Big Tobacco Appeals Damage Award
Four of the nation's five largest cigarette manufacturers filed the final documents Wednesday in their appeal of a record $145 billion damage award for Florida smokers. The filing subjects the case to its first comprehensive test before a state appeals co
Liggett Group, the fifth largest cigarette manufacturer, is expected to file its papers in a few days, allowing the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami to schedule oral arguments.
Tobacco companies want the giant award erased and the lawsuit stripped of class-action status, which would eliminate a retrial.
The single lawsuit covering an estimated 300,000 to 700,000 sick Florida smokers was justified only with "legal and factual contortions," the companies said.
"Courts around the country have now settled the question with virtual unanimity: smokers' claims are uniquely individualized and hence unsuitable for class-action treatment," the companies said in their 90-page filing.
The appeals court now considering the case rejected a nationwide class before trial but allowed the case to go ahead limited to Florida smokers.
Cigarette makers also accused smokers' attorney Stanley Rosenblatt of making "unjustifiable and incurable" racial appeals to black jurors. Rosenblatt has rejected those assertions.
Rosenblatt declined to comment on the latest arguments and the case's future. His earlier court filing said the verdict should be upheld and won't financially break any company.
Cigarette makers attacked each phase of the three-part trial before a six-member jury in Miami and repeated an argument rejected by jurors that the award would put them out of business. State law prohibits punitive verdicts from bankrupting companies.
The industry argued that the trial was structured improperly by allowing the jury to set punitive damages for all smokers without considering all of their individual claims for compensatory damages.
The jury concluded that cigarettes were deadly and addictive, opening the door for $12.7 million in compensatory damages for three smokers and punitive damages for the group. It is believed to be the largest jury award ever.
The jury was offered the history of the U.S. tobacco business and heard evidence that cigarette makers knew smoking causes cancer and hid that knowledge since the 1950s.
The panel decided that cigarettes are deadly, addictive and defective because they make people sick when used as directed.
The verdict covered Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson, Lorillard and Liggett.