Statement: Regarding Consideration by the Florida Legislature of a Proposal to Protect the Tobacco Industry from Punitive Damages in the Engle Case

Statement By Matthew L. Myers, President Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Apr. 5 2000

Washington, DC - The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids opposes any effort in the Florida Legislature to change the rules in the middle of the Engle trial and grant special legal protection to cigarette companies that have been found guilty of lying about the health risks and addictiveness of smoking.

 The proposed legislation is not needed to protect the state or its taxpayers. But it would block Florida citizens who are victims of established cigarette company wrongdoing from receiving proper compensation. The only winners would be the cigarette companies.

 Last year, the Engle jury found the cigarette companies guilty of widespread wrongdoing. The jury is now determining whether the three named representatives of a class of Florida smokers are entitled to receive compensatory damages. If the jury awards compensatory damages to the class representatives, the court has ruled that the same jury should then decide if the cigarette companies must pay punitive damages to all members of the class. The proposed legislation would reverse this ruling and require that individual compensatory damages for each smoker be determined before punitive damages could be assessed for that smoker, a process that could take years.

 Based on a legal opinion by Florida’s Attorney General, Robert A. Butterworth, proponents of the legislation claim that the judge’s legal ruling on punitive damages was wrong. Whether or not this is correct, it is wrong for the Florida legislature to take this case out of the hands of the jury and the Florida judicial system in order to protect the cigarette companies. Judicial procedures are already in place to appeal and correct court rulings that do not follow existing laws. And Florida certainly does not need any special new laws to protect and aid the cigarette companies.

 Accordingly, the proposed legislation is unnecessary and excessive. It represents the worst form of special interest politics and should be rejected.

 

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