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U.S. Supreme Court Decision on Tobacco Case Could Help Smokers’ Lawsuits

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The United States Supreme Court this week rejected the tobacco industry’s appeal of a Florida court ruling. The decision could make it easier for ill smokers or their survivors to sue cigarette makers, Bloomberg reports.

Tobacco companies Philip Morris USA, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and Liggett had challenged a $2.5 million award to the family of Charlotte Douglas, who died of lung cancer in 2008.

In March, the Florida Supreme Court held up the Douglas verdict. The majority reaffirmed the court’s “Engle” decision that stated tobacco companies knowingly sold dangerous products and hid the dangers of cigarette smoking.

In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that factual findings in the Engle case, a 1994 class-action lawsuit named after one of the plaintiffs, would apply to all similar cases filed afterwards, so long as they were filed before a 2008 deadline.

Under the Engle decision, individual smokers can file their own lawsuits, and do not have to prove anything about tobacco companies’ actions. They do have to demonstrate they, or their deceased relatives, were addicted to smoking, were unable to quit and that cigarettes caused illness or death.

Before Engle, tobacco companies generally won lawsuits because it was too difficult to prove cigarettes caused a particular illness, or juries decided smokers should be responsible for their decision to use cigarettes.

Since the Engle decision was made, Florida has become a popular site for people to sue tobacco companies for damages. More than 4,500 smokers’ suits are pending in Florida. Juries in the state have returned verdicts totaling more than $500 million against the tobacco industry, according to the companies.

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