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A $145 billion verdict and a “roar of moral outrage”

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.321.7257.322/e (Published 05 August 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:322

On Friday, 14 July 2000, the jury in a Florida state court handed down a $145 billion punitive damages verdict against the major US cigarette companies after a trial lasting almost two years. The verdict in “Howard Engle et al vs RJ Reynolds et al,” a class-action lawsuit on behalf of 300,000 to 700,000 Florida smokers harmed by smoking, was the largest punitive damages award in the history of American litigation, dwarfing the $5 billion award against Exxon Mobil for the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. Attorney Stanley Rosenblatt, who represented the plaintiffs in the case, talked to Ron Davis about the historic verdict (which a “Chicago Tribune” writer called “a roar of moral outrage”) and his 10-year legal war against the tobacco industry. In 1997 Rosenblatt agreed to a $350 million settlement in his other major lawsuit against the tobacco industry“Norma Broin et al vs Philip Morris Companies et al,” a class action on behalf of flight attendants harmed by secondhand smoke.

BEFORE TOBACCO LITIGATION

RD: Before you took on the Broin and Engle tobacco cases, what were you doing?

SR: Well, broadly speaking, I was a trial lawyer in the personal injury field, handling serious cases of massive personal injury or wrongful death, primarily in the field of product liability and medical malpractice.

THE BROIN CASE

RD: How did you first get involved in tobacco litigation? Was the Broin case [on behalf of flight attendants harmed by secondhand smoke] first?

SR: Right, that was first, when Norma Broin came to see me. We didn't turn her down, but [my wife and legal partner] Susan advised me not to get involved. Lawyers I talked to advised me not to get involved because it's a bottomless pit, and no one had ever won against the tobacco companies, and it was just crazy to …

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