Big Tobacco’s Big Friends
Big Tobacco has some close friends among the Florida legislature, meeting in Tallahassee.
About 8,000 sick smokers who have sued the tobacco industry, Senate Bill 2198 caps the bond the tobacco giants would have to set aside in case they lose pending cases and decide to appeal.
Under Florida state law, a bond must be filed before a case can be appealed. The bills will allow Philip Morris, R. J. Reynolds, Tobacco and Lorillard, a guarantee they would not have to post a bond total of more than $100 million.
Most injured smokers or their survivors have already waited decades for their day in court. Capping the bond provides financial relief for Big Tobacco and more easily allows for delays that would come from appeals.
Tampabay.com reports that trial lawyers complain that any incentive to settle the cases is removed with this assurance. Endless appeals can either break plaintiffs financially or, in the case of a deceased smoker and his spouse, when both die, will bring the case to an end.
Both a House and Senate committee have pushed through the bills.
"As far as I'm concerned, the plaintiffs are going to be paid," said Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale who chairs the House Finance and Tax Council. She promoted the bill along with Melbourne, Florida Republican Sen. Mike Haridopolous. Both were concerned that tobacco giants, might undergo financial uncertainty with a lot of cash held up.
Since last year, four cases of the thousands pending in Florida have come to trial. Elaine Hess of Fort Lauderdale was awarded $8 million in damages over her late husband’s death. About 3,000 cases are pending in Florida courts.
The legislators were concerned with huge payouts to plaintiffs, that the companies may not be capable of posting bonds worth $45 billion, without legislative protection.
However, cigarette companies currently have the option to go before a judge to reduce or eliminate a bond. And most tobacco giants have long abandoned marketing just cigarettes, instead branching out into other businesses both domestically and internationally, reportedly making more than $80 billion last year.
They were also reportedly concerned that Big Tobacco might claim it couldn’t pay the annual $205 million to the state as part of the 12 year old landmark tobacco settlement.
The late Miami Beach pediatrician, Howard Engle’s case against Big Tobacco, led the way to that record tobacco settlement of $145 billion. But in 2006, the Florida Supreme Court decertified the massive class action while allowing thousands of individual lawsuits to move forward in individual cases.
Plaintiffs do not have to prove what the Engle case established that : a) Tobacco companies were negligent; b) Their products are defective and unreasonably dangerous; c) Cigarettes are addictive; d) Cigarette companies conspired to conceal health and addiction information with the intention of consumer reliance on the misinformation; and e) Cigarette companies were liable for breach of express warranty.
They also do not have to establish that cigarette smoke caused 16 different diseases, including lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease, and others, as that was already established in the Engle case.
They do have to establish they were addicted to cigarettes and that they caused their health consequences. #