January 16, 2010
- Background: In December 2006 the Florida Supreme Court breathed new life into a case against the tobacco industry that had worked its way through the courts since 1994. The case is known as the Engle case (landmark 1994 lawsuit filed by Dr. Howard Engle that produced a $145 billion judgment against cigarette makers six years later). On July 6, 2006, the Florida Supreme Court cleared the path for hundreds of thousands of Florida residents to file individual lawsuits against the nation's largest tobacco manufacturers for injuries sustained from smoking cigarettes. The Court set a strict deadline for injured persons to file a lawsuit: July 6, 2007; which is one year from the date the Court issued its opinion. The Court ruled that individual plaintiffs can use previous jury findings against the tobacco industry in the newly filed lawsuits. (Cigarette Makers Face Thousands of New Florida Lawsuits..; Dr. Howard A. Engle, the veteran pediatrician who lent his name to a landmark class action suit against Big Tobacco, dies..)
But "Plaintiffs who bring such flawed cases need to consider the risk of having to pay the company's legal fees and costs if they lose at trial," said Murray Garnick, Altria Client Services senior vice president and associate general counsel, speaking on behalf of Philip Morris USA, Richmond, Va. Garnick: "The company is committed to trying to recover the fees and costs it incurs in defending these cases, as Florida law allows."
A former smoker who filed suit against Philip Morris USA dropped his case after two days of trial to avoid having to pay the company's attorneys fees in the event he lost at trial. The plaintiff's decision in the Cohen case comes after two prior Engle plaintiffs who lost at trial paid the company $100,000 in legal fees and approximately $30,000 in costs, respectively.
Under a provision of Florida law, a defendant can send the plaintiff an offer of judgment for a specified amount to resolve the case. If the plaintiff refuses that offer and ultimately obtains a judgment that is at least 25% less than the defendant's original offer, the defendant may seek to recover its attorney fees and costs from the date of the offer.
In the Cohen case (J. Cohen v. Philip Morris USA), the company made an offer of judgment in the amount $1,000 on December 8, 2008. Cohen initially rejected the offer, but changed his mind after testifying at trial and has now accepted the offer.
As stated above, the Cohen case results from a 2006 Supreme Court decision that decertified a class action but allowed former class members to file individual lawsuits. The trial court in Cohen established a fundamentally unfair and unconstitutional trial plan that allowed the jury to rely on findings by a prior jury that have no connection to the plaintiff if the case.
Approximately 4,000 claims, or roughly half of those filed in the wake of the Florida Supreme Court's decision in Engle, are pending in federal court and have been put on hold pending a federal appeals court review of the constitutional issues that arise from allowing the plaintiff to rely on prior Engle jury findings. A hearing on these issues is scheduled for January 26, 2010, before the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
Related news briefs:
Florida - jury awards $300 million in ex-smoker's suit..;
92-year-old wins $1.9 million tobacco judgment over wife’s death..;
Reference: Smoker Extinguishes Suit
Plaintiff drops Engle case to avoid having to pay company's legal fees, CSP Daily News, 1/14/2010.
Other related news briefs:
Philip Morris USA sees decline in health lawsuits..;
R.J. Reynolds to appeal plaintiff's award of $30 million..;
R.J. Reynolds loses Florida court trial - widow gets $30 million..;
Nik Modi, tobacco analyst with UBS: Supreme Court Case "was a coin flip..";
California Supreme Court rules consumers can file lawsuits against tobacco industry..;
First menthol-cigarette lawsuit in the world filed in Israel..;
Law Suit Filed Against Philip Morris USA, Inc. - Marlboro Lights..;
U.S. Supreme Court Rules Against Big Tobacco..;
U.S. Supreme Court 2008-2009 term, Altria v Good (07-562)..;
U.S. Supreme Court: Good v. Altria Group,.;
Justices turn down smokers' lawsuit against tobacco companies..;