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore, we have the experience to help injured workers in all industries receive the compensation they’re entitled to. If you have been injured at work, contact us today for a free consultation.

Florida patent and copyright litigation

Patent and CopyrightThe Tampa patent & copyright litigation attorneys at Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore can help you!

You work hard – sometimes for years or decades – to create something new. Your invention might change the world or just improve one small corner of it. Your creative work might lift spirits, change minds, soften hearts, or simply entertain. No matter what you intend to get out of your work, you deserve to pursue and maximize profits from your work without others unlawfully profiting from it, too..

Unfortunately, there are those in the world who might seek to take that security from you. Whether they steal your ideas outright or simply try to limit your ability to do as you please with your work product, protecting your work requires an understanding of patent and copyright law.


Copyright applies to original writing, music, art, designs, plays, and other creative works of expression. Under federal copyright law, the author or creator has exclusive rights to his or her work from the moment the work is created. Copyright protection is available whether or not the creator marked the work as copyrighted (i.e. “Copyright John Doe” or “© John Doe”) or whether or not that copyright was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Copyrights generally protect a work for 70 years after an author’s death.

Once your work is created, you have the exclusive right to decide whether anyone ever sees it, how much to charge for it, and who else can profit from it. If someone else tries to profit from your work without your permission (often known as plagiarism), copyright can empower you to block their attempt as well as require them to compensate you for any profits they made from your work, plus any damages you suffered as a result of their actions.

If you have been the victim of plagiarism or some other violation of your creative copyright, it can be daunting to get compensation on your own. You will be required to register your copyright before filing a claim for infringement under the federal copyright laws, and you will need to prove not only your copyright, but also the plagiarist’s profits and your damages.


Patents are registered property rights used by inventors that serve to exclude others from using or profiting from their inventions. Like copyrights, patents have expiration dates, but timeframes for patents are rather more severe: patents will protect your invention for 14 to 20 years, depending on the type of patent you need.

Unlike copyrights, patents do not automatically protect your invention as soon as you invent it. In order to gain the advantage of a patent, an inventor must apply for it, disclosing the invention and listing its distinguishing features that will show that it is actually different from the other inventions already in existence.

Though it is technically possible to invent something and market it – or even provide it for free – without a patent, such a scenario is dangerous. If you do not patent your invention yourself, you leave the door open for some other unscrupulous individual to attempt to patent your invention under their own name, which would then give them the rights to exclude you from using, selling, or otherwise distributing your own invention.

If you have invented something unique, it is best to consult with a qualified patent attorney as soon as possible. You only have a year from the date your intention is first sold in commerceto file for a patent, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has complex requirements for patent applications.

The experienced attorneys at Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore can answer your questions about copyright and patent law, and we would be pleased to assist you in applying for either. If your patent or copyright has been infringed, you must act quickly to protect your rights. Contact us today for a free consultation.

Florida whistleblower litigation

Work with Tampa’s skilled Whistleblower attorneys!

If you rely too much on movies for your education, you might think that a whistleblower is someone who discovers deep, dark secrets about corruption and greed. This brave hero then risks life and limb to expose those secrets to the general public and bring the evil corporation crashing down. As exciting as that plot trope may be – and there have been notable cases in history approaching that level of intrigue — there’s typically more fiction than fact in Hollywood’s dramatization of the whistleblower.Whistleblower

In reality, a potential whistleblower normally begins as an employee of either a governmental agency or an independent contractor of a governmental agency. On occasion, such an employee may notice legal or ethical violations, gross mismanagement of public funds, fraud, neglect of duty, or other violations. When that happens, the employee can choose to report what she observed to an agency with authority to investigate and remedy the violations. She may also, in certain circumstances, bring suit against the violator on behalf of the U.S. taxpayers, receiving a portion of the recovery as her reward.

Most employees, however, are understandably worried that reporting such violations may bring negative ramifications at work. They fear termination or at least a lost opportunity for promotion or salary increase once their supervisors discover who reported the violations.

Whistleblower protection laws, like Florida Statutes section 112.3187, were designed specifically to prevent employer retaliation. They protect not only the actual whistleblower who wrote and signed the complaint, but also anyone who assisted the investigation, anyone who refused to participate in retaliating against a whistleblower, and others who may have been involved in the complaint.

When employers retaliate against whistleblowers, whistleblowers must follow very specific steps to obtain relief, and they must be prepared to prove that the action taken against them would not have occurredhad they not reported the violation(s). Once administrative remedies have been exhausted, whistleblowers may also need to seek relief by bringing a civil suit – and the time period is very short to do so. If relief is granted, it may include reinstatement, compensation for lost wages and benefits, court costs and attorney’s fees, and an injunction against further retaliation.

