Mona Lisa Wallace is the founding partner of the law firm of Wallace & Graham, P.A. She has successfully brought and litigated numerous significant personal injury, wrongful death, defective drug, asbestos, class action, and mass-tort claims. She has successfully litigated thousands of claims involving asbestos and other toxic exposures. She has taken on some of the largest corporations in the world in her relentless quest for justice.
Mona Lisa was born and raised in the small communities of Salisbury and Spencer, North Carolina. Growing up, she was determined to better herself and find a way to help those around her, showing early leadership skills. In high school, she was elected as the first female Student Body President at North Rowan High School while also excelling in sports and academics. A National Merit Scholar, she attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1976 after three years. She attended Wake Forest University School of Law, where she received a Juris Doctor Degree in 1979. With a law degree in hand, she returned to Salisbury to practice law but had difficulty getting a job as female trial lawyers were a novelty at that time. Her first job involved a focus on family law, representing victims of domestic abuse, which required being in court daily and learning how to argue against the most difficult and adversarial of opponents.
In early 1981, a local gentleman who could not breathe sought her help, and before long, she became one of the first and most successful asbestos trial lawyers in the Southeast. In this era of the history of asbestos litigation, cases were difficult. Before liability had been established, Mona Lisa often found herself the sole attorney for the victim, and the only female attorney, facing a courtroom full of corporate defense attorneys. She faced heavy odds, but by the 1990s, Mona Lisa had successfully represented thousands of employees who had become ill due to asbestos exposure in a wide variety of industrial settings. She had some of the largest asbestos settlements for workers reported and numerous important cases, including the Satterfield decision from the Tennessee Supreme Court. In Satterfield, a father had worked in an Alcoa plant for many years and unbeknownst to him, his clothing carried deadly asbestos dust home to his family, which was inhaled by his infant daughter after her birth. In deciding the case, the Court recognized a right to sue for reasonably foreseeable users of asbestos, including household members who were exposed. Through years of litigation, by the strength of this case and others, Mona Lisa has worked to successfully force employers to provide a safer workplace and to medically monitor their employees for foreseeable diseases, thereby saving countless lives.
Mona Lisa has taken a personal interest in the claims of victims of occupational cancers. Even after OSHA regulations were put in place to reduce workplace hazards, Mona Lisa still saw a steady stream of people exposed to dangerous chemicals and products in the workplace who later developed cancer. While asbestos cancers have been widely publicized, the public remains less aware of the many other kinds of toxic substances and chemicals that can cause cancer. Mona Lisa has sought to heighten public awareness on this issue and to promote early medical screening and assessment.
In the early 2000s, Mona Lisa grew the law firm into other practice areas. She brought successful class actions for employees and retirees who claimed their medical and retirement benefits were being unfairly reduced. Wallace and Graham was able to recover millions of dollars for these workers and retirees in class actions addressing their pension and medical benefits with one settlement alone in excess of $178 million. She also took on predatory lenders, the results of which brought significant refunds to tens of thousands of low-income borrowers afflicted with “payday loans.” When the cases started, the state was full of brick-and-mortar payday lending stores that trapped working people inside a cycle of debt. But after the cases were brought, the stores left the state.
Mona Lisa also brought several class action lawsuits against car dealers for alleged unfair and deceptive sales practices, obtaining significant settlements. She co-counseled with the U.S. Department of Justice on claims of alleged improper medical billing and warranty practices under the Federal False Claims Act. In Tennessee, she filed a suit against a medical device company based on “whistleblower” testimony that the company had failed to honor warranties on its products, which caused the Medicare system to overpay. As a result of her efforts, in which she worked with attorneys with the Department of Justice, the device maker paid a multi-million-dollar settlement.
In the last 15 years, the firm also began to take on corporations who abuse the natural environment. Mona Lisa and her team have successfully sued many corporate wrongdoers involving such environmental toxins as coal ash, asbestos, chemicals, and most recently, hog waste. From 2013 to 2020, Mona Lisa and her litigation team represented eastern N.C. families in one of the largest environmental claims in state history with “private nuisance” lawsuits brought against the hog production component of behemoth multinational Smithfield Foods. Mona Lisa represented 500 neighbors against Chinese-owned Smithfield, alleging the antiquated “lagoon and spray” method of hog waste disposal was interfering with clients’ use and enjoyment of their homes and lands. In back-to-back trials extending through 2018 and 2019, five different juries unanimously sided with the plaintiffs, awarding damages exceeding $500 million. The surprise twists and turns of the litigation, and the seemingly insurmountable odds, will be featured by author Corban Addison in his book, Wastelands, to be released to the public on June 7, 2022.
