Legal Examiner’s annual compilation of the 10 most important civil justice stories of the year was created by Virginia Beach, VA, attorney-author Richard N. (Rick) Shapiro and his research assistants, a Legal Examiner year-end tradition since 2012.
Number 10 – Top Crypto Firms Named in $1Billion Fraud Lawsuit
Why It Made the List: Crypto was supposed to answer everyone’s financial dreams, but last year’s mega implosion of Sam Bankman-Fried’s crypto business saw those dreams become a nightmare. Bankman-Fried was found guilty of seven criminal counts in November 2023 and awaits criminal sentencing at this time. This year, the crypto fallout nightmare continued, with New York’s Attorney General Letitia James filing a $1 billion dollar lawsuit against Gemini, a crypto exchange, alleging the company lied to customers about the risks of an investment account it offered, which paid high-interest rates on crypto. Also named in the October filing were Genesis, a crypto lender, and its parent company, Digital Currency Group. Gemini’s ownership includes the Winklevoss twins, previously involved with Facebook and portrayed in the movie, “The Social Network.”
According to James, Gemini deceived investors about significant risks associated with a lending service it ran jointly with Genesis. The program marketed itself as a low-risk investment in which customers could lend crypto assets to Genesis while earning interest payments as high as 8 percent. Last November, shortly after Bankman-Fried’s arrest, Gemini cut off customers’ access to funds. Genesis filed for bankruptcy in early 2023. At least 29,000 New Yorkers were among the 230,000 investors whose money was lost.
Number 9 – $1 Billion Jury Verdict for Man Paralyzed After Seatbelt Failure
Why It Made the List: A Philadelphia jury returned a $1 billion verdict in the personal injury trial of a man who sustained permanent paralysis injuries after the seatbelt of his Mitsubishi sports car failed in a 2017 crash.
Francis Amagasu was driving his 1992 Mitsubishi 3000GT in Buckingham Township, PA, when he tried to avoid another vehicle on the road and rolled over. Amagasu was wearing his seatbelt at the time of the crash, but the belt was made using a “rip-stitch” design, which caused the belt to rip apart. However, the plaintiff’s attorneys argued this design caused the belt to intentionally tear apart, which suddenly made the partly ripped belt four inches longer. The longer belt means the driver is no longer secured in his or her seat. In this case, Amagasu’s head was pushed through the car’s roof, causing a broken neck and leaving him paralyzed.
Plaintiff’s attorneys also argued that Mitsubishi failed to conduct proper testing on its seatbelt system and the design of the vehicle he was driving. The jury agreed.
One of his attorneys explained: “Mr. Amagasu lives in a rehab facility now, but it may as well just be a prison cell. He’s in a 10-by-12 room and has had to re-learn how to speak. But he testified, and the jury heard his voice, loud and clear….”
Number 8 – Fox and Dominion Reach $787M Settlement Over Election Claims
Why It Made the List: Three years after the 2020 Presidential election, the civil and criminal court systems are still grappling with a flurry of lawsuits and controversy regarding election integrity and voting technology.
Dominion Voting Systems, a prominent provider of election equipment and software, had filed a defamation lawsuit against Fox Corporation and several of its hosts and contributors, alleging that these parties had propagated false claims and conspiracy theories about Dominion’s role in the election, including allegations of voter fraud and manipulation of results. The problem was that there was no substance to the claims that Dominion’s systems were riddled with security defects or used by nefarious actors to subvert the 2020 election. While Fox whipped its viewers into a frenzy, raking in more advertising revenue, Dominion faced customers who were unsure what or who to believe.
Fox Corporation, which owns Fox News and other media assets, faced criticism for airing these claims without sufficient evidence and for providing undue credibility to baseless claims. In April, Fox agreed to pay Dominion $800 million to avert a trial in the voting machine company’s lawsuit that would have exposed how the network promoted lies about the 2020 presidential election.
