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Attorneys for flight attendants suing Big Tobacco are bombarding the Miami-Dade Circuit Court clerk with hundreds of lawsuits in a last-ditch effort to meet a filing deadline set for today. On two recent days alone, the clerk’s office logged more than 700 new filings on behalf of flight attendants who claim that the secondhand smoke they inhaled from passengers who lit up caused them to become ill. Hundreds more were expected before the end of business Wednesday. The clerk’s in-box on Wednesday afternoon was piled high with mostly tobacco-related legislation. One clerk said that with the filing deadline today, they just can’t wait to see what happens. The lawsuits are the outgrowth of a deal struck nearly three years ago by Miami attorney Stanley Rosenblatt, who filed a class-action lawsuit against cigarette makers on behalf of flight attendants around the United States. The suit settled, and while the flight attendants got no money, they were given the right to file individual lawsuits against tobacco companies. The agreement set the filing deadline for today, Sept. 7, 2000. Key to their ability to bring their cases was the tobacco industry’s agreement to waive the statute of limitations on individual claims, viewed by many observers as a significant concession. The suits started trickling in earlier this year after Rosenblatt put together a group of Miami lawyers willing to take the cases. By March, some 600 cases had been filed, and lawyers expected that as many as 1,500 would be filed by the end of today. “We had seven people working on these cases” on Labor Day, said Evelyn Jaume, secretary to Steve Hunter, one of the attorneys handling the litigation. Jaume said her database showed close to 1,000 cases had been filed by Wednesday, adding that the file wasn’t up to date. Miami attorney Miles McGrane has had a legal assistant devoted solely to working on flight attendant cases. “Every day we get five or six Federal Express envelopes,” McGrane said. The envelopes contain questionnaires that the attorneys sent out to see if they were candidates for litigation. “It’s been pretty nuts.” “We are watching the clock,” said Stuart Silver of Kluger Peretz Kaplan & Berlin, who is working on the cases along with Abbey Kaplan and two paralegals. “We have a good system set up here, but we are certainly getting a lot of last-minute calls.” Each of the law offices handling the suits have between 300 and 450 cases. “Last Thursday our office took the position that we would not take any more clients,” McGrane said. Philip Gerson, a Miami lawyer brought in to handle the suits filed by Joel Wolpe of Miami’s Wolpe & Leibowitz, who bowed out of the case for personal reasons, is handling the overflow of last-minute cases, McGrane said. Despite the deluge, it’s business as usual at the clerk’s office, said McGrane. “We haven’t heard a single complaint from anyone.” Neither the clerk of the courts nor the court administrator was available for comment.

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