Florida man seeks to reverse loss of tobacco suit
TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Nov. 1 (Reuters) - Attorneys for a man who contracted lung cancer after smoking Lucky Strike cigarettes for 25 years urged the Florida Supreme Court on Monday to uphold a jury's 1996 verdict against Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp.
Attorneys for Grady Carter, of Orange Park, Florida, asked the state's highest court to reverse a ruling by the Florida First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee, which in June 1998 overturned the verdict and nearly $2.5 million in awards and attorney fees.
The appellate court ruled that Carter waited too long to file his lawsuit.
The Florida Supreme Court, which heard more than 45 minutes of oral arguments on Monday, did not rule immediately on the case. A decision could take several months.
On August 9, 1996, a Jacksonville, Florida jury hit Brown & Williamson, a unit of B.A.T. Industries Plc, with a $750,000 judgment for Carter. The decision rocked the tobacco industry, which until then was considered nearly invincible in court.
Later, the trial judge approved attorneys' fees of nearly $1.8 million, taking the total to more than $2.5 million.
Carter visited a doctor after coughing up blood and on Feb. 5, 1991, was given an initial diagnosis that he suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic bronchitis due to cigarette abuse. Nine days later, after further tests, Carter was diagnosed with lung cancer.
Carter filed suit against Brown & Williamson on Feb. 10, 1995.
Brown & Williamson won the appeal by arguing that Carter waited too long, saying a four-year statute of limitations expired five days before he filed his lawsuit. The company said he should have had a reasonable expectation of his ailment after the Feb. 5, 1991 diagnosis. In a unanimous opinion, a three-judge appellate panel agreed.
Carter's attorneys argued that their client beat the statute of limitations guidelines by four days because he did not know with certainty he had cancer until Feb. 14, 1991.
``We took the position that in this case there were several factors that had to be taken into consideration and were properly submitted to a jury,'' Jacksonville attorney Greg Maxwell said following oral arguments on Monday. ``We argue that you could not know as a matter of law exactly at what point he had the magic knowledge.''