Lieff Cabraser Civil Justice Blog
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Defendant-Driven Delays in Florida Tobacco Injury May Leave Plaintiffs Without Justice

A recent R.J. Reynolds financial filing indicates the tobacco giant faces more than 2,700 tobacco injury lawsuits that still await trial in Florida state courts. Because Florida provides special reduced appellate bond requirements for tobacco companies, there are more pending tobacco injury lawsuits in the Sunshine State than all other states combined.

In 1994, Dr. Howard Engle brought a lawsuit on claims that the tobacco companies deceived him and other smokers about the significant dangers associated with smoking cigarettes. During the litigation, which involved approximately700,000 class members, it was found that tobacco companies lied about how their cigarette products were addictive and could be the cause of 19 different diseases. The verdict in this tobacco action awarded $12 million in compensatory damages to class representatives and $145 billion in punitive damages against the tobacco companies.

As a result of this large settlement, whose payments included substantial amounts earmarked for Florida, Florida lawmakers became worried about the subject companies going bankrupt or becoming financially destroyed, leading to a state law that would cap appeal bonds (monies tobacco companies who had lost at trial would be required to post with the state during subsequent legal appeals) at less than $100 million or 10% of the defendant’s net worth. This new law then allowed for tobacco companies to appeal individual Engle case verdicts in Florida without potentially threatening their ability to make their annual prior settlement payments to the state.

Unfortunately, this rule allows tobacco companies “to make aggressive use of the appeals process and avoid settling cases, which delays payment to victorious plaintiffs and their attorneys. Meanwhile, thousands of Engle progeny cases are awaiting trials that will likely never happen in an overburdened state court system, meaning billions of dollars in claims could evaporate as plaintiffs die off,” notes Law360.

Consequently, many plaintiffs remaining from the massive 1990s class action may never see final resolution in court. “Nowadays, few of the remaining plaintiffs are the smokers who fell ill during the class period of 1990-96, and only the smokers themselves, their spouses and their children can bring lawsuits,” noted Law360.

“You literally have people who are dying waiting to get the money that a jury awarded them,” stated Florida Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, who introduced a bill in December that would repeal tobacco company protections. “That’s just wrong.”

Contact a National Personal Injury Attorney

Lieff Cabraser represents Florida smokers, and the spouses and families of loved ones who died, in litigation against the tobacco companies for their 50-year conspiracy to conceal the hazards of smoking and the addictive nature of cigarettes.

On February 25th, 2015, a settlement was reached on behalf of more than 400 Florida smoker lawsuits against the major cigarette companies Philip Morris USA Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, and Lorillard Tobacco Company. As a part of the settlement, the companies will collectively pay $100 million to injured smokers or their families.

Lieff Cabraser attorneys tried over 20 cases in Florida federal court against the tobacco industry on behalf of individual smokers or their estates, and with co-counsel obtained over $105 million in judgments for our clients. Two of the jury verdicts Lieff Cabraser attorneys obtained in the litigation were ranked by The National Law Journal as among the Top 100 Verdicts of 2014.

The case is In re Engle Cases, No. 3:09-cv-10000-J-32 JBT (M.D. Fl.).

Please visit floridatobaccocase.com for further information on this litigation.