First Florida Tobacco Lawsuits Going to TrialFeb 4, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP Opening statements for the first tobacco lawsuit of its kind were introduced on Tuesday in Florida’s Broward County. A ruling that nullified the class-action status of a decade-old tobacco lawsuit in the state allowed widow Elaine Hess, whose husband, Stuart, died of lung cancer in 1997 to sue tobacco company Philip Morris, said the Sun-Sentinel. Hess blames an addition to nicotine for her husband’s death; Stuart smoked for four decades and died at age 55.
In 1994, thousands of Florida smokers brought the class-action lawsuit against tobacco companies for the injuries they sustained from smoking. In 1999, the jury agreed that cigarette makers deceived smokers about the safety of their product, and awarded $145 billion in punitive damages to the plaintiffs; a Florida appeals court reversed the decision in 2003. In 2006 the Florida Supreme Court refused to reinstate the punitive damages and stripped the lawsuit of its class-action status; however, the court t upheld the original jury’s findings in which the panel ruled that tobacco companies concealed the dangers of smoking.
The 2006 Florida Supreme Court ruling also allowed individuals who could have won judgments under the original verdict to use findings from the yearlong jury trial to bring new cases against the cigarette makers. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the tobacco companies’ appeal of the Florida court’s decision, which was mainly an attempt to prevent Florida smokers from using the 1999 jury findings in their lawsuits.
Meanwhile, in the Hess case, this week’s proceedings represent the second time the case is being heard, reported the Sun-Sentinel. A mistrial was declared on the second day of testimony in December after an expert witness used a racial term when explaining his research and a project concerning racism in the tobacco industry. And, although Philip Morris’ attorney opened with arguments stating that Hess chose to continue smoking, Hess’ attorney said that Philip Morris chose "to conspire, to conceal the dangers of smoking from the public," quoted the Sun-Sentinel.
The 8,000 cases that have been filed will force the cigarette makers to stretch their resources to defend the many Florida tobacco lawsuits. So, basically, it was much less costly and far easier for the tobacco companies to defend one class action lawsuit than the thousands of individual Florida tobacco lawsuits is now faces.
Furthermore, the Florida Supreme Court left tobacco victims valuable ammunition to use in their lawsuits because it upheld the 1999 jury’s findings that smoking caused lung and other cancers, as well as a whole litany of other diseases. Victims are also greatly helped by the court’s decision to let stand the jury’s finding that the cigarette makers concealed information that their products were deadly and addictive. The fact that smokers will not have to prove these key points in court could go a long way in helping them win Florida tobacco lawsuits.