Consumer Justice Attorney Edward M. Ricci seeks justice for victims of cemetery desecration, personal injury, crashworthiness and consumer fraud.Ed has been actively involved in the representation of more than 1000 cases over the course of his career. His success in the courtroom is legendary. Below are just some of the notable and precedent setting cases that he has handled over his thirty plus year career as a civil trial attorney.
Mr. Montalvo worked for the biggest sugar producing family in the U.S. He ultimately left the big company and started his own crop dusting business. The family was angered that he left, and wanted revenge. Montalvo's business became successful and he leased the land where he kept his planes and had his runway. The "sugar" family bought this land, refused to renew his lease, and proceeded to sue him for polluting the property.
A long and complicated legal battle ensued. Ed Ricci took the case pro bono, realizing that this big, powerful company was out to ruin Montalvo, who was prevented from doing business and had little hope of fighting the lawsuit. Montalvo had insurance to cover his business, and at one point, Ricci won a dismissal of the claims that the big sugar company had made. But the vengeful family-owned sugar company persisted, and managed to bring a direct action against Montalvo through the South Florida Water Management District. Again Ricci agreed to represent Montalvo on the contingency basis of only recovering fees if he could successfully resolve the case.
The case floundered for years, and at one point came to a complete halt. However, there was one insurance company left for Ricci to go after - and he sought coverage for "in ground" pollution at the airstrip from spillage resulting from loading and unloading agricultural chemicals into crop dusting planes. No one had ever sought such coverage before. The case went to trial and in 1996, in a detailed opinion, the trial court found coverage for all in ground pollution in favor of Montalvo and his company, Chemairspray. This was the first coverage decision in America to find coverage for "in ground" pollution in an aircraft policy. Finally, during the pendency of the appeal, U. S. Fire negotiated a clean up plan and Montalvo and his company were reimbursed all out of pocket expenses and the Ricci law firm was awarded attorneys fees (under a confidentiality agreement requested by U.S. Fire.)
This case went to the Florida Court of Appeals 8 times and the Florida Supreme Court twice. It took 17 years of work without compensation to secure the rights of an individual and his small business against the wealth, power and might of the insurance industry and the most powerful sugar barons in America. It is proof that the system does work, but it requires a rare breed of lawyer who is willing to fight against all odds to achieve justice and success for his client.
This is a case of Juan Montalvo, Chemairspray, Inc and his successful 17 year battle against wealth, "Big Sugar" and the Insurance Industry. Juan Montalvo was a 25 year old lawyer in Havana, Cuba in 1960 when Castro came to power. Juan was married with three children and a fourth on the way. He came to Florida to flee oppression with no skill or talent other than a law degree from the University of Havana and his ability to drive and repair race cars. He worked in West Palm Beach as an auto mechanic until he was approached in 1962 by Alfonso Fanjul, Sr., the baron of the Fanjul sugar dynasty, who had Juan take over a small agricultural chemical company which was floundering and unprofitable.
After auditing classes in chemistry, Juan Montalvo turned the company around and generated over a million dollar profit in his first year of operation. His efforts were ignored and unrewarded and he subsequently left the Fanjul employ and started Chemairspray. Within a few short years, he was the most successful agricultural formulator in the Glades. The Fanjul chemical company went out of business but the Fanjul's never forgave Juan for his actions.
In the 1970's Juan Montalvo started a second company called Chemairspray. Soon he was flying six crop dusting planes throughout Florida. He leased a 10 acre airstrip from the Hatton Brothers. In the early 1980's the Fanjul dynasty through one of its corporations, New Farm, Inc., purchased the Hatton Brothers Farm with a ,000,000 loan (100% of the purchase price) from the U.S. Department of Agriculture with an interest rate of 1% (it is true the rich get richer and are favored by the government). As a condition of the purchase, New Farm insisted that the Hatton Brothers could not carve out the airstrip and sell it to Montalvo even though it had been their plan for years.
As soon as New Farm took position of the property, it informed Montalvo that Chemairspray's lease would not be renewed. In 1983 the lease expired and New Farm immediately contacted the Federal and State Departments of Environmental Protection feigning ignorance as to whether the property contained agricultural chemical contamination.
In approximately 1983 Juan asked Ed Ricci to be his lawyer and a 17 year odyssey of legal battling began between this individual and the most powerful "big sugar" barons in America. From 1983 through 1985, the action against Montalvo languished in an administrative proceeding. Ed monitored the action free of charge for Juan during this time. In June of 1985, however, New Farm was successful in getting the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation to file suit against Montalvo in state court in West Palm Beach. They not only sued his agricultural spraying corporation but his formulating company and Juan individually. Their plan was "to destroy him." It was in June of 1985 that Ed agreed to represent Montalvo and his companies on a pure contingency that would be court awarded fees if he was successful in establishing coverage in the pending litigation. Within months of the lawsuit being filed against him, Montalvo suffered a massive heart attack and subsequently underwent angioplasty and a year later emergency bypass surgery. Fortunately, he survived.
