Significance of the Engle Tobacco Case in Florida
The tobacco industry won a seemingly huge victory in a lawsuit known as the Engle case a few years ago. However, this victory against a class of Florida smokers may in fact turn out to be an enormous blow to the cigarette industry.
The Engle case was a large class action lawsuit filed against tobacco companies in 1994. This lawsuit represented Florida citizens suffering from smoking-related illnesses. In 2000, the jury returned a verdict for the smokers, which included $145 billion in punitive damages. The tobacco companies quickly appealed. In 2004 an appellate court overturned the jury’s decision and reversed the award. The case was then appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.
In 2006 the Florida Supreme Court agreed with the appellate court’s decision to reverse the $145 billion award. The court also made an additional decision to “decertify the class.” This means that the class action lawsuit could not be re-filed. However, the Florida Supreme Court allowed members of the original suit to file cases individually, allowing potential tens of thousands of lawsuits to be filed.
Crucially, the court also ruled that the issues already decided in the class action lawsuit would hold true for the individual lawsuits. This includes the findings that tobacco products are defective, dangerous, addictive, and the cause of 16 major diseases. Also, the tobacco companies are liable for negligence, fraud and conspiracy.
These findings will make it much easier for the individual lawsuits stemming from the original Engle case to succeed. However, they may also have far-reaching effects. The image of thousands of cases in Florida may lead to more cases being filed across the country. This in turn could lead to increased success against the tobacco companies.
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Last Modified: 11-23-2009 11:31 AM PST
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