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Class Action Suit for Smokers from 1994 Returns

In 1994, Miami pediatrician Howard Engle filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of 700,000 Florida smokers. Engle, who suffered from smoking-related respiratory disease and lymphoma, alleged the tobacco industry knowingly addicted smokers and failed to adequately warn them of the dangers of continuing to smoke.

This class action suit on behalf of smokers became the first to make it to court and yielded the largest punitive damages in history -- $145 billion.

However, in 2006 the Florida Supreme Court overturned the verdict and dissolved the award, saying that defendants would have to sue the tobacco companies as individuals, rather than as a group.

But the case has yet to be asphyxiated.

The Florida Supreme Court established several key points that would considerably facilitate future suits. Individuals from the Engle group wouldn't have to prove that smoking causes illness, that nicotine is addictive, and that the tobacco companies had deliberately and negligently misled smokers about the health effects of cigarettes. Therefore, plaintiffs only needed to demonstrate that they smoked a brand from the company being sued, and that they're sick.

More than 9,000 claims filed before the 2008 deadline the court imposed are making their way to trial.

So far, Florida smokers injured before 1996 have won 15 of the 18 verdicts since 2009. For more information, read Florida Trend's article on the litigation

Chelsea Hennessy

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