For a while now, it has been common knowledge that smoking cigarettes is bad for your health. It is equally well-known that years ago, the public was less aware of the risks of smoking. In fact, the major cigarette companies (Big Tobacco) spent millions of dollars on advertising, targeting potential smokers and concealing the dangers of cigarettes. Significantly, Big Tobacco failed to warn consumers that cigarette smoking was addictive.
Despite the deception by Big Tobacco, early lawsuits against cigarette manufacturers were unsuccessful. These companies claimed smokers assumed the risks of smoking – meaning smokers knew cigarettes were harmful and chose to smoke anyway. However, beginning in the 1990's, this trend started to make a turn around when it was revealed that Big Tobacco knew more about the dangers of smoking than they were letting on.
Public Health Litigation
The earliest success against tobacco companies came in the late 1990's when 46 states sued Big Tobacco under state consumer protection and antitrust laws. The states argued that smoking contributed to health problems that triggered significant costs for (state) public health systems. For the first time, Big Tobacco could not use the defense that had brought earlier success against individual claimants – that smokers knew the dangers of smoking and chose to smoke anyway.
In 1998, four of the largest tobacco companies agreed to settle with the Attorneys General of the 46 states, which culminated in a Master Settlement Agreement. Among the terms of the Agreement, Big Tobacco agreed to refrain from engaging in certain advertising practices, particularly ads targeting children, and agreed to compensate states for healthcare costs (a minimum of $206 billion in the first 25 years). While the public health litigation did not benefit individual smokers directly, it paved the way for successful lawsuits against the tobacco industry.
The Engle Case
In 1994, a massive class action lawsuit was brought on behalf of thousands of smokers in Florida who were injured by the effects of smoking cigarettes. The claimants argued that cigarette smoking turned them into addicts by the tobacco industry that failed to warn them of the risks of the habit. In July of 2000, a jury verdict awarded the class $145 billion. The punitive damages award was the second largest awarded by a jury in United States History.
However, in 2006, the Florida Supreme Court overturned the verdict. The court found that it was inappropriate for the lawsuit to have proceeded as a class action because the individual claimants started and continued to smoke for different reasons. However, the Court directed each of the class's members to file individual lawsuits against Big Tobacco, known as the Engle progeny cases. This 2006 decision opened the door for thousands of successful cases against the tobacco industry, not just in Florida, but around the country.
Tobacco Litigation Today
Today, tobacco lawsuits are alive and well, as injured smokers are receiving millions of dollars in payouts from Big Tobacco. Recently, the Engle progeny cases that were filed in federal court settled with Big Tobacco for $100 million.
If you or a loved one has been injured by the effects of smoking, whether you believe assumption of risk is at play or not, you need the help of a qualified personal injury attorney to review your case and get you the compensation you deserve. At the Law Office of Jeremy Rosenthal, our personal injury lawyers have years of experience representing all types of injured victims and are here to help you. We can investigate the causes of your injuries and advise whether a personal injury lawsuit or negotiated settlement is in your best interests.
Call us today for a free consultation at (303) 647-4511, or visit us online.