After winning a judgement against big tobacco companies in cancer-related lawsuits, many plaintiffs in Florida are surprised to find that the legal battle is far from over. Never willing to concede defeat, Big Tobacco has been using appeals on all levels to an extent that could be interpreted as an abuse or gaming of the system. It is not uncommon for a tobacco company to wait as long as possible before filing an appeal to a higher court, and then doing so again to the next higher court, right up to the United States Supreme Court. Tragically, some plaintiffs succumb to lung cancer, caused by smoking cigarettes, before ever seeing the full compensation they fairly won against Big Tobacco.
This waiting game is made possible through unique legislation in Florida, which lets tobacco companies hold onto the vast majority of money that should be paid out through the settlement so long as an appellate case exists. The action has become so common in Florida – roughly 3,000 cases of this type have been filed there since the 1990s – it has been given a name of its own: Engle progeny cases.
Why are Engle Progeny Cases Allowed?
The State of Florida actually completed a settlement agreement with Big Tobacco in 1997 for healthcare costs driven up by tobacco-related illnesses, and it has been collecting yearly settlement payments ever since. Indeed, it has collected more than $9 billion throughout the years. If tobacco companies were forced to pay out multiple and massive settlements to other plaintiffs, then they might fall into bankruptcy. In bankruptcy, the companies would not have to pay off any settlements or debts, and Florida would miss out on its settlements. Thus, Engle progeny cases continue to permeate in the state, much to the state’s gain but also the detriment of its residents who have filed tobacco-cancer lawsuits of their own.
Right now, there are more than 2,700 such Engle progeny cases that still need a trial. An approximate 50 or so cases are viewed by Florida courts every year. With these numbers, it would still take 60-odd years to address them all.
The Timeline Benefits Big Tobacco
Waiting 60 years to have your case heard in court is truly unprecedented, and works directly in Big Tobacco’s favor. The only people allowed to file claims against tobacco companies for misleading packaging and advertising were those of a class period that existed between 1990 and 1996, their spouses, and their children – not grandchildren. The longer cases go unheard, the more likely it is that potential plaintiffs will pass away, either naturally or due to cancer complications. In theory, tobacco companies could automatically win lawsuits that would be worth millions in compensation just because the people who deserve the money are no longer around to pursue the claim.
Schlesinger Law Offices, P.A. Takes On Big Tobacco
Attorney Jonathan Gdanski of Schlesinger Law Offices, P.A. recently won a case for a Florida man who sued tobacco companies after his wife passed away from lung cancer. The jury decided $1.5 million in compensatory damages and $9 million in punitive damages was fair. Big Tobacco, of course, did not. The case has since been appealed and will need to be reviewed by a higher court. Even though it could take years to resolve due to Big Tobacco forcing drawn-out appeals, Attorney Gdanski is not deterred.If you require the help of our Fort Lauderdale injury attorneys at Schlesinger Law Offices, P.A., you are also encouraged to contact us by dialing (954) 467-8800and requesting a free initial consultation.