Twenty years after the multistate tobacco settlement, cigarette companies are mostly not facing suits in the U.S. for damages to individual smokers’ health — except in Florida, with its Engle line of cases. [Fair Warning/Industrial Safety and Hygiene News; earlier here, here, and more]
Federal judges have fined the Jacksonville law firm of Farah & Farah $9.1 million over improperly handled claims against a fund set up after litigation to compensate smokers in the state of Florida [WTLV/First Coast News]:
The judges’ order states 1,250 frivolous tobacco claims were filed by Farah & Farah and the Wilner Firm against the Engle Trust Fund….
…cases filed collectively by Jacksonville attorneys Charlie Farah and Norwood Wilner prompted a U.S. Attorney Special Master seven month investigation into possible misconduct in 2012.
The investigation revealed some cases filed by the attorneys were for deceased clients, non-smokers, those who did not suffer from one of the required diseases, and 572 that did not authorize the attorneys to file lawsuits on their behalf.
More: Glenn Lammi.
“If we don’t get a dime, that’s OK, if we can make a difference and save some lives,” said longtime Overlawyered favorite Willie Gary, one of the lawyers representing a woman awarded $23 billion-with-a-b in punitive damages by a Florida jury for the lung cancer death of her husband, a longtime smoker. [USA Today] I’ve covered earlier stages in the long-running Florida Engle tobacco litigation, which included a $145 billion punitive damage verdict later thrown out, in articles here, here, and here, as well as Overlawyered coverage; more on Willie Gary.
More: Jacob Sullum on the illogical basis of the jury’s decision.
“Accusing tobacco companies of preying on black people, a Miami attorney is seeking $1 billion in damages on behalf of a Coral Springs, Fla., woman whose mother and grandmother both died of smoking-related health problems.” Reporter Forrest Norman of the Daily Business Review, the south Florida legal paper, quotes me expressing skeptical opinions about the suit. In Florida’s earlier Engle tobacco litigation, plaintiff’s lawyer Stanley Rosenblatt came in for sharp criticism at the appeals level for the way he demagogued the racial angle; I covered the case here, here and here. This week’s case was brought by solo practitioner J.B. Harris, who said of the tobacco-company defendants, “If I could, I’d try to have them charged with genocide.” (“Suit Accuses Tobacco Firms of Targeting Black Consumers, Seeks $1 Billion in Damages”, Jun. 6).
The Florida Supreme Court has backed an appeals court’s dismissal of the absurd $145 billion verdict against cigarette makers in the Engle case. The court’s opinion is split in complicated ways, but the defeat for attorney Stanley Rosenblatt is unmistakable. (Daniel Pimlott, “$145bn award against tobacco giants goes up in smoke”, Financial Times/MSNBC, Jul. 6). The opinion is here (PDF)(via Bashman). I’ve written extensively about the Engle case at earlier stages, including op-eds for the Wall Street Journal Jul. 12, 1999, Jul. 18, 2000 and May 23, 2003. Much more background here.
One more try to keep the circus going, from Miami lawyers Stanley and Susan Rosenblatt and friends. If the Florida Supreme Court doesn’t agree with them, it’s all over. (Paul Curcio, “Fla. Justices Asked to Reinstate $145 Billion Award in Tobacco Suit”, Miami Daily Business Review, Nov. 4). See May 15 and links from there.
The “Florida Supreme Court has agreed to review last year’s Miami appellate court decision that vacated a record-setting $145 billion punitive damage verdict against the nation’s largest cigarette companies.” We’ve had a lot to say over the years about the travesty that is the Engle case: see Jul. 12, 1999; Jul. 18, 2000; Mar. 23, Jun. 24 and Aug. 3, 2003; other posts on this site. (Laurie Cunningham, “Fla. High Court to Review $145 Billion Tobacco Case”, Miami Daily Business Review, May 13).
To no one’s surprise, plaintiff’s lawyers Stanley and Susan Rosenblatt are seeking en banc review by an 11-member Florida appeals court of the demise of their $145 billion verdict against the tobacco industry in Engle v. R.J. Reynolds. (“Florida smokers to appeal $145 billion lawsuit”, Reuters/Forbes.com, Jul. 16). Perhaps hinting at desperation, their banner argument is that the appeals panel engaged in “judicial plagiarism” because it adopted wholesale in its opinion vast tracts of language from defense briefs — even though this particular form of supposed plagiarism is entirely routine in court opinions when judges consider one side’s briefs convincing and do not expect that they will be able to improve on the style of the briefs’ presentation (Siobhan Morrissey, “A Case of Judicial Plagiarism?”, ABA Journal E-Report, Aug. 1). More: Gary Young, “Plagiarism Charges Plague Tobacco Decision”, National Law Journal, Aug. 21. Update May 15, 2004: Fla. Supreme Court agrees to hear case.
Assuming the $145 billion punitive damages verdict in the Florida tobacco class action is not revived by the state’s supreme court, one major loose end remains, but it’s a really big one. Three tobacco companies agreed to fork over $710 million in exchange for class counsel’s agreeing “not to challenge a new state law, passed at the behest of the cigarette makers, capping appeals bonds at $100 million.” The enormous sum was placed in escrow for the class, but now the class does not exist since it’s been decertified. Does the class somehow get reconstituted for purposes of dividing the booty? Does it go back to the defendants? To some worthy cause? And how much of it, if any, are plaintiff’s lawyers Stanley and Susan Rosenblatt going to be allowed to grab for themselves? The agreement between the Rosenblatts and the three companies says nothing about decertification. (Matthew Haggman, “The $710 Million Question”, Miami Daily Business Review, Jun. 19).