The good news for Big Tobacco is that Florida’s Supreme Court overnight threw out a $US145 billion punitive damages award. The bad news for the cancer industry is that
the same court reinstated individual compensation awards of $US7 million –
promising many more court cases to come.

The court also stripped the plaintiffs of
their class-action status. Along with the punitive damages decision, that
boosted tobacco company share prices and
cleared the way for Altria to spin off its Kraft food business, separating it
from the embarrassing Philip Morris tobacco operation.

The Supreme Court was upholding most of the
decisions of an appeals court decision that overturned the 2000 jury decision
to award the massive punitive damages, but reinstating the individual
compensation damages avenue should maintain the lawyers’ picnic. According to Marketwatch:

Noted Edward Sweda, senior attorney for the Tobacco Products Liability
Project, the industry’s victory is far from total. The court, in reinstating
compensatory damages thrown out in the “mean-spirited” appellate
court ruling, “is inviting the Florida plaintiff’s bar to get onto the
playing field” with potentially thousands of individual suits under a
“streamlined process,” he said.

Final score: tobacco victims 1, Big Tobacco
10, lawyers 100.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey