Florida Lawyer Says Multimillion-Dollar Tobacco Verdicts Will Spread To Other States

Florida Lawyer Says Multimillion-Dollar Tobacco Verdicts Will Spread To Other States
smokingA Florida jury handed Scott Schlesinger every plaintiff lawyer’s dream earlier this month when it ordered R.J. Reynolds to pay his clients $37.5 million for the death of smoker Laura Grossman from lung cancer at the relatively young age of 38.
Schlesinger’s clients – Grossman’s husband and two children – won’t be seeing that money anytime soon, however. The verdict joins a string of plaintiff victories in Florida that have punctured Big Tobacco’s reputation for invulnerability in the courtroom, but thanks to vigorous appeals and other legal maneuvering, few of the winners have collected a dime.
“There is no other litigant in the world like tobacco,” Schlesinger told me. “There is no resolution short of trial. And a case doesn’t terminate until every single appellate opportunity is exhausted.”
The verdicts are piling up, however. And Schlesinger says his firm and 30 or 40 others active in tobacco litigation across the state are on the verge of taking what they’re learning in Florida and attacking the tobacco industry elsewhere.
“We have established a beachhead in Florida,” said Schlesinger, whose firm participated in the $260 billion master tobacco settlement signed in 1998, which continues to shower hundreds of millions of dollars in fees each year on law firms across the country. “If they continue to allow us to practice trying these cases, and we get better and better, we’re going to win cases in other states.”
Plaintiff lawyers have an easier time suing tobacco companies in Florida thanks to a 2006 ruling by the state Supreme Court in the so-called Engle class action. That decision rejected a class representing some 700,000 Florida smokers as well as a jury award of $145 billion in punitive damages against the industry. But it established as res judicata the jury’s findings that cigarettes cause cancer, nicotine is addictive, and manufacturers sold a defective and dangerous product.
The court invited individual smokers to file suit and more than 6,000 did before a one-year deadline expired. Now their cases are working their way through the state’s court system and frequently racking up tens of millions of dollars in verdicts at a pop.
“There’s probably the better part of half a billion dollars worth of outstanding verdicts and judgments against (the tobacco companies) in various stages of appeal,” said Schlesinger, who claims responsibility for $100 million of that although he has yet to collect anything.
via Florida Lawyer Says Multimillion-Dollar Tobacco Verdicts Will Spread To Other States – Forbes.

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