If you have noticed behavior that falls under the False Claims Act, it is important that you consult with an experiencedattorney as soon as possible. Your attorney can help you craft the claim, preserve evidence, and protect yourself against retaliation. If you are a whistleblower who hasalready been retaliated against by your employer, qualified legal counsel can help you obtain a fair remedy. In the Tampa, Florida area, the law firm of Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore has experience in handling all types of whistleblower litigation. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.

Alan Wagner, Superlawyer

Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore Lawyers receive SuperLawyers Ratings!

SuperLawyersAlan Wagner, a national rating system for lawyers, has once again included and recognized the majority of attorneys at Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore.

To be included in SuperLawyers, attorneys must first be nominated by peers or identified by the SuperLawyers research department. Once the nominations are in, each candidate is vetted by the research staff on a variety of factors including verdicts, honors, scholarly contributions, and other activities and achievements. The attorneys with the highest points then go through a process of peer review before final selection. Only five percent of all attorneys in each state are included in this list, and only 2.5% of a state’s attorneys may be selected to be Rising Stars (defined as 40 years old or younger or in practice 10 years or less).

This year, four Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore attorneys were listed as SuperLawyers: Alan Wagner and John McLaughlin are both celebrating their tenth consecutive year on the list, Kevin McLaughlin has been on the list now for seven consecutive years (three years as a Rising Star), and Jason Whittemore is enjoying his third consecutive year as a Rising Star.

At Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore, we are honored and proud to have within our ranks such powerful and respected advocates. Each of these attorneys have made essential contributions in the area of personal injury litigation, and they work hard each and every day to protect their clients’ rights.

Florida Bill HR 1927

HR 1927Work with Tampa’s Experienced Class Action Litigation Attorneys!

Imagine that you purchase a wonderful new product – an energy drink or a new kitchen tool, for example. You consume or use the product but all does not go well. The energy drink causes you severe stomach distress or perhaps even exacerbates an existing condition, requiring a doctor’s care. The kitchen tool malfunctions, requiring stitches or destroying your countertop. All in all, your damages don’t amount to much: a few hundred or a few thousand dollars or even less, but you’d like to be able to encourage the company that manufactured the product to either improve it or stop making it. You don’t want anyone else to suffer like you did.

Now you face a dilemma: Do you spend thousands of dollars in court costs and attorney’s fees to prove a point and recover a few hundred dollars?

Fortunately, there is sometimes another option: a class action lawsuit. If others used the same product and were similarly injured by it, you can all get together and sue for the total amount of your damages, rather than each of you trying to bring the suit individually. Class action suits are designed to promote recovery in cases where the cost of litigation is likely to outweigh the damages of a single plaintiff. It allows big corporations to be found liable for harm they’ve caused on a small or large scale (think Erin Brockovich) to large groups of plaintiffs.

Now, however, a handful of senators are trying to severely limit this protection.

On April 22, 2015, U.S. Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) – the head of the House Judiciary Committee – introduced H.R. 1927, a bill purportedly seeking “to improve fairness in class action litigation.” Representative Goodlatte’s bill, if successful, would limit classes of plaintiffs in federal cases to those who suffered an injury (i.e., damage to body or property) “of the same type and extent as the injury of the named class representative or representatives.”

The key limitation, here, is the phrase “same type and extent.” Contrary to the bill’s purported purpose, that limitation would have a profound effect on the ability of plaintiffs to form classes large enough to create and maintain effective class action lawsuits.

To illustrate, imagine that, in the kitchen tool example above, the small appliance damaged your expensive granite countertop, while your neighbor used the same appliance and damaged her pressboard and plastic countertop. Even though you both used the same appliance and both damaged your countertops, because the extent of your damages is vastly different in value, the limitation proposed by H.R. 1927 would require you each to be in a different “class” of plaintiffs.

Again, to use the energy drink example, if your use of the drink only resulted in severe abdominal cramps and a few days of lost work, but your brother was bedridden because the drink caused a flare-up of his existing medical condition, you would be separated into two different classes because your injuries were not the same “type.”

This bill, of course, is fair only for corporations who dislike being sued. The more that corporations can limit the size of plaintiff classes, the less likely it becomes that any class will be large enough to challenge them in court. The smaller the classes, the smaller the potential settlement, and the smaller the odds that the settlement will cover the legal fees required to bring suit. Soon, defective products will go unchallenged because no group is large enough to force change.

At Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore, we strongly oppose any legislation that seeks to limit the rights of our clients. If you have been injured, contact us today for a free consultation.