Florida judge refuses hearing in tobacco lawsuit
A Florida judge refused on Thursday to grant cigarette makers a hearing that could have delayed next week's start of the penalty phase in a massive class action lawsuit filed by ailing smokers. Filling in for the vacationing trial judge, Administrative Ju
After hearing testimony for eight months, a state court jury found on July 7 that smoking causes disease and that the cigarette makers hid the danger of their product from the public. The same jury was asked to return on Tuesday to consider compensatory damages in the cases of two smokers diagnosed with lung cancer.
Compensatory damages would repay the actual costs of medical treatment and would be awarded only to the two named plaintiffs.
The tobacco company lawyers asked for a hearing on a request that the jury separately consider punitive damages, which would punish the tobacco companies.
That award, if any, would eventually be divided among all Florida smokers who contracted one of the diseases the jury blamed on smoking, and who win individual lawsuits against the tobacco companies, a court spokesman said.
Lawyers for Philip Morris Cos. Inc. (NYSE:MO) and the other defendants also sought a hearing on their request to separate the cases of the two plaintiffs with lung cancer. One of the two, Angie Dellavecchia, died in August and her estate has not indicated whether relatives want to proceed with the case, an attorney for the cigarette companies, Benjamine Reid, said.
Plaintiffs' attorney Stanley Rosenblatt accused the tobacco company lawyers of seeking a hearing merely to delay the next phase of the trial, an allegation Reid denied.
The Engle class-action suit, named after a Miami pediatrician with emphysema, was the first class action lawsuit by sick smokers to result in a verdict against the cigarette companies. It was brought on behalf of as many as one million sick smokers in Florida, and could ultimately result in damage awards of $200 billion to $500 billion.