In a Dec. 3, 2008 online posting, Jane Akre, writing for Injury Board National News Desk, predicted: "A lawsuit by the widow of a Cooper City man who smoked up to 40 cigarettes a day for 40 years is under way — the first of 8,000 similar lawsuits to be heard in Florida against Big Tobacco."

While there is no official count of the number of Sunshine State cheap cigarettes suits, a February Associated Press story said jurors have sided with smokers or their families in about two-thirds of the 34 cases tried during the two years. They have won awards ranging from $2 million to $80 million.

Tobacco companies are appealing all the awards. However, in a July 20 decision, the Florida Supreme Court declined to hear R.J. Reynolds' appeal of a $28.3 million verdict in the death of a Panhandle smoker. That could strip R.J. Reynolds and other cigarettes online companies of a key defense to Florida lawsuits filed by sick smokers or their survivors.

In Highlands County, jury selection begins in January for Hallgren v. R.J. Reynolds, Phillip Morris, Lorillard, Liggett and Vector group. The product liability case was filed June 22, 2010, by Theo Hallgren, for the estate of Claire Hallgren, represented by Calvin Carriner III of Palm Beach.
"Plaintiff was an Engle class member," Carriner's filing said.

The December 2006 Engle case was rejected by the Florida Supreme Court as a class action case, but the justices detailed findings that could be used in later cases: buy cigarettes cause a wide range of diseases, nicotine in buy cigarette online is addictive, and cheap cigarette online companies concealed information about the effects of smoking cigarettes.

"Which are," Carriner's filing said, "that smoking cigarettes discount cigarettes causes aortic aneurysm, bladder cancer, cerebrovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coronary heart disease," and other illnesses.

"The smoker bears some measure of fault, but less than 100 percent of the applicable fault, for causing her smoking cigarettes-related injuries," Carriner's filing said. The suit seeks monetary damages, loss of earnings, and the value of lost support for Claire Hallgren's husband and children.

The 2006 Florida Supreme Court ruling that threw out a $145 billion Engel award may have seemed like a blessing for cigarette makers at the time; now it's a curse on Big Tobacco, making it dramatically easier for thousands of smokers to sue and turning Florida into America's hot spot for damage awards.

In the closely watched July 20 decision, R.J. Reynolds challenged the way lower courts applied the Engle decision, arguing the widow of Benny Martin was not forced to prove the company's liability. The cigarette maker had used the same strategy in defending other cases, such as a $15.75 million verdict in the death of an Alachua County smoker.
"Today, the Florida Supreme Court said, 'No, we're done hearing this,'" said Matt Schultz, a Pensacola attorney who represents the widow, Mathilde Martin.

R.J. Reynolds vowed to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Benny Martin, who died of lung cancer in 1995, was a longtime smoker of Lucky Strike cigarettes, which were made by R.J. Reynolds. An Escambia County jury awarded $5 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages to his widow, reduced to $3.3 million because Benny Martin was found partly responsible for his death.

The Martin case is another Engle progeny. In Martin and other cases, tobacco companies argued that Engle findings were not properly carried out. For example, R.J. Reynolds argued that Martin's attorneys were not required to prove that the deceased smoker relied on deceptive advertising about the dangers of smoking cigarettes.

Tobacco company lawyers insist the process is rigged. "We believe the trial courts have used trial plans that are so fundamentally unfair they violate due process and Florida law," said Murray Garnick of Altria Client Services, a subsidiary of Philip Morris USA. "Each case must be judged on its own facts."

Now tobacco companies are losing other types of cases. In Connecticut, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco, maker of Skoal and Copenhagen, agreed to pay $5 million to the family of a man who died of mouth cancer in what was believed to be the first wrongful-death settlement won from a chewing tobacco company.

The tobacco companies have settled in the past. The biggest came in 1998, when four cigarette makers and 46 states settled on $206 billion in a series of lawsuits claiming that smoking cigarettes drove up public health costs.

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