Fox also agreed to make a public statement acknowledging the integrity and accuracy of the 2020 Presidential election, and then several Fox hosts “parted ways” with the network.
Fox is still facing a $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit filed by Smartmatic, another company that provides election technology and software. The lawsuit accuses Fox of being “engaged in a conspiracy to spread disinformation.”
Number 7 – FTC Sues Amazon for Pattern of Illegally Blocking Competition
Why It Made Our List: Under federal law, the only monopoly that should exist in this country is the board game Monopoly, but the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and 17 state attorneys general are telling Amazon: do not pass go, do not collect $200. In September, the FTC filed a lawsuit against Amazon, accusing the company of an ongoing pattern of blocking competition, using tactics that include degrading quality, inflating prices, and unfair strategies that hurt consumers and other businesses. Amazon benefitted greatly from the circumstances of the global pandemic, and now it appears Amazon is alleged to have adopted a number of anti-competitive measures to stay “on top.”
While it could take several years before this lawsuit comes to a resolution, it is interesting to note that last year, Amazon reached a settlement agreement in a similar lawsuit with regulators in Europe. The state of California has also filed similar legal action against the company, and that trial is set to take place in 2026.
Number 6 – Jury Finds for Home Sellers in $1.8 Billion Lawsuit Against Nat’l Ass’n of Realtors
Why It Made Our List: The National Association of Realtors (NAR) and several real estate companies were ordered to pay a group of home buyers $1.8 billion in damages after a federal jury agreed the national association had engaged in artificially inflating brokerage commissions. That figure could increase significantly – to more than $5 billion – if the court decides to award the plaintiffs treble damages.
According to legal and real estate experts, the verdict will likely result in an overhaul of real estate commission structures. Currently, under NAR rules, a home seller is required to pay commissions to an agent who represents the buyer. The sellers in this lawsuit said this policy forces sellers to pay excessive fees to real estate agents.
The lawsuit claimed the NAR and other defendants colluded to drive up the commission that sellers pay to brokers representing home buyers. Class members of the lawsuit include the sellers of hundreds of thousands of homes in Missouri and parts of Illinois and Kansas between 2015 and 2022.
With this verdict, sellers would no longer be required to pay the buyer agent fees, agents would be able to set their own commission rates.
Stay tuned for the Top 10 Civil Justice Stories of 2023: Part II, including our pick for the Number One Civil Justice story of the year.
Rick Shapiro has practiced personal injury law for over 30 years in Virginia, North Carolina, and throughout the Southeastern United States. He is a Board-Certified Civil Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy (ABA Accredited) and has litigated injury cases throughout the eastern United States, including wrongful death, trucking, faulty products, railroad, and medical negligence claims. During his three-decade career, Shapiro has won client appeals before the VA Supreme Court, VA Court of Appeals, NC Supreme Court, SC Supreme Court, WV Supreme Court, TN Supreme Court, and three times before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, underscoring Shapiro’s trial achievements. In addition, he and his law firm have won settlements/verdicts in excess of $100 million. His success in and out of the courtroom is a big reason why he was named 2019 “Lawyer of the Year” in railroad law in U.S. News & World Report's Best Lawyers publication (Norfolk, VA area), and he has been named a “Best Lawyer” and “Super Lawyer” by those peer-reviewed organizations for multiple years. Rick was also named a “Leader in the Law, Class of 2022” by Virginia Lawyers Weekly (total of 33 statewide honorees consisting of lawyers and judges across Virginia). And in September 2023, Rick was selected as a recipient of the National Board of Trial Advocacy (NBTA) 2023 President’s Award. Although many nominations were submitted from across the country, Rick was just one of eight attorneys chosen by the prestigious National Board which certifies civil trial attorneys across the U.S. Rick was also recently named to Virginia Lawyers Weekly 2024 Virginia’s Go To Lawyers Medical Malpractice. The attorneys awarded this honor are nominated by their colleagues and chosen by a panel from the publication.