It was Attorney Ed Ricci's belief that under his general liability policies Montalvo had insurance coverage for pollution spills that should provide an adequate resource and a defense. He then joined into the litigation Juan's insurance companies: Florida Farm Bureau, Hudson, Protective National and U.S. Fire and also joined the 28 farms with whom Juan contracted to spray.
In early 1986, Ricci won a dismissal of all claims against Montalvo and New Farm, (the alleged co-defendant but really the instigator of the litigation.) Only New Farm objected to having the lawsuit dismissed (and supported the state in an appeal to have the action reinstated.) In 1988 while the Appeal was pending in the Fourth DCA, New Farm, was able to get the South Florida Water Management District to join it in bringing a direct CERCLA action against Montalvo in Federal Court in the Southern District of Florida. In that action, Ed also represented Montalvo without accepting any fee other than one he might obtain from insurance carriers, if Ricci established coverage. At the insistence of New Farm the trial was bifurcated.
Ed Ricci tried the liability case in December 1989 and in February 1990 obtained vindication of Montalvo when the Federal Court found "It appears that New Farm's decision may have been driven more by family rivalry than by any business judgment." But he still had no coverage.
Despite the earlier contentions of New Farm that an imminent disaster faced Florida if the case was not concluded promptly, as soon as the liability issue found New Farm jointly and severally liable, the case came to a screeching halt and to this day has never been reactivated. While the Federal case was pending, the Fourth DCA reinstated the state court action and in1989 Ed again began to represent Montalvo on the substantive claims against him and his companies as well as prosecuting his insurance coverage's
Unfortunately, in 1993 the Florida Supreme Court in the case of Dimmit Chevrolet v. Southeastern Fidelity Ins. 636 So.2d 700 (Fla. 1993), for the first time in its history on a petition for reconsideration, and without oral argument relied on a supplemental attachment not part of the record and ruled that all pollution exclusions clauses in Florida were absolute and provided no coverage even when a spill was sudden and accidental (sudden and accidental being the exception to the exclusion,) if the sudden and accidental event occurred during the regular course of business. This 4 to 3 decision is to this day an outrage. The New Jersey Supreme Court in an identical case found unanimously that the American insurance industry had hoodwinked State Insurance Commissioners and, in fact, lied about the meaning of the exception language in the exclusion clause. Nevertheless, Florida has never allowed coverage to small time operators such as Montalvo. After the Dimmitt decision, the general liability carriers, Florida Farm Bureau, Hudson and Protective National, all won summary judgments on coverage.
Ed appealed to the Fourth DCA where all the summary judgments were affirmed. He sought cert to the Florida Supreme Court; it was denied.
Finally, there was only one insurance carrier left: U.S. Fire Insurance Company who insured Juan's planes. Ed sought coverage for "in ground" pollution at the airstrip from spillage resulting from loading and unloading agricultural chemicals into crop dusting planes. No one had ever sought such coverage before. The case went to trial and in 1996, in a detailed opinion, the trial court found coverage for all in ground pollution in favor of Montalvo and Chemairspray. This was the first coverage decision in America to find coverage for "in ground" pollution in an aircraft policy. Finally, during the pendency of the appeal, U. S. Fire negotiated a clean up plan and Montalvo and his company were reimbursed all out of pocket expenses and the Ricci law firm was awarded attorneys fees (under a confidentiality agreement requested by U.S. Fire.)
It took 17 years of work without compensation to secure the rights of an individual and his small business against the wealth, power and might of the insurance industry and the most powerful sugar barons in America. The irony of this saga is that the alleged offending chemicals which have a very short half life were non toxic agricultural chemicals that are sprayed on the sugar cane and corn we eat. If left alone, they oxidize harmlessly into the air. New Farm's efforts to destroy Montalvo and his companies through the use of the court system failed. It is estimated New Farms spent over seven million dollars to pursue its spite suit.
The moral of this story is that good lawyers representing honest clients are sometimes cast in the role of David versus Goliath, but through hard work and unrelenting dedication they can obtain justice. The system does work, but it requires a rare breed of lawyer who is willing to fight against all odds to achieve justice and success for his client.
For more than four decades, Edward M. Ricci has specialized in civil trial law. He pursues justice for victims in the areas of consumer class actions, auto accidents, personal injury and wrongful deaths, cemetery desecrations, insurance litigation and consumer claims. The firm serves consumers throughout Florida and the United States.