A Florida Supreme Court ruling that threw out a $145 billion award against cigarette makers is biting Big Tobacco back, making it dramatically easier for thousands of smokers to sue and turning the state into the nation's hot spot for damage awards.
The 2006 ruling has helped generate more than $360 million in damage awards in only about two dozen cases. Thousands more cases are in the pipeline in Florida, which has far more smoking-related lawsuits pending than any other state.
Though the justices tossed the $145 billion class-action damage award, they allowed about 8,000 individual members of that class to pursue their own lawsuits. And in a critical decision, they allowed those plaintiffs to use the original jury's findings from the class-action case.
That means the plaintiffs don't have to prove that cigarette makers sold a defective and dangerous product, were negligent, hid the risks of smoking and that cigarettes cause illnesses such as lung cancer and heart disease. The plaintiffs must mainly show they were addicted to smoking and could not quit, and that their illness — or a smoker's death — was caused by cigarettes.
Jurors have sided with smokers or their families in about two-thirds of the 34 cases tried since February 2009, when the first Florida lawsuit following the rules set by the Supreme Court decision went before a jury. Awards have ranged from $2 million or less to $80 million, though tobacco companies are appealing them all.