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CASE TYPE: Products liability, class action CASE: Engle v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., No. 94-08273 CA-22 (Miami-Dade Co., Fla., Cir. Ct.) PLAINTIFFS’ ATTORNEYS: Stanley Rosenblatt and Susan Rosenblatt of Miami’s Stanley M. Rosenblatt DEFENSE ATTORNEYS: A cast of hundreds, including Benjamin Reid of the Miami office of Tampa, Fla.-based Carlton, Fields, Ward, Emmanuel, Smith & Cutler; James Johnson of the Atlanta office of Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue; and Dan K. Webb of Chicago’s Winston & Strawn JURY AWARD: $145.01 billion Records are made to be broken, but the precedent-shattering jury verdict handed down in this products liability class action — $145 billion — may stand for ages. Nevertheless, as the trial opened in 1999, plaintiffs’ attorney Stanley M. Rosenblatt feared he would never persuade the jurors selected to award any damages, much less the heart-stopping figure they eventually returned. In the beginning, he said, “the great majority of the prospective jurors were pro-tobacco. They bought the industry propaganda.” In four months of questioning jurors, he said, many expressed the opinion that the plaintiffs were smokers by choice and, thus by extension, were sick by choice. When deciding on which jurors to select, he said, he accepted those jurors “we believed were reachable. That was our criteria.” As it turned out, he added, “after listening to two years of testimony and thousands of documents, the jurors changed their attitudes.” Rosenblatt filed the lawsuit against the tobacco industry as a class action — covering the claims of some 500,000 Florida smokers — in Florida state court in May 1994. He was determined to handle this as a class action, he said, “because there is strength in numbers. And the way the tobacco industry functions — burying lawyers under an avalanche of paper — this was the only logical place to go.” Florida Circuit Judge Robert P. Kaye certified the Florida smokers as a class, over the objections of the defendants. Once the case was certified, Rosenblatt said, “my key strategy was to show that these people have knowingly sold … a product that they 100 percent knew will kill a certain number of their customers. And that they don’t give a damn.” The logistics of proving this case, however, were daunting. The tobacco industry had dozens of lawyers for each phase of the trial. Rosenblatt was the sole counsel speaking for the plaintiffs. His co-counsel and wife, Susan Rosenblatt, handled all the motions. “She would argue outside the presence of the jury,” he said. “We thought she would sit with me throughout the trial. [But] all through the trial, they kept filing motions.” Each day she spent hours preparing and arguing these motions. In the first phase, the jury determined liability, returning a verdict against the defendants on July 7, 1999. In the second phase, the jury considered the claims of three representative plaintiffs. On April 7, 2000, the jury awarded a total of $12.7 million. The jury’s decision in this phase was somewhat inconsistent, said Thomas McKim, assistant general counsel for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. The jury found that Frank Amodeo’s claims were barred by the statute of limitations, “but inconsistently came up with a damage award for him,” McKim said. Amodeo was awarded $5.83 million. The punitive damages phase considered only amounts. And on July 14, 2000, the Florida jury awarded the class $145 billion. The individual hits were telling, with the jury ordering Philip Morris Inc. to pay $73.9 billion and R.J. Reynolds $36.3 billion, while Liggett Group Inc., the company that first broke ranks with the industry, was ordered to pay a mere $790 million. The defendants attempted to move the action to federal court; this was rejected. The defendants filed post-trial motions to set aside the jury’s decision, contending the massive award would bankrupt the industry. But in November, Judge Kaye upheld the entire amount. The defendants are appealing, McKim said. During the two-year trial, he said, “reversible error was committed nearly every day. There are extensive grounds to reverse.” But the defendants will be focusing on the contention that “the Engle case should never have been certified as a class action,” McKim said.

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