Hot Potato Doctrine

May 19, 2020 | Category: Firm News

Earlier this year, the Florida Supreme Court suspended two prominent plaintiff’s attorneys for thirty days each for violating the “hot potato doctrine,” which was established by  Florida’s highest Court in 2014. In short, the “hot potato doctrine” prohibits dropping a current client in order to avoid current conflict of interest violations under Fla. R. Prof. Con. 4-1.7. In other words, an attorney may not cease representation of a current client in order to avoid a conflict of interest in representing a different client. The 2018 case resulting in suspension of the violating attorneys began with a class-action lawsuit  on behalf of flight attendants who suffered from exposure to second-hand smoke on airplanes. The class-action suit resulted in a settlement whereby $300 million was provided by the defendant to create foundation for scientific research on the dangers of cigarette smoking, and additionally allowed subsequent individual suits for compensatory damages. The violating attorneys represented members of the class in these first individual suits, which were unsuccessful. The attorneys then devised a plan to sue the foundation, which was the subject of the class-action settlement, to negotiate payments to class members. Some of the individual clients that the violating attorneys represented in the first case objected to the attorneys’ attempts to sue the foundation for compensatory damages, leading to the attorneys’ withdrawal from their representation. The Court found that they attorneys’ withdrawal from representation of the objecting plaintiffs in the first suit in favor of prospective clients in the second suit was a violation of the “hot potato doctrine,” resulting in the attorneys’ 30-day suspensions.

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