If a trial lawyer were to be bold enough to sue tobacco companies in a class action lawsuit seeking punitive damages because they intentionally sold an addictive product which caused serious harm to the health of smokers and lied about the dangers of smoking, I strongly suspect a majority of people would say, “Go, Baby, Go!,” and hope for a really big punitive damage award that would create havoc within the tobacco industry.
Somehow, when a trial lawyer did just that and achieved a $145 Billion punitive damage award the Florida Supreme Court decided the lawsuit was a bad idea. The better idea is for every single smoker harmed by tobacco in the State of Florida to be entitled to sue tobacco companies individually for punitive damages.
Then, somehow the St. Pete Times in an editorial says this all makes a lot of sense and that the class action lawsuit against the tobacco companies is evidence of the greed of trial lawyers.
My take is that if the jury had awarded punitive damages of $145 Million (instead of $145 Billion) the Florida Supreme Court would have blessed the class action judgment and the St. Pete Times would have congratulated the trial lawyer for performing a public service.
The Florida Supreme Court charted a sensible middle course in tossing out punitive damages against the tobacco companies.
By tossing out a $145-billion punitive damage award against the nation’s tobacco companies, the Florida Supreme Court set a number of things right
Engle vs. Liggett Group Inc. is the kind of lawsuit that has turned public opinion against trial lawyers and their greed. Initially, plaintiff’s lawyers sued the nation’s tobacco companies on behalf of all smokers nationwide who sustained smoking-related injuries. But the class was reduced on appeal to injured smokers and their heirs in Florida only. Even so, the size of the class is estimated at 700,000.
But rather than make each one start from scratch, a majority of the court upheld some key jury findings, such as that cigarettes are addictive and harmful to one’s health, and that the tobacco companies were dishonest in their public statements about the dangers of smoking. This way, when each alleged smoking victim brings suit, he or she will already have those claims proven, saving substantial court time, attorney fees and litigation costs.