Steve Yerrid of The Yerrid Law Firm has been practicing law since graduating Georgetown Law in the mid-70s, and his career has been highlighted by a series of outstanding accomplishments and achievements throughout that time. From his work in the courtroom to his charitable contributions, Yerrid has made a resounding impact in both the legal community and society.
“We represent a far-reaching segment of the population, and we have clients ranging from the blue-collar worker to the most affluent CEO,” Yerrid says. “They all get treated with exactly the same type of representation and every client receives one thing for certain: our very best efforts.”
One of his landmark cases occurred when Yerrid took on Big Tobacco as the youngest member of Florida’s “Dream Team,” as the media referred to them. Hand-picked by the late Governor Chiles, the 11 lawyers selected to represent the State of Florida took on a very daunting challenge. “Those tobacco companies had been unbeaten in defense of the more than 800 cases they saw over the course of 50 years—they had not lost until they met the ‘Dream Team.’”
In addition to his other roles on the team, Yerrid was the one responsible for adding racketeering and conspiracy charges against what he refers to as the “cigarette cartel.” During the third week of trial, the defendant tobacco companies elected to resolve their case with Florida, agreeing to pay a $17 billion settlement, the largest settlement in the nation’s history at that time.
Florida’s specially-talented trial lawyers achieved far more than the payment of an enormous sum of money. Through the terms of the settlement, they “permanently retired the Marlboro Man, eliminated Joe Camel, and stopped the misleading advertising for Virginia Slims so that it no longer was an allure for young ladies—and that sexist pandering was gone as well,” Yerrid says. The agreed settlement also banned advertisements that targeted children and totally eliminated cigarette vending machines, billboards, and television and radio commercials that promoted cigarette use. Additionally, Big Tobacco’s funding for the “Truth” campaign and youth smoking prevention programs were also mandated under the settlement terms.
As a result, a sea change in society was seen across the nation following the case, resulting in a drastic decrease in cigarette use, especially among younger citizens. Soon after Florida’s settlement, a multi-state agreement was reached requiring over $200 billion be paid to 46 states, along with the adoption and implementation of similar concessions and advertising restrictions.
And Yerrid hasn’t slowed down on his quest to bring justice to whoever needs it.
In 2006, Yerrid obtained a jury verdict of $217 million, the largest medical malpractice award in Florida’s history, and the nation’s largest verdict.
Earlier this past year, he acted as co-counsel in an individual smoking-related case brought by an 83-year-old widow for her husband’s premature death. The case was brought against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, and after a three-week trial, the jury returned a verdict of nearly $15 million.
Regarding his most recent trial, Yerrid agreed to take on the smoker’s case as co-counsel with Fort Lauderdale’s Scott Schlesinger, a close friend and son of the late Shelly Schlesinger, one of the Dream Team’s leaders, who had worked alongside Yerrid as part of Florida’s tobacco crusaders. It was his first tobacco case since the Dream Team trial almost 20 years ago. Yerrid says, “I probably will never do another smoker’s case, but I was delighted to learn two things from this trial. One, Big Tobacco didn’t forget who I was; and two, they still dislike me a great deal.”
These types of results are a staple of what’s to be expected on cases that Yerrid takes on: with professionalism, a drive for justice, an impenetrable devotion to his clients, and an inexhaustibility that’s worthy of the end results ultimately achieved.
Yerrid’s drive is something that Schlesinger attests to.
“The first time I met him many years ago, I was blown away by his personality, by how articulate he was, and by his sense of humor,” Schlesinger says. “If there’s a bad guy that’s got to be brought to task, he’ll go after the bad guy. He has a huge heart and a unique ability to feel what his clients are going through. He’s able to express that to the jury in a way so that the jury really gets him and understands his passion.”
Yerrid’s firm and its commitment to his clients is “inspiring.” Schlesinger says it was particularly highlighted in the case they recently worked on and tried together. “I could just see how he dealt with the widow, who was in her 80s, and how he treated her on the witness stand.”
Dale Swope, current president of the Florida Justice Association (formerly the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers), was also quick to praise Yerrid.
“If I had to put my finger on what makes him unique, I would say that it is his ability to subliminally communicate with jurors and judges, to motivate them into doing what he believes should be done,” Swope says. “It seems like Steve builds within himself a fierce self-confidence in his client’s cause that underscores his words almost like a sub-woofer keeps rhythm with vibrations. The words are just for accompaniment and entertainment. The unspoken but primitively intense message is that he is the leader of the cause of justice and the rest of us want to follow his lead. It is something that nobody I know has ever been able to duplicate.”
In addition to his remarkable work in the courtroom, Yerrid also has a penchant for charity and pro bono work. In the 90s, he served pro bono as The United Way’s first special counsel to its national president in Washington D.C., where he worked on a $2 billion fundraising effort and a variety of programs, some of which remain in use today.
In the aftermath of the huge BP oil spill, he also worked in a pro bono capacity as a special counsel to Governor Charlie Crist and worked to protect Florida and its citizens after the horrific aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy.
On top of his pro bono legal work, Yerrid also founded and self-funds The Yerrid Foundation, which furthers his charitable work in the philanthropic community. The non-profit organization supports and has donated millions to a multitude of various charitable causes. He has been repeatedly recognized for his charitable work in areas of pediatric cancer (both clinical trials and research), family support and children protection organizations, organizations sheltering the abused, groups that feed and help indigents, a variety of hospital and health care endeavors, and virtually hundreds of other worthy causes.
Swope says of Yerrid’s charitable efforts, “Steve cannot stand injustice, and the law is his weapon of choice. But if that won’t work, he is not afraid to give of his treasure, his time, and his talents in any way necessary to fight that fight. Those children with cancer that he is so attached to get more than just his money—they get his soul. His eyes light up when he tells of their victories, and he can become choked and unable to speak when he remembers the ones that could not be saved.”
Yerrid has been continually listed with Best Lawyers® since the 80s and has been recognized as a “Lawyer of the Year” in past editions in Tampa for medical malpractice law – plaintiffs and for personal injury litigation – plaintiffs. When it comes down to it, Steve Yerrid is the type of attorney many seek out because of his ability and dedication to fight for his clients with all he can muster. His many achievements and recognitions attest to the success of his efforts.
As far as his career goes, Yerrid has no regrets.
“If I had a chance to come back and live another life,” he says, “I would want to live it as a trial lawyer. It has, and continues to be a great ride."
"Helping others gives me incredible joy and satisfaction. I am grateful for my success, but it has come only with the help of others and our representation of some really outstanding people and causes.”