William F. Burns has been litigating cases for 18 years in federal and state courts throughout Tennessee and the nation. After completion of a judicial clerkship with the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Mr. Burns became a trial attorney with Waring Cox, PLLC in Memphis, the oldest law firm in Tennessee. The Waring Cox firm traced its roots back to the pre-Civil War era and employed a number of storied Tennesseans. Because of his willingness to learn on the fly, Mr. Burns became a “fixer” at the firm and took on many matters outside the expertise of the typical “big firm” defense lawyer. This role exposed him to a wide variety of cases and gave him more of a broad-based experience than the typical civil trial lawyer. He has represented clients in misdemeanor and felony criminal trials, U.S. Custom’s civil currency seizure hearings, SEC criminal investigations, EEOC employment hearings, divorce and domestic relations trials, defended companies involved in helicopter and airplane crashes, trucking companies in wrongful death claims, barge companies in Jones Act Claims, international shippers in workers’ compensation claims and various product failure and liability claims. With the exception of intellectual property and patent disputes, he has handled just about every type of civil litigation matter that gets filed in the Mid-South and Southeastern United States.
In 2001, Mr. Burns was recruited to join the smaller litigation boutique law firm of Glassman, Edwards, Wade & Wyatt, P.C. where he continued to focus his practice on the prosecution and defense of various types of civil litigation matters with a heavy emphasis on the defense of professional liability claims. There he defended lawyers, nurses, dentists, nursing homes, real estate agents, architects, engineers and accountants. He also began to handle more and more matters for injured individuals and defrauded consumers.
In 2005, as a result of joining forces and serving as co-lead counsel together in several high profile class action cases, he and Mr. Watson formed the current firm of Watson Burns, PLLC. Since inception of the firm, he has gained substantial experience representing plaintiffs in complex/multi-district litigation, class action litigation, legal malpractice, wrongful death and product liability litigation. While he generally represents plaintiffs in these types of cases, he is occassionally called upon to defend other lawyers and professionals.
In 2013, Mr. Burns was admitted to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum. This is one of the most prestigious groups of trial lawyers in the United States. Membership is limited to attorneys who have won million and multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements. Fewer than 1% of all U.S. lawyers are members.
Christian Brothers University, B.S. Economics and Finance, cum laude, 1993
University of Memphis School of Law; J.D., cum laude, 1996; Notes Editor, University of Memphis Law Review; 1995-96; Staff Member, University of Memphis Law Review, 1994-95.
Graduate of the Defense Counsel Trial Academy, Boulder, Colorado, 1999
Admitted to practice in all federal and state courts of Tennessee and Arkansas; admitted in the United States Courts for the Northern District of Mississippi; admitted in the United States Courts of Appeals for the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Circuits.
Member of the Memphis Bar Association and the American Association for Justice (formerly ATLA)
In addition to the cases listed found at “Notable Cases,” here are just a few of Mr. Burns’ past successes:
- Farm Industrial and Supply Co. v. First Mercantile Trust et al, Case No. 02-cv-2649- M/A (W.D. Tenn. Dec. 3. 2003)This class action involved allegations that over 2,500 ERISA 401(k) plans had been charged significant, undisclosed management fees by First Mercantile Trust (“FMT”), a fund to fund manager of qualified employee investment plans. FMT retained Williams & Connelly, P.A. of Washington, D.C. and mounted an agressive and contenious defense. However, FMT ultimately agreed to a $19 million cash settlement on behalf of a nationwide class.
Babb v. Wilsonart International, Inc., Case No. CT-02-01818- Div. 4 (Circuit Court of Tennessee, 30th Judicial District for Shelby County Tennessee at Memphis 2004.) This class action involved a kitchen countertop known as “solid surface veneer” (SSV) which was designed, manufactured and distributed by Wilsonart International. SSV consisted of a plastic like polymer material that had the look and feel of granite but was sold at fraction of the price. Our pre-suit investigation revealed that employees of Wilsonart had conducted pre-market testing of the SSV and discovered that it was defective and not suitable as a kitchen countertop. We also discovered that, in order to avoid liability, Wilsonart improperly blamed SSV’s problems on independent kitchen cabinet installers, claiming that poor installation (and not product design) was the actual cause of the cracking and warping. After significant discovery and litigation, we achieved a $23 million settlement on behalf of a nationwide class.
Manjunath A. Gokare, P.C. et al v. Federal Express Corp., Case No. 2:11-cv-02131-JTF-cgc (W.D. Tenn. 2011) Every day Federal Express makes deliveries to both commercial and residential addresses throughout the nation. When the address is a business, Fed Ex has one charge; when the address turns out to be a residence, Fed Ex is entitled under its shipping contract to add a “surcharge” of $3.50, the theory being that residences present more difficult deliveries than do office buildings and other businesses. In this class action, our clients, a group of law firms that frequently sent packages to U.S. governmental agencies, noticed that they were routinely charged the additional residential surcharge despite the fact that their deliveries never went to home addresses. When they made formal complaints to Fed Ex, they were told no refund or credit would be given. Our firm and our Atlanta co-counsel investigated this matter before filing suit and found that Fed Ex routinely overcharged for deliveries to commercial addresses. Our clients filed suit and, naturally, were met with major opposition. The discovery process in this case was massive, involving over 100,000 electronically stored documents and millions of courier transactions. Our diligence paid off when we discovered a large number of e-mails in which Fed Ex’s own employees were highly critical of the surcharging. Following this discovery, our team was able to negotiate a $21 million settlement on behalf of a nationwide class, which included an agreement by Fed Ex to change the way it determines the applicability of its residential surcharge.
