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Brenda Fulmer
Brenda Fulmer
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Tobacco Litigation Heating Up In Tampa

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The deadline for former members of the Engle class action to file lawsuits against tobacco manufacturers passed ealirer this month. While the exact tally won’t be known for several weeks, it is estimated that more than 5,000 smokers and their surviving family members have filed individual lawsuits across the state. In July of 2006, the Florida Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in the Engle class action case that is now paving the way for this new wave of cases (http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2006/sc03-1856.pdf). The Florida Supreme Court made a number of legal findings with regard to general causation and liability issues that will permit former class members to rely on these legal conclusions in future jury trials that will focus on individual causation and damages. The Florida Supreme Court’s order noted that cigarettes cause a number of different cancers and other serious diseases and that the manufacturers of cigarettes have eengaged in conduct over decades that constituted concealment, fraud, misrepresentations, and conspiracy.

Over the next several months, judges from around the state will begin the process of tackling critical legal issues, working to coordinate the cases, and begin scheduling trials. Most of the Engle class members and their surviving family members are elderly and have been waiting for more than a decade to proceed with their individual claims, due to repeated appeals of the case by the Defendants to the Third District Court of Appeal, Florida Supreme Court, and the United States Supreme Court. The plaintiffs are certainly hopeful that the courts will be able to fashion trial plans that permit large numbers of cases to proceed quickly and efficiently to trial in the near future throughout the State of Florida in hopes that class members who are still alive will be able to obtain some measure of justice in their lifetime.