JACKSONVILLE — A $100 million settlement has been reached between three major tobacco companies and hundreds of people who sued them for smoking-related deaths and illnesses in Florida federal court.
The tentative agreement announced Wednesday involves R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Philip Morris USA Inc. and Lorillard Tobacco Co. The deal resolves about 400 cases pending before a federal judge in Jacksonville, Florida, but does not affect thousands of other lawsuits pending in Florida state courts.
“With respect to the cases pending in state court, we will continue to defend them vigorously, which includes appealing adverse verdicts,” said Jeff Raborn, vice president and assistant general counsel for R.J. Reynolds, based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
The lawsuits stemmed from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision, known as Engle v. Liggett Group, which threw out a $145 billion class-action verdict against cigarette makers.
That decision let stand findings that the companies knowingly sold dangerous products and hid smoking hazards, meaning future juries could consider that as proven fact. But the ruling also required smokers and their families to pursue individual wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits based on cigarette use.
The settlement Wednesday, which requires final approval from a federal judge, would end the federal cases that would have taken years had they gone to trial.
“Whenever people are suffering, we always welcome serious, fair offers that may more quickly resolve their claims and help them move on with their lives as best they can,” said Joe Rice, co-founder of the South Carolina-based Motley Rice law firm and a chief negotiator for the plaintiffs.
Under the deal, R.J. Reynolds and Richmond, Virginia-based Philip Morris would each pay $42.5 million and Lorillard, based in Greensboro, North Carolina, would contribute $15 million. Each individual plaintiff who agrees to the settlement can share in the funds, but any that do not may negotiate further. The goal, Rice said, is for full participation.
“We’ve committed to try to get 100 percent of the cases resolved, and if we don’t we’ll go back to the table,” he said.
The settlement does not affect those federal cases that have already been tried or are on appeal. It will use a model formula based on past trials and rulings to determine how much money each plaintiff could receive, subject to approval by U.S. District Judge William G. Young.
Still, the companies and plaintiff lawyers were optimistic the federal lawsuits are near an end.
“We are pleased to have these federal Engle cases behind us,” said Ronald Milstein, Lorillard’s executive vice president and general counsel.
“This settlement will provide immediate compensation to our clients, many of whom are very elderly,” said attorney Robert J. Nelson of the San Francisco-based Lief Cabraser law firm.
Governor Ron DeSantis Announces Proposed Legislation on Teacher’s Bill of Rights
- Prohibit any union representing public employees from having its dues and assessments deducted by the public employee’s employer.
- Require employees to submit a form acknowledging that Florida is a right to work state and union participation is optional.
- Require school unions to annually notify members of the cost of membership.
- Prohibit the distribution of union materials at the workplace.
- Union officials cannot be paid more than the highest paid union member.
- Prohibit union work while on the clock for their taxpayer funded job.
- Prohibit school board members and superintendents from accepting a personal or work-related benefit such as a secret “office account” from a school union.
- Establish a new process for individuals to notify the state of a violation of teachers’ rights and ensure that the Department of Education can investigate those claims.
- Empower teachers to maintain safe classroom environments by creating a “stand your ground” classroom safety policy to protect teachers who are often judged unfairly for maintaining order and safety in their classrooms.
- Clarify that teachers have the choice to join their local teachers union and will not face any repercussions if they opt not to join.
- Providing civil remedies for teachers who are asked to violate Florida law and punished by their employers for standing up for what is right.
Former State Representative Daisy Morales statement about the mass shooting in Monterey Park, California
ORLANDO, Fla. (January 22, 2023) – Former State Representative Daisy Morales, the 2022 sponsor of the Active Shooter Alert System legislation (HB 1271), issued the following statement about the mass shooting in Monterey Park, California that left 10 dead and 10 wounded.
Former Florida State Representative Daisy Morales’ statement:
“I am horrified and deeply saddened to learn about the attack in Monterey Park following the 2023 Lunar New Year festival. I condemn this terrible and senseless act of violence against the Asian American community.
“America is becoming a country where human life doesn’t matter to some lawmakers over senseless gun violence. Lawmakers have a constitutional duty to build a safer future for all Americans and my Active Shooter Alert System legislation will do that.
“I look forward to working with state law enforcement officials, the Florida Sheriffs Association, the Florida Police Chiefs Association and state lawmakers to reintroduce this lifesaving piece of legislation during the 2023 Legislative Session.”
Florida high court OKs grand jury probe of COVID-19 vaccines
TALLAHASSEE (AP) — The Florida Supreme Court will convene a grand jury at Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ request to investigate any wrongdoing with respect to the COVID-19 vaccines, the court announced Thursday.
The Republican governor, who is often mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2024, earlier this month called for the investigation. He suggested it would be in part aimed to jog loose more information from pharmaceutical companies about the vaccines and potential side effects.
Vaccine studies funded by pharmaceutical companies that developed COVID-19 vaccines have been published in peer-reviewed journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine, and government panels reviewed data on the safety and effectiveness of the shots before approving them for use.
DeSantis’ request argues that pharmaceutical companies had a financial interest in creating a climate in which people believed that getting a coronavirus vaccine would ensure they couldn’t spread the virus to others.
Statewide grand juries, usually comprised of 18 people, can investigate criminal activity and issue indictments but also examine systemic problems in Florida and make recommendations. Recent panels have tackled immigration issues and school safety.
The grand jury will meet for one year.
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