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The 'Five Million Dollar Ant Bite Case' Goes to Appeals Court ... as the Legal World Watches

February 27, 2018 - 2:15pm
First District Court of Appeal
First District Court of Appeal

A Hamilton County jury verdict that has drawn the attention of national legal scholars and civil justice reform advocates goes before the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee next week.

If ever a case had Florida set up to repeat in 2018 as the No. 1 lawsuit-happy state -- the nation's top "Judicial Hellhole" -- it's probably going to be this one, Simon's Trucking, Inc. (Apellant/Defendant) v.  Charles A. Lieupo (Appellee/Plaintiff). 

The case arises out of a 2011 semi tractor-trailer accident on Interstate 75. The driver of the semi suffered a massive heart attack and died, causing the vehicle to veer off the Interstate and crash into the trees. But the lawsuit doesn't involve the deceased truck driver. 

The plaintiff in the lawsuit was a tow truck driver, Charles Lieupo, who heard about the accident on a dispatch radio and asked to be hired to remove the wreckage. 

After first responders cleared the accident scene of any hazardous materials, Lieupo and others were allowed to remove the tractor-trailer. At the time, Lieupo told friends he had been bitten by fire ants on his legs while at the scene.  

Over the next two months, medical records show Lieupo told physicians and other healthcare providers he had been bitten by fire ants. Six months after the accident, Lieupo told his pain-management doctor, “I had ants all over myself ... [T]hey were in my breeches and ... they were stinging.”  But at trial, his story changed dramatically.

Lieupo told a Hamilton County jury that sulfuric battery acid at the accident scene, not ant bites, had injured his legs. A medical specialist disagreed and testified at trial that Lieupo suffered from a pre-existing condition known as “venous stasis,” which is poor blood flow in the extremities. The specialist told the jury that fire ant bites, not battery acid, had irritated Lieupo’s pre-existing condition and caused the skin irritation on his legs.  

The jury in rural Hamilton County, where Lieupo has lived his entire life, awarded him $5,211,500 for his injuries. 

“This is one of the most egregious jury verdicts we have seen in Florida,” said Jason Gonzalez, Tallahassee managing partner for Shutts & Bowen. Gonzalez will argue the appeal before the First District Court, but he was not involved in the trial. See Gonzalez's arguments here and Lieupo's attorneys' arguments here.

“Not only does this verdict defy all critical thinking when compared to the evidence, but legally, it should never have gone to trial because Lieupo could not prove the defendant was negligent, and instead filed a strict liability claim that is not allowed in personal injury cases,” Gonzalez added. 

The case is drawing national attention. At a recent legal conference the lawsuit was referred to as “The Five Million Dollar Ant Bite Case.”  It's being compared to the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee case, in which a New Mexico jury awarded $2.86 million for a spilled coffee injury on the legal theory that the coffee was “defective” because it was hot.

Tiger Joyce, president of the American Tort Reform Association that recently ranked Florida as the No. 1 “Judicial Hellhole” in America, said this case may be worse than the McDonald’s case.

“In the McDonald’s hot coffee case, the judge at least had the good sense to reduce the jury verdict by over $2.2 million,” said Joyce.  “In the Florida ant bite case the judge ignored binding Supreme Court precedent when he let the plaintiff file a strict liability claim and not prove negligence. Then the judge compounded his error by allowing the absurd $5.2 million jury award to stand.

"This case is the poster child for all that’s wrong with the Florida civil justice system,” said Joyce. 

William Large of the Florida Justice Reform Institute says the "Five Million Dollar Ant Bite Case" will have a far-reaching and harmful impact if it stands.  “The judge in this case allowed a personal injury lawsuit to proceed under Florida’s strict liability environmental contamination statute that is only supposed to apply to damages to natural resources, not injuries to humans,” he said.

In 2010 the Florida Supreme Court addressed the same issue in the landmark case of Curd v. Mosaic, and the Court said personal injury claims are not permitted under the statute. “We can’t figure out why the judge allowed this to go forward in direct violation of binding Supreme Court precedent on the issue,” said Large, who described the lawsuit as a massive expansion of liability in Florida, that if not reversed on appeal will cost Florida consumers and job creators billions in increased insurance premiums.

The case will be heard March 6 by a three-judge panel at the First District Court of Appeal.


Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith  


It's not the fire ant bites that do the damage --- they simply bite to hold onto the skin, usually the legs after stealthily climbing aboard even high up into their "attacker's breeches" when a person steps into their mounds/colonies. It's the STINGS, several of them in a semi circle from each of the 10s to the hundreds of fire ants attacking you all at once with their venom. Other than death (approx. one in 50 people is highly allergic to ***optera formicidae/fire ant venom) I have never heard of someone having long-lasting effects like the plaintiff other than marks left on the skin. This is the weirdest, goofiest and most bogus case I've ever heard of regarding red imported fire ants. Bottom-line, take responsibility for yourself by looking down and learning where to step in a state with billions of fire ant colonies.

Charles Alvin Lieupo did not have long lasting damages from ant bites. He suffered severe chemical burns from the hazardous sulfuric acid the truck was hauling. *** The hazardous chemicals were discharged into the area and that is why the trucking company was held to be strictly liable. The area of this crash was contaminated with sulfuric acid and it took years to clean up and pump out contaminated ground water and soil. It is this sulfuric acid discharge that created a caustic / chemical burn on Mr. Lieupo’s legs and ankles as he was working in the crash scene for over 10 hours. *** The treating surgeon from Lake City Medical Center and Lieupo’s expert both testified these chemicals caused the burns to Lieupo. *** The trucking company expert hired to give an opinion the injuries were caused by fire ant bites testified he was unfamiliar with fire ant bites because they do not have fire ants where he is from and he had to “google it”. *** Lieupo’s injuries were so severe it caused the need for 5 years of medical treatment including 40+ scraping debridement procedures and skin grafts. *** The injuries got so bad Mr. Lieupo could not walk. *** The issue is this appeal is not whether the injuries were caused by ants vs. acid. The evidence was presented and a jury found based on the evidence the acid burned Lieupo. *** To get the full story read the briefs, read the trial transcripts. *** The headlines, articles and blogs are taken out of context and do not tell the story.

"The 'Five Million Dollar *** Bite Case' Goes to Appeals Court... as the Legal World Watches" (makes it more interesting, don't you think SSN?)

We don't need gun control we need legal control. Did you know a Lawyer does not have a license to practice law? A License is granted by a State only, they set themselves up to be "Self-Regulated." So States do not have Jurisdiction over their activities. The ABA is MIA or co-conspirators. As a CPA I fully understand the term "Conflict of Interest." It is mandatory that these not be present, yet the ABA is a Conflict of interest with the Law Profession and therefore it needs to be taken to the curb.

ever heard of the FL BAR, dumb***?

Rest easy Counselor,... ***'** *** is show***

rolling rolling down the river...funny that in big city has a idiot case sue-ing someone..& gets no Media...but a rural southern take care of there own...bring a Sue-ing case & it becomes World Coverage....You don't like the Judical something about ..NOT running your mouth because someone WINs...and then blame the Community Jurors.....

people in Jasper, FL take care of their a big, big way...

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