Mona Lisa’s most recent legal efforts focus on two critical issues we currently face in our State as ordinary individuals: 1) excessive and unfair medical billing practices practiced by large hospital chains operating a monopoly in certain regions of the State, and 2) improving the safety and quality of care in North Carolina’s nursing homes, particularly those owned by private equity firms and for-profit chain corporations.
Regarding nursing home abuse, the firm has brought a putative class action claim regarding the alleged systematic understaffing of nursing homes, and represents one or more families in individual nursing home cases for abuse, injury or wrongful death. In February 2022, in the State of the Union Address, President Biden and the White House highlighted nursing home negligence as an issue of national concern, identifying issues consistent with those identified by our clients. See White House Fact Sheet. The firm has worked tirelessly to enforce nursing home residents’ ability to enforce their legal Bill of Rights to be provided with appropriate care and treatment.
In the litigation regarding medical billing overcharges, in 2021, representing Western N.C. families, Mona Lisa sued the largest hospital chain in America, HCA (Hospital Corporation of America), for alleged anticompetitive and monopolistic behavior related to HCA’s takeover of hospitals and medical care in the Asheville area and 17 Western N.C. counties. See W&G’s lawsuit filed against HCA here. The firm filed a second lawsuit in 2022 against Vidant Health, alleging aggressive and abusive billing collection practices. See W&G’s lawsuit filed against Vidant Health here. North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell (Republican) has filed a Statement of Interest in the HCA lawsuit because of his own concern about the rising cost of medical insurance for the state’s 750,000 current and retired public employees. Attorney General Josh Stein (Democrat) has also filed an amicus brief in support of the litigation.
The awards and recognition that Mona Lisa Wallace has achieved for her legal work are voluminous. She has been named the Public Justice American Trial Lawyer of the Year on two different occasions and was a runner-up on another (2019, 2020). She is the first woman to receive the Tommy Malone Eagle Award bestowed by the Southern Trial Lawyers (2020). She has consistently been acknowledged as one of the top 100 trial lawyers and among the Leaders in the Law for N.C. She received the Achieve Award from Public Justice for her work in Consumer Litigation. She won North Carolina Advocates for Justice’s Ebbie Award and the North Carolina Gertrude S. Carraway Award of Merit. She received the North Carolina Justice Center’s Defenders of Justice Award. Recently she was honored to be selected for the N.C. 2021 Power List of Personal Injury Attorneys, and N.C. Leaders in the Law.
When asked in what manner she measures her legal achievements, Mona’s response is as follows:
“You cannot judge success by the amount of money recovered, but rather, by the quality of life of those whose lives you’ve changed.”
Outside of her impassioned legal work, Mona Lisa is a philanthropist in her local community, legal community, and state.
Mona Lisa is a long-time supporter of Public Justice, a national nonprofit legal advocacy organization which aims to protect consumers, employees, civil rights, and the environments. She served as the organization’s president in 2009 and remains a member of the Board of Directors. She has been a driving force behind many initiatives of Public Justice meant to improve access to justice and ensure a level playing field for our most vulnerable citizens.
Mona Lisa was a founding member of the American Museum of Tort Law, the first law-devoted museum in America, located in Winsted, Connecticut. The museum focuses on issues of civil justice and the protection of those who have been injured. The museum includes historical document, exhibits and information about how the law evolved, precedent-setting cases, and results that made a difference. It holds exhibitions on famous cases including McDonalds’ scalding coffee, flammable pajamas, asbestos, breast implants, medical malpractice, Love Canal, and Ford Pintos’ exploding gas tanks.
In the North Carolina State Bar, Mona has served as an advisory member of the Rules of Professional Conduct Review Committee and as a member of other committees. She has served with the Wake Forest School of Law Board of Visitors, the Catawba College Board of Trustees for decades, the Hood Theological Seminary Board of Trustees, and the New York Board of Directors of the Raoul Wallenberg Committee. Mona Lisa is a member of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice and the previous co-chair of its Products Liability Section.
Mona Lisa gives generously in her hometown community of Rowan County. Mona Lisa serves on the Board of Trustees for Catawba College. She and her husband, Lee, donated considerably to the Rowan Salisbury School System and were instrumental in the establishment of the Wallace Educational Forum. Mona Lisa and her husband, Lee, donated as the lead gift to establish Novant Health’s Wallace Cancer Institute, which opened in 2021, providing a state of the art cancer center in Rowan County consolidated under one roof for local residents and the region.
When not working, Mona enjoys spending time with her family and friends. Mona has two daughters, Whitney Wallace Williams – an attorney and partner at Wallace & Graham – and Lane Wallace – an environmentalist and real estate investor. Mona Lisa and her husband, Lee, have four grandchildren – two girls (Annie and Ella) and two boys (Leo and Oliver), and two son-in-laws, Brannon and Jonathan, which have completed their family.