Tobacco Co's Want Initial Hearing
MIAMI (AP) - Fresh from transferring the landmark $145 billion smokers' case from state to federal court, the tobacco industry is asking the new judge to get the case moving by setting an initial hearing.
Smokers' attorneys planned to respond by asking U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro-Benages to hold off until she considers sending the case back to state court.
The nation's five biggest cigarette makers on Monday were able to move the case to federal court because of a union's attempt to intervene on July 14, the day a verdict was reached in the two-year trial.
The tobacco companies contend that questions raised by the Southeastern Iron Workers health care plan can be answered only in federal court.
Federal courts are seen as less friendly than state courts to class-action suits like the one covering 300,000 to 700,000 sick Florida smokers.
The industry's motion on Tuesday asked Ungaro-Benages to set a hearing to discuss a schedule for the case in federal court. Her office staff said Wednesday that no action had been taken.
As the case stands, Ungaro-Benages has also been asked to enter a final judgment on the record-setting punitive damage verdict, and hear motions for a mistrial or a reduced verdict.
The Florida jury decided the industry makes a deadly product, awarded $12.7 million in compensatory damages to three smokers representing the class and deliberated five hours before setting the record for a civil trial award.
The industry immediately expressed confidence that the case would be thrown out on appeal.
Some state officials worry that the verdict could endanger an industry commitment to pay them about $10 billion a year under tobacco lawsuit settlements reached in 1997 and 1998 with all 50 states.
The defendants are Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson, Lorillard, Liggett and the industry's defunct Council for Tobacco Research and Tobacco Institute.