Hearing set on whether tobacco trial should move to federal court
A federal judge in Miami said she would hear arguments on Nov. 7 to determine whether the statewide class action case against Big Tobacco should be moved to U.S. District Court.
The move would allow the cigarette makers to avoid going to Florida appeals courts to fight the record $145 billion in punitive damages that a jury ordered them to pay to sick Florida smokers.
Lawyers for the Florida smokers filed a motion to U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro-Benegas on Tuesday, asking her to hold the hearing no later than Sept. 1.
"Many class members have terminal diseases, including lung cancer, with brain and other metastasis, other cancers and emphysema. The age and fragile condition of class members, together with the importance of having the final judgment entered and individual compensatory claims proceed" support sending this case back to state court quickly, smokers' lawyers Stanley and Susan Rosenblatt wrote in the motion.
And Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Robert Kaye, who presided over the two-year trial, plans to retire in December, the Rosenblatts said. It would be extremely prejudicial to the Florida class if Kaye is not the judge to rule on all the motions concerning the trial he supervised, the Rosenblatts said.
On July 14, a six-member jury awarded $145 billion to the statewide class of ailing smokers, and the survivors of those who died of cigarette-related illnesses.
On the same day, the Southeastern Iron Workers Health Care Plan filed legal papers, saying the union wanted to become a member of the class action and was entitled to a share of any punitive damages.
Lawyers for the five tobacco companies involved in the lawsuit said the issue of whether the union can join the lawsuit was a federal one, thereby allowing the case to be moved to federal court.
Ungaro-Benegas must determine whether the case should stay in Florida state court.