It took less than a year for over 8,000 lawsuits to be filed against tobacco companies after the Supreme Court of Florida granted individuals the chance to go after the companies themselves—rather than as a class. The Supreme Court had rejected a mega-award of $145 billion that had previously been awarded to the plaintiffs in the class-action case. All of this happened less than ten years ago.
These days, there’s a movement afoot in the state legislature to limit the sum of money a jury can give to plaintiffs in suits filed against tobacco companies. The proposed law, says Sen. Garrett Richter of Naples, places those monetary limits more on par with the limits of punitive damages that have already been established by Florida statute.
As Richter told the Naples Daily News, the proposed law would still require tobacco companies to pay compensatory damages should a case go to trial, and the companies could also pay some form of punitive damages. “[B]ut not sky-is-the-limit punitive damages, not $100 million. If you end up suing tobacco, call it $10 million on 4,000 cases, they’ve already paid billions of dollars. They’re going to go out of business,” he said.
Those opposed to the proposed statute argue that it could have the effect of damages never being paid in tobacco suits. As one attorney told the News, the law is being pushed because tobacco companies are “losing a lot of cases.”
Richter’s draft of the bill, which is similar to another that’s been filed by a member of the House, would seek to impose limits on “all civil actions in which judgment has not been entered, regardless of when the cause of action arose.”
According to a Miami attorney who specializes in tobacco cases, the proposed statutes are the product of the tobacco industry’s wish to try to change the law because it hasn’t been able to win in court. One of the attorney’s clients won $30 million against a tobacco company. And just a couple of months ago, three companies settled with hundreds of plaintiffs for $100 million.