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For 46 years Bland Lane traveled the world as a flight attendant with United Airlines, seeing more countries than most people dream about. But her passion for flying came with a price. Today, the 71-year-old Sonoma, Calif., woman suffers from chronic pulmonary problems. She has trouble breathing without medication, her voice always slightly hoarse. Lane is among hundreds of current and former flight attendants who are suing the tobacco industry in Miami-Dade County, Fla., claiming the smoke she inhaled during flights caused her ailments. Her case is expected to be the first to go trial later this year. About 800 attendants have already filed suit; their lawyers anticipate filing another 300 or so before the September cutoff date. “I am the point man,” said Lane, who retired from her job with United Airlines on May 1, days before her 71st birthday. Lane had flown international routes since signing on with Pan Am in 1954, often spending 10, 12, even 14 hours in the air at a time. For more than 20 of those years the airlines allowed passengers to smoke. Lane, a non-smoker, says she suffered the consequences. “It got to the point where after every trip I would come home with a terrible cough,” said Lane. “At first, after a day or two it would go away. But after a few years, it didn’t go away any more.” Eventually, she said, doctors put a name to what she had — RADS, or Reactive Airway Disease Syndrome. Lane’s age put her on lawyers’ radar screen for an expedited trial, said Miles McGrane of Miami’s McGrane & Nosich, who along with Steven Hunter of Angones, Hunter, McClure, Lynch & Williams, hope to try her case as early as October. Another attorney, Bill Hoppe of Hoppe & Stokes, also has moved for an expedited trial because his client is dying of cancer. The trials come on the heels of this month’s record $145 billion jury award to Florida smokers in their unrelated class-action suit against Big Tobacco. The flight attendants’ cases are the next chapter in a different battle over the effects of secondhand smoke, a fight that produced a $300 million settlement in 1997. That money was to be used strictly to fund research, however, and the flight attendants got no money. But under the settlement — reached by attorneys Stanley and Susan Rosenblatt, who recently won the record verdict in the Florida smokers trial — the flight attendants retained the right to sue individually for compensatory damages. The trials that will begin this fall are the first of those suits. McGrane, Hunter and Hoppe are among the six Miami lawyers who have sued on behalf of the flight attendants. Others are Abbey Kaplan of Kluger, Peretz, Kaplan & Berlin, Marvin Weinstein of Grover Weinstein & Trop and Joel Wolpe of Wolpe & Leibowitz. So far, about 30 suits have been scheduled for trial before different judges. Common issues and motions related to the interpretation of the settlement agreement will be handled by Judge Robert Kaye. Kaye presided over the original class-action suit filed by the flight attendants, and spent the past two years overseeing the class action filed by Florida smokers, known as the case, which won a record $145 billion judgment. How that verdict might impact pending litigation is up for interpretation. Whatever sympathy the huge jury award might have produced for cigarette makers isn’t likely to help them with secondhand smoke cases, said Clark Freshman, a University of Miami law professor. “That won’t apply to cases involving passive smokers,” said Freshman, “because the backlash for smokers doesn’t hold true for victims of passive smoking.” Indeed, if a jury imposed a giant verdict in a case where the plaintiffs intentionally smoked, what might they do in cases where the plaintiffs blame other people’s smoke? “In those cases, the person who is allegedly injured made no choice to expose themselves to a carcinogen, unlike the smoker who derived pleasure,” said David Adelman, a tobacco industry analyst with Morgan Stanley in New York. “It wasn’t pleasurable to be exposed, there was no choice, there was no warning label. And until recently, there wasn’t a lot of public awareness.” On the other hand, said Adelman, “There really is no authoritative scientific study that establishes secondhand smoke causes disease.” Anthony Upshaw, of Adorno & Zeder in Miami, who represents defendant Brown and Williamson, concurs. “You are talking about an entirely different science. It’s apples and oranges,” said Upshaw. “If there is science that proves there is some effect from environmental tobacco smoke on a person’s health, then Brown & Williamson will re-evaluate their position and take a hard look at it, just as they have in the past.” Plaintiff’s lawyer Hunter said the science is there and that the tobacco industry “has gone into overdrive” to prove that secondhand smoke doesn’t cause health problems. “They dispute it, deny it, complicate it and create doubt about it,” Hunter said. And now it appears that the tobacco industry is trying to shift the blame, he said. In their answers to the plaintiff’s interrogatories, Brown & Williamson, Lorillard Tobacco and Philip Morris, among others, suggest that the flight attendants knew secondhand smoke was harmful, but continued to expose themselves to it by continuing to work on smoking flights. But Hunter noted that Lane had more than 20 years invested in her career before anybody began linking secondhand smoke to flying. “What right do they have to say, ‘We want to sell cigarettes so our desire to profit by the sale of these is paramount to your desire to have a job’?” he asked. Said Lane: “I loved flying. It was my life. It was my identity. I don’t know what else I would do if I didn’t fly. It never occurred to me to quit.”

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