- Ham et al. v. Swift Transportation Co., Inc. Case No. 2:09-cv-02145-JTF (W.D. Tenn. 2012) This class action was brought by truck drivers who lost money as the result of attending a student trucking driving academy conducted by Swift Transportation Co., Inc., the largest trucking driving operation in the United States. Swift vigorously contested both the factual and class allegations, insisting that it had done nothing wrong. It also claimed that it was immune from suit, an argument which, had the district court accepted, would have left 9,500 trucking students with no remedy. We tracked down the CDL testers formerly employed by Swift who provided testimony that they intentionally cut corners by eliminating a number of state required CDL testing procedures because there simply too many students to properly test; they also confirmed that Swift’s upper management knew of and approved of this corner cutting. Following extensive post-certification discovery, we were able to obtain a multi-million dollar settlement on behalf of the class whereby Swift agreed to write off $17 million in unpaid student loans and provide up to $650 to each class member for certain damages supported in the claims process.
- Samply v. Frasure & AZ Construction Co., Docket No. 07C-732 (Circuit Court – Milan, TN 2005) In this tragic case we represented the wife and daughter of a man killed in a head-on collision on his way to work at approximately 7:45 a.m. The defendant, driving a company vehicle, crossed the center line and traveled into our client’s lane killing him instantly. Heartbreakingly, our client’s bible was found on the front seat next to him and he was found clutching a rosary and crucifix wrapped around his right palm. His wife testified that it was his habit to say his prayers on the way to work. This fact brought a small glimmer of peace to our clients. However, the defendant was only slightly injured and refused to take a blood alcohol test after the accident. This failure to submit enraged our clients. Unfortunately, the highway patrol officer responding to the scene was unaware that he could have forced the defendant to submit to a blood test because the case involved a death. Because of the highway patrol’s failure, we were never able to prove that the defendant was impaired but we always suspected that to be the case. Notwithstanding the horrible facts of this accident, the defendants denied liability and argued that the driver was not working for his company at the time of the accident and unsuccessfully tired to get the case dismissed. After we empanelled a jury, the case settled during the first day of trial after the victim’s wife spent several tearful hours on the stand talking about her husband. The defendants attempted to insist upon confidentially but our clients demanded they be allowed to tell the world about the case. The case was settled for $1.7M. However, while we have to make decisions about values and decide what is right for our clients, my clients would give it all back for another day with their husband and father.
- Ardemore Corporation f/k/a New Day Pharmacy Corporation v. Harwell, Howard, Hyne Gabbert & Manner, P.C., Docket No. 12C-627 (Circuit Court of Davidson County, Tennessee, 2011) In this legal malpractice case, we represented an institutional pharmacy company against a large prominent Nashville health care law firm known as “H3GM.” H3GM incorporated New Day as a legal entity and, thereafter, basically served as its “outside general counsel.” In this role, it assisted New Day in raising capital, creating offering circulars, and providing guidance in how to lawfully solicit and secure private investors. Unfortunately, however, H3GM failed to advise the company that it should not allow physicians to invest because of the potential for these physicians to refer business to the company in violation of a federal anti-self-referral statute commonly referred to as the Stark Act. This omission came to light during the due diligence phase of a private placement round of financing. New Day lost out on the opportunity to obtain a much needed $5.5 M cash investment and was forced into bankruptcy. H3GM denied liability and aggressively defended the case. After approximately two years of hard fought litigation against a prominent Nashville defense team, the case was settled and the defendant insisted that the amount be kept confidential.
- James Moore, Jr. et al. v. Emergency Mobile Health Care, LLC, Docket No. CT-005003-09 (Circuit Court-Shelby County, Tennessee 2009) In this case we represented the four surviving children of an 87 year old female nursing home patient, Isabella Moore. Ms. Moore was severely ill and was suffering from end-stage renal failure and Alzheimer’s disease. Her doctors had given her approximately 6 months to live. Her kidney failure required that she be transported by ambulance twice weekly for dialysis treatment. During her last transport, the ambulance company driver ran a red light and flipped the van. Ms. Moore was thrown about the ambulance and broke her neck. She survived for two days at the Regional Medical Center and was in a great deal of pain until her death. We sued the ambulance company for negligence and they amazingly denied liability. During discovery, we learned that the ambulance driver had lost his drivers’ license and there was pretty good proof that the on-board camera located in the ambulance had been intentionally disabled. This greatly helped our cause and we ultimately recovered a large settlement for the family. However, the defendants insisted that the amount remain confidential.
The Estate of Willard R. Sparks v. First Tennessee Bank, N.A and Farmers Bank and Trust, Case No. C-11423 (Probate Court, Shelby Co., Tenn. 2005) – In this case we represented the estate of a wealthy Memphian against two banks’ claims in probate court that the estate should pay approximately $23 million in loan guaranties executed by the decedent. Following discovery and us establishing that the banks had failed to timely file their claim in probate, the banks agreed to release all loan guaranties in exchange for a payment of $8.3 million from the estate. We represented the estate on a reverse contingency fee basis in this case.