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|First of Thousands of Tobacco Liability Lawsuits Heard in Florida|
- Friday, 07 September 2012 09:25
First of Thousands of Tobacco Liability Lawsuits Heard in Florida
By Sarah Pierce
When the Florida Supreme Court overturned a $145 billion class action lawsuit settlement with tobacco companies in 2006 that would have held the companies liable for misleading consumers about the dangers of low-tar cigarettes, consumers were dismayed and tobacco companies rejoiced. However, the decision by the Florida high court still allowed individual lawsuits to be filed by customers alleging they were harmed by cigarettes, possibly putting tobacco companies on the hook for millions of dollars in settlements to individual Plaintiffs.
Now, six years later, the first of thousands of individual cigarette lawsuits is being heard by the Florida Supreme Court, which may reverse the emotional outcome of the 2006 Engle class action lawsuit settlement.
The tobacco liability lawsuit was filed by James Douglas, who maintains Phillip Morris, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Liggett Group, LLC are liable for the death of his wife, Charlotte, a smoker who died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung disease in 2008 at the age of 62.
A jury trial awarded Douglas $2.5 million in the cigarette wrongful death lawsuit based on procedures the Supreme Court established in the 2006 Engle class action lawsuit case. Even though the high court overturned the Engle tobacco settlement, it upheld the Engle jury’s findings that tobacco companies knowingly sold dangerous products and hid the hazards of smoking from the public. The court ruled that the nearly 8,000 Class Members would have to file individual lawsuits, but said Plaintiffs would not have to prove those factors again in their individual cases. They would, however, have to prove illnesses such as cancer or disease linked to cigarette smoking.
Yesterday, the tobacco companies presented arguments before the Florida Supreme Court to overturn the $2.5 million wrongful death settlement awarded to Douglas. They also presented arguments that would make it harder for thousands of sick smokers or their survivors to win tobacco settlements stemming from the Engle decision.
A lawyer for the tobacco companies said Plaintiffs should be required to prove the cigarettes that they or their deceased relatives smoked were defective and what the defects were.
The justices questioned this argument, with one asking, “Your theory then is ... that someone must go back and find the ashes of the burned cigarettes to prove that burned cigarette contained a defect?"
However, they also questioned Douglas’s attorney, saying they couldn’t understand how his wife’s addition to cigarettes “necessarily shows that the cigarettes she consumed from all of the defendants were defective and unreasonably dangerous."
His attorney responded that, “All of the cigarettes contained the same defect.”
No decision was handed down yesterday, but the outcome of the appeal will be closely watched by both sides of the long-running tobacco liability litigation.
The case is Philip Morris USA Inc., et al. v. James L. Douglas, etc., Case No. 2D10-3236, District Court of Appeals of Florida, Second District.
Several consumer class action lawsuits are still pending against Phillip Morris and other tobacco companies, with some recent rulings proving favorable for Class Members. In March 2012, a Massachusetts federal judge refused to decertify a class action lawsuit asking Phillip Morris to provide medical screening to for early signs of lung cancer. And in May 2011, a Missouri federal judge certified a Marlboro Lights class action lawsuit alleging Phillip Morris misled consumers about the amount of nicotine and tar the "light" cigarettes delivered.
Updated September 7th, 2012
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Last Updated on Thursday, 27 December 2012 10:09