Florida - tobacco companies ask court to block ruling..

January 27, 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..)

Tobacco companies now argue that a series of factual findings endorsed by the Florida Supreme Court in a 2006 decision, including that the companies sold defective products, that they conspired to hide information about the health effects of smoking and that they made false statements about their products, can't fairly be applied in any of 4,000 cases against them in Florida federal court.

The companies claim that applying the 2006 ruling, which came in the Florida's "Engle" tobacco class action, "would compromise an arbitrary deprivation of the defendants' federal due process rights," as a lower judge ruled in August 2008.

The plaintiffs, smokers and their families who are suing the cigarette-makers individually, claim the findings are based on ample evidence. They argue that the federal courts are required to apply state law in the cases and can't review the state Supreme Court's decision, according to the report. A decision in the smokers' favor would make it easier for smokers to win verdicts in the cases.

In Florida state courts, which instruct jurors on the factual findings endorsed by the state Supreme Court, smokers have won several of the post-Engle cases that have gone to trial. These include a $30 million verdict against Reynolds and an $8 million verdict against Philip Morris. The cases are being appealed.

The Engle case was filed in 1994 and named after a Florida smoker named Howard Engle who was the lead plaintiff. After more than a decade of litigation in the Florida courts, the Florida Supreme Court in 2006 rejected a $245 billion punitive damage verdict in the case and ruled that it couldn't continue as a class action on behalf of smokers statewide who were addicted to nicotine and developed cancer or other smoking-related illnesses.

At the same time, Florida's high court upheld a series of factual findings made by a Miami jury in the case and said those findings would apply in all of the individual suits filed by smokers who had been part of the Engle class. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case.

In the appeal today in Atlanta federal court, the companies aren't challenging findings by the Engle jury, upheld by the Florida Supreme Court, that smoking is addictive and that it can cause illnesses including cancer, emphysema and heart disease.

In addition to Richmond, Virginia-based Phillip Morris, the biggest U.S. cigarette maker, the companies in the case include No. 2 R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., a unit of Reynolds American Inc., and No. 3 Lorillard Tobacco, a unit of Lorillard Inc.

Reference: Cigarette Makers Ask to Block Ruling in 4,000 Cases (Update1) by Bob Van Voris (rvanvoris@bloomberg.net), Bloomberg.com, 1/27/2010..; Cigarette-makers challenge Florida ruling, CSP (Convenience Store/Petroleum) Daily News, 1/27/2010.

Other related news briefs:
Florida - plaintiff drops case to avoid paying legal fees for Philip Morris USA..;
Florida - jury awards $300 million in ex-smoker's suit..;
92-year-old wins $1.9 million tobacco judgment over wife’s death..;
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..;